La Cosa Nostra Term Paper

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Organized crime has existed in society for hundreds of years in one form or another. It generally exists in prosperous societies where strong class distinctions -- sometimes brutally enforced -- exist. The history and dealings associated with major crime organizations have been well documented. In this paper, the effect of La Cosa Nostra (Our Thing or Cause) will be discussed in relation to its effects on modern society. This paper will also discuss the efforts and results of law enforcement on the Mafia.

Organized crime in the United States has been around for a long time. Since the early 1900's, "organized" crime has existed and continues to exist in the United States today. Organized crime is generally prevalent in regions of high population density, where there are sufficient opportunities available to make money illegally. Organized crime can be therefore classified as a society-influenced crime. In recent years, however, the growing strength of organized crime over international borders and the end of the cold war has resulted in concern for the U.S. government and policy makers. Crime, terrorism, information warfare, weapons of mass destruction and proliferation are also some of the growing concerns that are related to organized crime.

The Italian Mafia originated in Sicily. Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean. Historically, Sicily has always been subject to foreign occupation: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, French, Spanish and Austrians ruled Sicily. Sicily's indigenous residents, subject to foreign rule, were always considered slave labor. The Mafia, a secret society that provided for the poor was born as a reprieve for the sufferings of the poor and the oppressed. Vendetta was justice for the Mafia in rural Sicily along with the golden rule of omerta (honor). The clannish nature of the Sicilians, and their instinctive dislike for inconsistent law enforcement and a repressive hereditary aristocracy, created a favorable climate for the Mafiosi, the forefathers of the present day Italian Mafia. (Salerno and Tompkins, 1969)

Don Vito Cascio Ferro was the first Sicilian Capo de Tutti Capi. He is known to have founded the American Mafia in 1910. He formed a group called the "Black Hand" whose members were hardened fugitives-criminals from Sicily (MurderInc.com, 2001). Italians immigrated into the United States en masse. They came to the land of opportunities to start afresh. Along with a language and religion they also brought over the makings of the Mafia. This group of immigrants called themselves the American -- Italian Mafia, or La Cosa Nostra. (Salerno and Tompkins, 1969) The Mafia later reorganized itself into what are known as the "families." There were 26, well-organized families in the United States at one time with New York becoming the hub of operations. Events of 1919 really brought the Mafia into prominence in this country. When the Volstead Act (National Prohibition Act [of alcohol]) was passed, the American Mafia got fully involved in bootlegging. Al Capone, the noted "Capo" of the time also helped create, "Murder Incorporated." Here, the Mafia pooled its resources and supported a "hit squad," which would enforce the syndicate's law. The American Mafia also realized the value of making political contributions and having the blessing of the lawmakers -- the police and the local and state politician. (Mahan and O'Neil, 1998)

Another two events stamped the power of the Mafia on the hearts and the psyche of the American public. The first was the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. It occurred on 14th February 1929 at a warehouse. A plan was hatched to pick up smuggled Canadian whiskey. Mafiosi were waiting for the consignment. A police car with five men in it, three in uniforms and two in civilian clothes (masquerading as police) arrived at the warehouse and proceeded to shoot all the waiting men. The identity of the killers was never determined. The public, who had romanticized Al Capone up to that time were shocked, as were the authorities. (Taylor, 2001) "The Meet" (Tuohy, 2002) was the first time the mobs made a move towards organization. This conference, held at Atlantic City, was the first major mob conclave in American history. Formal meetings were held in a large conference room. The attendants were the most powerful Mob bosses of the time. A national commission was created at this conference with every mob family represented. It was decided that no killings would be under taken without this commission's permission. The commission also agreed to divide revenues from gambling, labor rackets, extortion and drugs businesses between the various gangs. Capone suggested that any major dispute between the families should be settled by a conference of the national syndicate leaders.

As the main purpose for the existence of the Mafia is crime, the criminals are defined by expertise in the perpetration of crime and escaping arrest and incarceration. The crime may be simple or complex. The evolution from petty to more sophisticated crimes indicate an organization that is growing. Financial rewards coupled with status in the organization are the main motivating factors for most budding or seasoned mobsters. As with any other business, there has to be a supply-demand need for crime to flourish. Illegal gambling, prostitution, pornography, loan-sharking, bootlegging, and extortion would not exist if no one used these services. No matter how much the rest of society blames the crime organizations and the syndicates, society invariably may be the cause for flourishing of crime. (Furriel and California Community Colleges. Office of the Chancellor. 1976)

Crimes such as murder for hire, hijacking, labor racketeering, burglary and arson, and, in recent times, terrorism are byproducts of the need for accumulation of wealth and power. Invariably, criminals' association with political and governmental agencies also arises. All organized crime groups will endeavor to have some connection so as to enable their organization to grow under the protection of the bureaucracy. Payoffs to various levels of the governmental organizations, from politicians and judges to law enforcement officials help to maintain the system of organized crime. Finally, all organized crime survives due to the constant influx of new members into the group and although there may be a change in the organization in terms of leadership and nature of crimes, the very fact that the group draws like-minded, corrupt people together helps its very existence. (Paoli, 2003)

The survival of any organization is dependent upon the predictable and orderly conduct of its members. A set of rules, or "code," establishes obedience and predictable conduct, and a set of established sanctions for violations ensures continued adherence and obedience. In the case of the Mafia, the golden rule of omerta is an example of such a code. There is a clear defined leader and a rank and file system. The members of the group are generally from the same area and the hierarchy is well defined. Everyone is answerable to his or her higher ups. All disputes are settled in the presence of a higher authority, the moral code is also very stringent and all members are expected to obey. The centralized nature of the organization makes it easy for the lawmakers to find and bring to justice the wrong doers.

The Sicilian Mafia still exists. It is very powerful. The American-Italian Mafia was also very strong until a few years ago. The famous "Pizza Connection" case is known to be one of the largest and most complex investigations ever undertaken at the time by the United States Government. (Glasgowcrewtripod.com, 2003) The case involved an extensive drug-trafficking operation in the United States by Sicilian organized crime members who used pizza parlors as fronts. The Mafia first became established in New York (the entry point for immigrants). Five families left their mark on the city. They gradually spread their influence throughout the country. These were the Bonannos, Colombos, Gambinos, Genoveses and the Luccheses. (Paoli, 2003)

From the very beginning, the mafia were successful in spreading their criminal influence because their quick triggers instilled fear. Mafiosi generally escaped incarceration because anybody who came forward to complaint was assassinated. The Government tried to bring down the mobs by using informants who were themselves criminals. The problem with this was that these informants themselves got away with crimes -- including murder. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials have in the past been themselves taken to task and even indicted for looking the other way when informants themselves became perpertrators. The problems were exacerbated because innocent citizens became victims of crimes and sued the law enforcement agencies. (Donn, 2002)

The influence of the Italian Mafia has decreased because the new group of budding mobsters have, when in trouble, foregone the code of omerta and preferred to make deals with law enforcement officials. The problem this nation now faces is the one of the emerging and powerful Russian mobs. Russian mobs are ruthless and vicious. Several members of these mobs are Russian expatriots who even have KGB training. The Cosa Nostra, despite being an Italian import, never developed an transnational flavor. Interpol's Organized Crime Branch (OCB) is currently pursuing the Russian Mafia. (Williams, 1997) This office was established…[continue]

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