Maranzano then emerged as the most powerful Mafia boss in the nation and calling himself “Boss of Bosses.” Maranzano divided New York City into five families, established the code of conduct for the organization, and established procedures for resolving disputes. He named Charles “Lucky” Luciano as the head of what would later be known as the Genovese family.
However, Maranzano’s top role would be short-lived. Maranzano believed in upholding the supposed “Old World Mafia”, with principles of honor, tradition, and respect, and refused to work with non-Italians, and preferred to work only with Sicilians. Luciano, along with several other younger Italian mobsters, thought the idea of working only with Italians, limited the growth of their personal careers, as well as the potential growth of the criminal empires. These men, known as the “Young Turks”, wanted to work with Jewish and Irish gangsters, as long as there was money to be made.
Marazano soon viewed Luciano as a threat and ordered a hit on him. However, Luciano found out about the plan and struck first on September 10, 1931, when Marazano was killed by several mobsters in his office in the New York Central Building.
Lucky Luciano, with the help of his longtime friend, Meyer Lansky, established a power-sharing arrangement called “The Commission,” a group of five Mafia families of equal stature, to avoid such wars in the future. The other leaders of the commission included Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Tommy Gagliano and Vincent Mangano. Afterward, all organized crime activities in the 1930s were decided by this commission. The Commission is still reported to exist today, which includes the bosses of the Five Families of New York City and the Chicago Outfit.
After Prohibition ended in 1933, the organized crime groups lost the high profits that they had acquired throughout the 1920s and soon expanded into other ventures, such as labor racketeering through control of labor unions, construction, loan sharking, extortion, protection rackets, sanitation, transportation, prostitution, and drug trafficking.
By the 1950s, several Mafia bosses had made legitimate investments in legalized casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they skimmed cash before it was recorded. The amount is estimated to have been in the in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Operating in the shadows, the Mafia faced little opposition from law enforcement for years, as local law enforcement agencies did not have the resources or knowledge to effectively combat organized crime committed by a secret society they were unaware existed.
It wasn’t until 1951 that a U.S. Senate committee determined that a “sinister criminal organization,” later known as La Cosa Nostra, operated in this nation. Six years later, The New York State Police uncovered a meeting of major La Cosa Nostra figures from around the country in the small upstate New York town of Apalachin. Many of the attendees were arrested. The event was the catalyst that changed the way law enforcement battles organized crime.
In 1963, Joe Valachi became the first Mafia member to turn state’s evidence, and provided detailed information of its inner workings and secrets of the organization. Afterward, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an aggressive assault on the Mafia’s National Crime Syndicate. Though this created more pressure on the Mafia, it did little to curb their criminal activities.
However, the Mafia’s influence in the Las Vegas economy began to dwindle when the Nevada State Legislature passed a law that made it easier for corporations to own casinos in 1969. The U.S. Congress passed the RICO Act a year later, which gave more authority to law enforcement to pursue the mafia for its illegal activities. Success was made by the beginning of the 1980s when the FBI was able to rid Las Vegas casinos of Mafia control and made a determined effort to loosen the Mafia’s stronghold on labor unions.
Between 1981 and 1992, 23 mafia bosses from around the country were convicted under the RICO law. Over 1000 crime family figures were convicted by 1990. While this significantly crippled many Mafia families around the country, the most powerful families continued to dominate crime in their territories.
By the 21st century, the Mafia has continued to be involved in a broad spectrum of illegal activities including extortion, corruption of public officials, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, labor racketeering, loan sharking, and more. Today most of its activities are confined to the Northeast and Chicago.
The structure of La Cosa Nostra has not changed since the 1930s, and La Cosa Nostra, in various forms, has existed for over 100 years.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, March 2019.