Mafia In America Essay, Research Paper
The Mafia In America What began as a crime wave in the late nineteenth century became the most organized system of corruption and violence existing in the U.S. for the last 100 years. This organization became known as the Mafia, a fearsome secret family of criminals rooted in Sicily. The organized group costs the United States economy an estimated one half trillion dollars annually (Ryan 3). Although the government has enforced crackdowns suppressing organized crime, the Mafia has been able to stay alive due to its influence, heirarchy, and putresence. The influx of high immigration to the United States in the late 1800’s brought in millions of people seeking the “American dream”. One of them, Don Vito Cascio Ferro from Sicily, realized that this dream could be achieved more easily through crime. He is believed to have imported the Mafia to America (Wilson 542). Little had been known about the existence of the Mafia. In fact, little had been known of organized crime altogether. In 1957, America accidently discovered the Mafia in what became known as the Apalachin meeting. Interrupted by state police, this meeting of sixty gang bosses from around the country was held at the home of Joseph Barbara, Sr., in Apalachin, New York (Cyriax 15). The Apalachin meeting was strong evidence that an organization of criminals exists, and the Mafia was no myth.Having proven the existence of the Mafia, U.S. law enforcement officials were now able to hunt these newfound criminals. Furthermore, previous encounters with criminals could be linked with organized crime syndicates. One of the most well known of these criminals was Al “Scarface” Capone. Born January 17, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York, Capone became educated in the art of petty crime. By his late twenties, Capone had moved to Chicago and dominated bootleg liquor traffic, earning an annual income of more than sixty million dollars (Balsamo and Carpozi Jr. 219). “Capone loved the good life: women, food, liquor, diamonds, and silk underwear” (Messick and Goldblatt 61). He remained among the top of the crime world by killing off his rivals. His downfall came when he was finally caught by federal authorities for income-tax evasion. He was fined eighty thousand dollars and sentenced to an 11 year prison term. In 1939, he died of syphillis in his Florida home (Balsamo and Carpozi Jr. 219). A more recent Mafia group was known as the Pizza Connection. This was a group of mafia owned pizza parlors throughout the U.S. that dealt with smuggling heroin and cocaine in and out of the country. The gang’s imports from 1979 to 1984 were valued at over $1.6 billion. They were busted in a series of raids and convicted in court. The Pizza Connection case was significant because it was the largest narcotics trafficking case involving the Mafia and it went the furthest in exposing the Mafia’s secrets and operations with thousands of surveillance photos and over one hundred thousandwire taps (Balsamo and Carpozi Jr. 363). The Mafia and organized crime are responsible for other illegal activities which include gambling, bookmaking, the numbers racket, casinos and private clubs, money laundering, stolen securities, as well as many more (Ryan 10). These activities obviously provide easy access to wealth and power. Although this lifestyle involves a high risk of danger, the powerful motive of greed is capable of overcoming any sense of fear. Several legislative acts have been passed in order prevent crime. The first one, known as the Hobbs Act, lasted from 1946 to 1970. The act made it a crime to interfere with or obstruct interstate commerce (Ryan 80). The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, passed in 1968, authorized the use of court approved electronic surveillance systems. Wire monitoring is believed to be the single most valuable tool in fighting organized crime (Ryan 81). In 1970, the Organized Crime Control Act was passed with two programs, the Witness Security Program and RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). Before the Witness Security Program, prosecutors lacked sufficient witnesses to testify due to fear of retaliation. With the act government witnesses were granted complete safety and wellfare with new identities. The RICO Act has proven to be the most potent weapon against organized crime. It is similar to the Hobbs Act except the penalties are much harsher and it provides for forfeiture of personal assets acquired from criminal activity. Therefore, prosecutors turn to RICO more than any other law enforcement act. (Ryan 24).
Knowledge is power. Learning more about organized crime, provides for a stronger prevention. It is obvious to see this when it took over 60 years for government intervention to come into effect. Slowly but surely organized crime begins to diminish in the U.S. Although the rise of organized crime became very strong, efforts to illiminate the problem were unsuccessful. The major contribution of Congress, aside from making laws, was to hold hearings on issues of national concern. The purpose of these hearings were to learn more about a specific problem in order to be better prepared to write a law. Two such hearings were the Kefauver Committee Hearings of 1950 and the McClellan Committee of 1963. They both came to the conclusion that there was a “sinister force…unwitting an American public to pervade an entire nation” (Ryan 72). The Kefauver Committee Hearings “helped federal law enforcement personnel to better identify their targets (organized crime) and to direct their energies into areas traditionally the purview of local authorities” (Ryan 70). Also, local authorities developed special units for combating organized crime, still in effect today (Ryan 71). The hearings were important because they became the first to publicize the issue on television and they opened the path for legislative acts to follow. The McClellan Committee found the connection that labor rackeetering and the Mafia always appeared hand in hand. Through an informant, McClellan discovered the set-up of organized crime as a bureaucracy. Thus, law enforcement could focus their attention on new areas previously unknown. Two major reasons that helped to keep the Mafia together throughout the years are the Prohibition era and the Mafia’s characteristics. On January 17, 1920, America went “dry” by passing the eighteenth amendment. The main reason it passed was to save grain for food during the First World War. An additional reason involved cleaning up the country, “if alcohol was banned, the vices that depended on it would wither away” (Wilson 549). Boy were they ever wrong! The complete opposite happened, as if organized crime had stumbled into a goldmine. The greatest mistake of the amendment was that it failed to work out how total prohibition could be enforced. “Near beer” – beer containing less than one half percent alcohol – was still legal, therefore breweries could continue operation. However, in order to make near beer, four percent beer had to be brewed, then de-alcoholized. Trouble was, there was no way to prevent brewers from diverting kegs of real beer (Wilson 550). In addition to tons of money being generated, the incident also helped to solidify the Mafia. In order to make efficient deliveries criminals had to plan, organize, market, finance, manage and administrate new techniques similar to that of an official business (Ryan 39). This reform brought on a system of heirarchy, which became a precedented characteristic of the Mafia. Two more attributes of the Mafia, which helped to keep it alive, were their influence and secret agreements. Their success during the prohibition could not have been achieved without help from law enforcement. Alcohol could only be gotten through police payoffs which were common. Their influence was based on their violent reputation used to scare people. Nonetheless, the Mafia is still an on going force in the U.S. Over the years billions of dollars have been invested in banks around the world. Their head mafiosi have become well known and respected. For instance, Meyer Lansky in 1970 left his adopted homeland in Miami Beach, Florida for Israel. After years of investing millions upon millions in Israli business and industry with monies first laundered in mob controlled institutions, Lansky was welcomed with respect and gratitude by the Israeli government. The government officials were not about to loose the millions supplied by Lansky even though the source of his money was illegal (Ryan 61). The mob has influenced foreign policy, financed revolutions, elected senators, governors, and possibly presidents (Messick, Goldblatt 204).The average citizen can not tell where legal activity ends and illegal activity begins. This is organized crime’s greatest achievement.