La Cosa Nostra
La Cosa Nostra, translated into English means “this thing of ours.” It is a nationwide alliance of criminals — linked by blood ties or through conspiracy — dedicated to pursuing crime and protecting its members. La Cosa Nostra, or the LCN as it is known by the FBI, consists of different “families” or groups that are generally arranged geographically and engaged in significant and organized racketeering activity. It is also known as the Mafia, a term also used to describe other organized crime groups.
The LCN is most active in the New York metropolitan area, parts of New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and New England. It has members in other major cities and is involved in international crimes.
Over the years, FBI investigations have revealed how organized criminal groups have proliferated and impacted much of the world. Partnerships with foreign law enforcement agencies are essential to combat global organized crime groups. Among the partnerships the FBI is involved with is the Italian American Working Group, which meets every year. The group addresses organized crime, cyber crime, money laundering, international terrorism, illegal immigration, cooperating witnesses, drug smuggling, art theft, extradition matters, and cigarette smuggling. The US and Italy take turns hosting the meetings.
Since their appearance in the 1800s, the Italian criminal societies known as the Mafia have infiltrated the social and economic fabric of Italy and now impact the world. They are some of the most notorious and widespread of all criminal societies. There are several groups currently active in the U.S.: the Sicilian Mafia; the Camorra or Neapolitan Mafia; the ’Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia; and the Sacra Corona Unita or United Sacred Crown. The FBI estimated the four groups had approximately 25,000 members total, with 250,000 affiliates worldwide. There were more than 3,000 members and affiliates in the US, scattered mostly throughout the major cities in the Northeast, the Midwest, California, and the South. Their largest presence centers around New York, southern New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
Their criminal activities are international with members and affiliates in Canada, South America, Australia, and parts of Europe. They are also known to collaborate with other international organized crime groups from all over the world, especially in drug trafficking.
The major threats to American society posed by these groups are drug trafficking and money laundering. They have been involved in heroin trafficking for decades. Two major investigations that targeted Italian organized crime drug trafficking in the 1980s are known as the “French Connection” and the “Pizza Connection.” These groups don’t limit themselves to drug running, though. They’re also involved in illegal gambling, political corruption, extortion, kidnapping, fraud, counterfeiting, infiltration of legitimate businesses, murders, bombings, and weapons trafficking.
History of La Cosa Nostra
Although La Cosa Nostra has its roots in Italian organized crime, it has been a separate organization for many years. Today, La Cosa Nostra cooperates in various criminal activities with different criminal groups that are headquartered in Italy.
Giuseppe Esposito was the first known Sicilian Mafia member to emigrate to the U.S. He and six other Sicilians fled to New York after murdering the chancellor and a vice chancellor of a Sicilian province and 11 wealthy landowners. He was arrested in New Orleans in 1881 and extradited to Italy.
New Orleans was also the site of the first major Mafia incident in this country. On October 15, 1890, New Orleans Police Superintendent David Hennessey was murdered execution-style. Hundreds of Sicilians were arrested, and 19 were eventually indicted for the murder. An acquittal generated rumors of widespread bribery and intimidated witnesses. Outraged citizens of New Orleans organized a lynch mob and killed 11 of the 19 defendants. Two were hanged, nine were shot, and the remaining eight escaped.
The American Mafia has evolved over the years as various gangs assumed—and lost—dominance over the years: the Black Hand gangs around 1900; the Five Points Gang in the 1910s and ‘20s in New York City; Al Capone’s Syndicate in Chicago in the 1920s. By the end of the ‘20s, two primary factions had emerged, leading to a war for control of organized crime in New York City.
The murder of faction leader Joseph Masseria brought an end to the gang warfare, and the two groups united to form the organization now dubbed La Cosa Nostra. It was not a peaceful beginning: Salvatore Maranzano, the first leader of La Cosa Nostra, was murdered within six months.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano became the new leader. Maranzano had established the La Cosa Nostra code of conduct, set up the “family” divisions and structure, and established procedures for resolving disputes. Luciano set up the “Commission” to rule all La Cosa Nostra activities. The Commission included bosses from six or seven families. Luciano was deported back to Italy in 1946 based on his conviction for operating a prostitution ring. There, he became a liaison between the Sicilian Mafia and La Cosa Nostra.
Other Historical Highlights:
- 1951: A U.S. Senate committee led by Democrat Estes Kefauver of Tennessee determined that a “sinister criminal organization” known as the Mafia operated in this nation.
- 1957: The New York State Police uncovered a meeting of major LCN 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.
- 1963: Joseph Valachi became the first La Cosa Nostra member to provide a detailed looked inside the organization. Recruited by FBI agents, Valachi revealed to a U.S. Senate committee numerous secrets of the organization, including its name, structure, power bases, codes, swearing-in ceremony, and members of the organization.
Today, La Cosa Nostra is involved in a broad spectrum of illegal activities: murder, extortion, drug trafficking, corruption of public officials, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, labor racketeering, loan sharking, prostitution, pornography, tax-fraud schemes, and stock manipulation schemes.
The Genovese Crime Family
Named after legendary boss Vito Genovese, the Genovese crime family was once considered the most powerful organized crime family in the nation. Members and their numerous associates engaged in drug trafficking, murder, assault, gambling, extortion, loansharking, labor racketeering, money laundering, arson, gasoline bootlegging, and infiltration of legitimate businesses.
Genovese family members are also involved in stock market manipulation and other illegal frauds and schemes as evidenced by the recent FBI investigation code named “Mobstocks.” The Genovese crime family has its roots in the Italian criminal groups in New York controlled by Joseph Masseria in the 1920s. The family history is rife with murder, violence, and greed.
Early History — Masseria and MaranzanoMasseria sparked the so-called “Castellammarese War” in 1928 when he tried to gain control of organized crime across the country. The war ended in 1931 when Salvatore Maranzano conspired with Masseria’s top soldier, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, to have Masseria killed. Maranzano emerged as the most powerful Mafia boss in the nation, setting up five separate criminal groups in New York and calling himself “Boss of Bosses.”
Two of the most powerful La Cosa Nostra families — known today as the Genovese and Gambino families — emerged from Maranzano’s restructuring efforts. Maranzano named Luciano the first boss of what would later be known as the Genovese family. Luciano showed his appreciation less than five months later by sending five men dressed as police officers to Maranzano’s office to murder him.
Luciano, Costello, and Genovese
With Maranzano out of the way, Luciano become the most powerful Mafia boss in America and used his position to run La Cosa Nostra like a major corporation. He set up the LCN Commission, or ruling body, composed of seven bosses, and divided the different rackets among the families.
In 1936, Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison. Ten years later, he was released from prison and deported to Italy, never to return. When he was convicted, Frank Costello became acting boss because Genovese — then just an underboss — had fled to Italy to avoid a murder charge. His return to the states was cleared when a key witness against him was poisoned and the charges were dropped.
Costello led the family for approximately 20 years until May of 1957 when Genovese took control by sending soldier Vincent “the Chin” Gigante to murder him. Costello survived the attack but relinquished control of the family to Genovese. Attempted murder charges against Gigante were dismissed when Costello refused to identify him as the shooter.
In 1959, it was Genovese’s turn to go to prison following a conviction of conspiracy to violate narcotics laws. He received a 15-year sentence but continued to run the family through his underlings from his prison cell in Atlanta, Georgia.
About this time, Joseph Valachi, a “made man,” was sent to the same prison as Genovese on a narcotics conviction. Labeled an informer, Valachi survived three attempts on his life behind bars. Still in prison in 1962, he killed a man he thought Genovese had sent to kill him. He was sentenced to life for the murder.
The sentencing was a turning point for Valachi, who decided to cooperate with the U.S. government. On September 27, 1963, he appeared before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and testified that he was a member of a secret criminal society in the U.S. known as La Cosa Nostra.
In 1969, several years after Valachi began cooperating with the FBI, Vito Genovese died in his prison cell. By then the Genovese family was under the control of Philip “Benny Squint” Lombardo. Unlike the bosses before him, Lombardo preferred to rule behind his underboss. His first, Thomas Eboli, was murdered in 1972. Lombardo promoted Frank “Funzi” Tieri, and later Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno as his front men.
Throughout the 1980s, the Genovese family hierarchy went through several changes. Tieri, recognized on the street as the Genovese family boss in the late 1970s, was convicted for operating a criminal organization through a pattern of racketeering that included murder and extortion.
Salerno then fronted as boss until he had stroke in 1981. In 1985, Salerno and the bosses of the other four New York families were convicted for operating a criminal enterprise—the LCN Commission. Lombardo, his two captains in prison and his health failing, turned full control of the Genovese family over to Gigante—the man who tried to kill Costello 30 years earlier.
Fish on the Hook
In 1986, a second member turned against the Genovese family when Vincent “Fish” Cafaro, a soldier and right-hand-man to Anthony Salerno, decided to cooperate with the FBI and testify. According to Cafaro’s sworn statement, Gigante ran the family from behind the scenes while pretending to be mentally ill. Cafaro said this behavior helped further insulate Gigante from authorities while he ran the Genovese family’s criminal activities.
Gigante’s odd behavior and mumbling while he walked around New York’s East Village in a bathrobe earned him the nickname “the Odd Father.” After an FBI investigation, Gigante was convicted of racketeering and murder conspiracy in December 1997 and sentenced to 12 years. Another FBI investigation led to his indictment on January 17, 2002, accusing him of continuing to run the Genovese family from prison. He pled guilty to obstruction of justice in 2003. Gigante died in prison in December 2005 in the same federal hospital where Gambino family leader John Gotti had died in 2002.
Labor racketeering is the domination, manipulation, and control of a labor movement in order to affect related businesses and industries. It can lead to the denial of workers’ rights and inflicts an economic loss on the workers, business, industry, insurer, or consumer.
The historical involvement of La Cosa Nostra in labor racketeering has been thoroughly documented:
- More than one-third of the 58 members arrested in 1957 at the Apalachin conference in New York listed their employment as “labor” or “labor-management relations.”
- Three major U.S. Senate investigations have documented La Cosa Nostra’s involvement in labor racketeering. One of these, the McClellan Committee, in the late-1950s, found systemic racketeering in both the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.
- In 1986, the President’s Council on Organized Crime reported that five major unions—including the Teamsters and the Laborers International Union of North America—were dominated by organized crime.
- In the early 1980s, former Gambino Family Boss Paul Castellano was overheard saying, “Our job is to run the unions.”
Labor racketeering has become one of La Cosa Nostra’s fundamental sources of profit, national power, and influence. FBI investigations over the years have clearly demonstrated that labor racketeering costs the American public millions of dollars each year through increased labor costs that are eventually passed on to consumers. Labor unions provide a rich source for organized criminal groups to exploit: their pension, welfare, and health funds. There are approximately 75,000 union locals in the U.S., and many of them maintain their own benefit funds. In the mid-1980s, the Teamsters controlled more than 1,000 funds with total assets of more than $9 billion.
Labor racketeers attempt to control health, welfare, and pension plans by offering “sweetheart” contracts, peaceful labor relations, and relaxed work rules to companies, or by rigging union elections. Labor law violations occur primarily in large cities with both a strong industrial base and strong labor unions, like New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia. These cities also have a large presence of organized crime figures.
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO)
The US Government has several investigative techniques to root out labor law violations: electronic surveillance, undercover operations, confidential sources, and victim interviews. It also has numerous criminal and civil statutes to use at our disposal, primarily through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Statute.
The civil provisions of the RICO statute have proven to be very powerful weapons, especially the consent decrees. They are often more productive because they attack the entire corrupt entity instead of imprisoning individuals, who can easily be replaced with other organized crime members or associates.
Consent decrees are most effective when there is long-term, systemic corruption at virtually every level of a labor union by criminal organizations. A civil RICO complaint and subsequent consent decree can restore democracy to a corrupt union by imposing civil remedies designed to eliminate such corruption and deter its re-emergence.
The Teamsters are the best example of how efficiently the civil RICO process can be used. For decades, the Teamsters has been substantially controlled by La Cosa Nostra. In recent years, four of eight Teamster presidents were indicted, yet the union continued to be controlled by organized crime elements. The government has been fairly successful at removing the extensive criminal influence from this 1.4 million-member union by using the civil process.
Tino Fiumara, the brother of Chris Christie's aunt’s husband, was a ranking member of the Genovese crime family. Tino was twice convicted of racketeering, sentenced to 25 years in federal prison, and linked by investigators to several grisly murders, including one in which a victim was strangled with piano wire. Christie says that as United States attorney he was tough on organized crime, but it did not rank as high as public corruption, terrorism, violent street gangs or human trafficking. And he said he stands by a 2007 remark that “the Mafia is much more prominent on HBO than in New Jersey.” By 2009 Fiumara sat on a the three-man committee that ran the Genovese family following the death of Vincent Gigante in 2005. Tino (the Greek) Fiumara died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer.
The Christie crew engaged in a “mafia-esque” episode for four days in September 2013, abrupt and unexpected lane closures on the George Washington Bridge - that links New Jersey to New York City and carried some 300,000 vehicles on a typical day - brought traffic to a standstill. Christie denied charges he or his team ordered the closing to punish Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, New Jersey for refusing to support his bid for reelection. But e-mails from one of the governor’s aides confirmed his team’s involvement. The governor said he did not know. At least two aides have been indicted in the alleged scheme to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as political retribution for a mayor who refused to endorse the governor's re-election.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken said the Christie administration was prepared to deny Hoboken Sandy relief aid if she didn’t favor a redevelopment project represented by David Samson, Chairman of the Port Authority and a close confidante of Governor Christie. Had Zimmer succumbed to the pressure, Samson’s law firm could ultimately have made millions of dollars in legal fees.
On February 26, 2016 Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump won the endorsement of one of his formal rivals, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said Trump had the best chance to win the November election.
Meg Whitman, who served in the role of National Finance Co-Chair for Christie's campaign, said "Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism. Donald Trump is unfit to be President. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey. Christie knows all that and indicated as much many times publicly. The Governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie's donors and supporters to reject the Governor and Donald Trump outright. I believe they will. For some of us, principle and country still matter."
Real-estate mogul Donald Trump has long faced allegations of connections to the mob. Trump joined his dad’s real estate business in his 20s, giving him a multitude of contacts ranging from political and real estate power brokers to mob connections. Trump's father, Fred Trump, was reportedly worth $200-$400 million when he died. James Tomasello was the bricklayer contractor on one of Fred Trump's early projects. Tomasello was a source capital for Trump, and the source of that capital was something Trump didn't inquire about too closely. According to the Organized Crime Task Force in the 1950s, a complex web of relationships linked Tomasello to the Gambino and Genovese crime families. Prior to joining Trump, William “Willie” Tomasello had partnered with figures in the Genovese and Gambino crime families in a number of real estate developments in New York and Florida.
Trump's alleged ties to New York and Philadelphia crime families go back decades and have been recounted in a book, newspapers and government records. "The mob connections of Donald are extraordinarily extensive," New York investigative journalist Wayne Barrett told CNN in an interview. In the 1980s and early 1990s organized crime' ties to the New York and New Jersey construction industries made contact between developers and mafia-controlled companies unavoidable.
Writing in the Washington Post October 16, 2015, Robert O'Harrow Jr. noted "No serious presidential candidate has ever had Trump’s depth of documented business relationships with mob-controlled entities. ... Throughout his early career, Trump routinely gave large campaign contributions to politicians who held sway over his projects, and he worked with mob-controlled companies and unions to build them... He was never accused of illegality, and observers of the time say that working with the mob-related figures and politicos came with the territory."
Trump bought the property that his Atlantic City casino Trump Plaza would one day occupy -- for twice market price -- from Salvatore Testa, a Philly mobster and son of Philip “Chicken Man” Testa, who was briefly head of the Philly mob after Angelo Bruno’s 1980 killing. Trump used the mob-controlled concrete company S&A Concrete to build Trump Plaza condos. Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, the don of New York's Gambino family, controlled S&A. The Trump Tower was built out of concrete, instead of steel - the mafia controlled much the concrete industry. Trump and Salerno were both represented by high-power attorney Roy Cohn.
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