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Moreover, a prosecution of the core leadership of an organization under RICO charges is likely to produce revelations concerning the relationship between leadership and other members who are either guilty of racketeering or some lesser scope of individual crime. This is to say that RICO was essentially designed to push the door open on the activities of such typically obscured enterprises in order to systematically disrupt its initiatives and priorities.
Still, as this investigation finds as a recurrent theme in considered research materials, even when armed with RICO's expansive authorities, there remains a fundamental difficulty in overcoming the effectively obfuscating structure of the modern organized crime enterprise. In the case of the long-ingrained style of activity instituted by La Cosa Nostra, the protective degree to which structure is designed to insulate the activities, connections and implications relating to real decisions-makers and bosses tends to effect the ability of RICO statutes to truly serve the purpose of removing core leaders from their roles. The practice of elevating a 'fall guy' to absorb the allegations and attention relating to RICO charges and their related organization-wide probes has often given organized crime families of the Mafioso type one face before the public, the media and law enforcement and another face in business betwixt organizations and within the decision-making structure.
To date, the most well-known incident of RICO application remains a useful cautionary note composed by the trial, prosecution and sentencing of an alleged head of the Genovese family. Long one of the most notorious, stable and even romanticized Mafia families, the Genovese enterprise had been a visible target for FBI agents across many decades leading up to the 1970 initiation of RICO statute applicability. Therefore, when it saw an opportunity to play on the family's apparent vulnerability to the new legislation, the FBI pounced upon the family. As our research denotes, "when Alphonse 'Funzi' Tieri, known as Frank to all acquainted with him, was promoted to the head of the Genovese Family in 1972, he was put there for the same reason that his successor originally had been - to be a 'yes man.' Just as Vito Genovese had placed Tommy Eboli in control when he went to prison in order to maintain his own power, Carlo Gambino inserted Tieri to wield his influence over yet another crime family." (Upahts, 1)
After a number of years operating from this position, Tieri was apprehended by federal agents and would become both an example to other Mafia figures as to how the RICO charges would be used to gain previously hard-won court prosecutions and, to the contrary, would become a symbol of the core futility which was always a symbol of prosecuting organized crime. Indeed, to both points, Tieri holds the distinction of being "the first man to ever be convicted under the then newly conceived RICO law. In 1980 he was charged with being the head of the Genovese crime family, overseeing activities such as extortion, conspiracy, bankruptcy fraud, and murder. In January 1981, Tieri was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison." (Upahts, 1)
Naturally, his prosecution would in many ways serve to demonstrate to heretofore immune Mafia leaders that the federal government was determined to shape its laws as a means to undermining such obscuring design principles.
But this is a statement which would be undermined by the real nuance and implication of Tieri as defendant. The understanding, both within the Genovese famiiy, and indeed across various sectors of law enforcement, judiciary and public opinion, would render the case a relative failure insofar as it was unable to truly remove any sort of real power or strategic personnel from the family's structural leadership. Tieri had not only served his purpose as fall guy by absorbing prosecutorial scrutiny from family leaders who would thus continue to work with relative impunity, but he would died in hospital care of natural causes only two months after his conviction. (Upahts, 1) Therefore, opportunities to use his captivity as an example, a source of information or even a carriage of justice had simply failed, with the new application of RICO running into the same old problem of struggling to penetrate the abstruse and clever structural confutation of such organized criminal groups.
One of the aspects of the Mafia in particular that has made it so difficult to pin down is its transnational structure which, until the inception of the RICO statutes, the FBI generally lacked. With much of its familial heritage rooted in Sicily and other parts of Mediterranean Italy, the American contingent of Mafioso have used this relationship to great strategic effect. In the ensuing generations, this relationship had brought greater power to families through their involvement in the international cocaine and heroin trade. This was a venture which would bring a constant threat of violence to the city streets and countryside of Sicily, where the cryptic 'omerta' or honor-code pertaining to Mafia business and personal relations would often be enforced by harsh strong-arm tactics such as assassination. Dwarfing the American Mafia's tradition of internal violence, the Sicilian principle of the vendetta predisposed Mafia affiliates there to commit revenge killings that helped to enforce authority and exploitation through the levying of fear. By the 1980's, this condition had reached a fever pitch in Sicily. The city of Palermo, specifically, would be devastated by mafia friction during "the period from 1978 to 1992 when its streets were bloodied by unprecedented violence. At the outset, a group of notoriously aggressive mafiosi originally from the mountain town of Corleone waged a takeover of the city's established mafia 'families.' The aggressors' strategy included murdering public officials -- police and Carabinieri officers, magistrates and political leaders. With a population of around 700,000, Palermo lost 100 or more persons annually to assassination." (Schneider, 2-3)
Much of this was enabled by the Mafia's deep entanglement with politicians, law enforcement agents, judges and industry leaders in Sicily and the U.S., providing it with protection from criminal prosecution and virtually every other form of justice. This is a condition which would change in the 1980's, as public resentment for the presence of organized crime had risen to new heights. A decade of violence had rendered a heavy toll on the people of Sicily who, in addition to suffering the loss of so many of its citizens, had also undergone a level of international trade repudiation due to the unquestionable links between its leadership, its industry, its Church and its organized crime families. The results had been a negative economic cycle in which unemployment, poverty, a suspicion of notoriously corrupt political systems and an animosity for law enforcement had helped to sustain the relevance of such criminal careerism. The steps being taken by legislative and judicial officials in the United States with RICO would inspire a dramatic attack on Sicily's organized crime families.
The 1986 Maxi Trials, in which more than 400 mob defendants were held on trial in Palermo for the crime of Mafia entanglement, echoed American consolidation efforts with the 1970 RICO Act. (FBI, 1) This would greatly hone the tools available to law enforcement agencies for prosecution. With the in-trial informant Tommaso Buscetta, a formerly high-ranking Mafioso, providing a damning case against organized crime in both the U.S. And Italy, Sicily would make its first serious foray into curbing Mafia rule. (Israely, 1) Still, in the aftermath of this trial, many members of Buscetta's family were killed in retaliation, as were many of the public officials responsible for bringing the Maxi Trial into occurrence. (Sicily, 1) to an extent, the factors of intimidation employed by the Mafia would remain present, but in RICO, governments facing the problem of organized crime would also see the opportunity to employ similarly strong-armed tactics through a broad construction of the law.
Unfortunately, questions as to the effectiveness of the RICO statutes in meeting their initial intent have been continually inflamed by failure. A good example is the case today used against biker or motorcycle gangs, the largest of which constitute crime syndicates that while not sophisticated in the way of the Mafia, are nonetheless structurally secretive, prone to enterprising criminal activity and given over to working through expansive networks to achieve their goals. It is thus that racketeering has frequently been used as the primary tool in obstructing or disrupting such gangs. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has in recent decades taken a significant interest in the activities of such clubs, "although not all [Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs] fit the definition of organized crime, many of the estimated 800 motorcycle gangs operating in the United States do." (Potter, 1) This is primarily because those motorcycle clubs which are most widely spread, heavily populated and…[continue]
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