The Mafia Essay, Research Paper
The Mafia is a secret criminal organization that has great economic and political control over large parts of Sicilian society and operates both criminal and legitimate enterprises in the United States. It is believed to have started during Sicily’s late Middle Ages, beginning as separate bonds of strong-arm enforcers hired by local landowners. It eventually evolved into a network of independent groups governing in rural areas. With the Sicilian immigration of the late 19th century, the Mafia began to operate in several large United States cities. During the period of Prohibition it monopolized the trade in bootleg liquor and controlled loan sharking, gambling, and prostitution. Competing Mafia families established mutually recognized territories, reaching agreement by negotiation or by intimidation. By the mid-1930 the Mafia had taken on the institutionalized structure that is now typical of organized crime in the United States.
Sammy the Bull, lesser known as the infamous Salvatore Gravano, is the highest-ranking member of the Mafia ever to break his blood vow of silence and turn against his boss, Mafia giant John Gotti. In 1992, Gravano realized he was about to take the fall for Gotti, so he became a federal witness. His testimony eventually led to convictions of dozens of key Cosa Nostra figures, including Gotti, who is now serving a life sentence without parole.
Sammy the Bull is now living a new life under a new name; aware he could be murdered at any moment for what he had done. He still harbors bad feelings for his former associates in the Mafia for what he considers the corruption and betrayal of what he once believed to be a brotherhood of honor.
In “Underboss,” by Peter Maas, Gravano tells the story of his life as a gangster and opens up the secret inner secrets of Cosa Nostra, and underworld of power, betrayal, deception, and greed. There was always the incredible possibility of violent death if you made one wrong move.
Sammy Gravano, who grew up in Brooklyn, earned his nickname for his courage and refusal to be bullied, even by much larger, much older kids. He chose to become a wise guy and was eventually a “made” member of the Colombo crime family, moving from smaller crimes such as burglaries and stickups to the larger operations of gambling, loan-sharking operations, and the occasional mob-sanctioned murder.
Gravano was horrified at the Mafia’s slow transition from its traditional low profile and traditional refusal to involve “civilians” in its assignations. Gravano tells how the Mafia controlled the construction business in New York and describes the significant hits on such figures as Paul Castellano and more than a dozen other Mafioso, all of which were not solved until Gravano provided the needed information to law enforcement officials.
Gravano never believed that he would ever turn against his associates and still refuses to blow the whistle on those who he considers his friends. When Gotti, however, took over as the mob boss and flaunted his newfound fame, courting the media, and endangering the future of their secret operations, he grew increasingly more disgusted. “John just fell in love with himself,” Gravano says in the book.
Due in part to Gotti’s actions and his tendency to believe his own press and his fame, he led to the downfall of his crime family. Gotti turned into a self-obsessed, egomaniac. His own insistence on having a solid, powerful presence at a social club in Little Italy allowed surveillance teams from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to identify the whole Gambino family and eventually led to its downfall. In the book, Gravano says that he believes the Mafia is currently on unstable ground but that he also believes that Cosa Nostra could make its appearance again. “I hear the Chinese, the Russians are going to move in. Believe me, they can’t put together what took us fifty, sixty years to do.”
This is Godfather fiction come to life and it is powerful reading.
After reading the story of Sammy the Bull, I felt I had read information that could be applied to some of the things I have learned this semester in Organized Crime. I liked “Underboss” because it presented a case that was personally interesting to me and I thought it was something that was worthwhile reading.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the book is that way that Maas narrates Gravano’s life story while at the same time quoting directly from him. One early quote sets the whole scene for the book when Sammy says, “I wouldn’t have minded going to Vietnam. You got medals for killing people there.” Through the details descriptions of Sammy’s involvement in the Mafia as a hit man, I got a real sense of Gravano’s life. I learned things reading the book that I might not have known otherwise. I learned that Gotti and Gravano masterminded and carried out the murder of Paul Castellano, that both were eventually indicted on murder, and that Sammy opted to rat on Gotti and served only five years. One of the most interesting things that I learned about the book was that it provoked a lawsuit by relatives of Gravano’s victims because they thought that Gravano was paid for his contributions.
In reading “Underboss” I also learned some lessons about morality; through Sammy Gravano, it teaches the reader lessons about good and evil, rights and wrongs. Because of the way that the author tells the story, I felt as if I was actually in the secret parts of Cosa Nostra, almost as if I was being a witness to the power, greed, and deception of the inner workings of the Mafia. It was exciting because, as with anything dealing with organized crime, the possibility of death was never really far away.
“Underboss” is a good reading because it deals with different issues that have connections to Organized Crime lessons. It teaches about the workings of undercover operations and how undercover agents are often used in hidden operations. In fact, criminal operations depend on concealing information about their operations; getting information is difficult. One of the most successful ways of deceiving members of such criminal operations is to get them to reveal how they operate through undercover operations, which is the way the FBI used Sammy Gravano to deceive the other members of his crime family.
Undercover work is important – as witnessed in this case – because it provides police with a special advantage that would not be available otherwise. Once inside the criminal operations, FBI officials can learn the role of the persons involved in criminal operations, can find out the locations where criminal discussions have taken place, and they can identify resources used by organized crime members.
More importantly, however, are informants. In the case of Gambino family mob boss John Gotti – who was sentenced to life by federal court in New York City in 1992 – having an informant like Gravano was essential. The most important tool used in the prosecution was testimony from Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. Gravano is a perfect example of the important role that an informant can play in the prosecution of organized crime cases that are highly publicized. In the beginning, Gravano was set to stand trail along with Gotti but struck a deal with prosecutors and faced a lesser charge. Gravano is serving a twenty-year sentence and in exchange for this, Gravano testified in Gotti’s trial, not to mention almost ten other people’s trials. He became the highest-ranking man ever involved in organized crime to turn against his crime family and give evidence to the state.
An informant is any person who gives information in a criminal case but who is not a witness or victim in the same case. Informants can be concerned citizens or ruthless criminals but in many cases they seek some benefit from their testimony. In the case of Sammy Gravano, police used him as an informant to prosecute nearly a dozen others involved in the crime ring, and in turn police allowed Gravano to bargain for a lighter sentence. It is the uses of informants who are attempting that get out from under a serious criminal charge that makes the most controversy.
When there is no undercover police officer, an informant is used to get into the area where the crime is being committed. In the case of Gravano, he was probably more accepted by the crime family because he was already a part of the underworld of the Mafia. But if a police officer had posed as a criminal, he might not have been accepted as easily or he could have risked his life had those involved found out.
These are just some of the ways that the stories about Gravano and about the book itself are relevant to the impact on Organized Crime itself. It is a perfect application of the information. The book, however, also applies to our class work.
“Underboss” was easier to understand after reading some of the class notes. Informants, for instance, are critical to organized crime. Informants usually offer their help when an agency is coming down on them, when their organization is after them, when they want out of their life, or when they want revenge. And, as we learned in class, the first person to become an informant usually gets the best deal.
Understanding how crime families were formed was also easier to understand because I had learned some of the things from class. A crime family usually begins with a criminal group. There are protectors from corruption, specialized support from people with specific skills – a pilot or arsonist for example, user support – drug addicts and prostitution rings who use the goods, and then of course there is the social support. The hierarchy of a traditional crime family runs from the boss, who is the leader and makes the decisions and has the most money and respect, then the underboss, the capo, who is the communicator and the go-between, then the soldiers, the front men, who are the corrupt bookies. Each family also runs legitimate and illegitimate activities. Legitimate activities might be labor unions, meat distribution, or operations on the waterfront, while illegitimate activities consist of things like bootlegging and prostitution.
“Underboss” also related to the class in other ways, through the power structure and relations of a crime family, through the basic themes of organization crime, as well as the characteristics that define organized crime – job specialization, restricted membership, and corruption for example. Mainly, one of the parallel themes between the book and the things that I have learned in class are the six categories of crime, easily applied to the Gravano crimes – illicit services, illicit goods, conspiracy, the penetration of legitimate business, extortion, and corruption.
In conclusion, “Underboss” is a good reading and applicable to our class. It is an interesting story of crime and corruption that has significance to the lessons of Organized Crime and is relevant to the class work this semester. The book tells a true crime tale that is authentic and real. The author tells Gravano’s story with irony and truth. The story is very familiar, but the author, along with Sammy the Bull, puts a new spin on it and keeps it appealing.
In short, “Underboss” brings new blood to an old crime.