Category: Mafia History

Thomas E. Dewey – The man who curbed the mafia of New York

Thomas Dewey was a Special Prosecutor whose only mission was to curb and eliminate the different gangsters and mafia groups that infested in the city of New York. He was a little man, sporting a large moustache and a snarling face.

His early life

It was on 24th March 1902 that Dewey was born in Michigan’s Owosso town. His father was a publisher and editor of a local newspaper and had an objective of having all the wrongs present in the political world to be eradicated and right done. His main focus was Tammany Hall’s tyranny, since it had its corrupt tentacles across the country. Junior Dewey admired his father a lot and was motivated by the senior Dewey to a great extent, so as to go after New York City’s organized crime and gangsters, which was done with a vengeance.

Initially, Dewey wanted to be a singer and was regarded to be talented with operatic baritone. He became a member of Men’s Gee Club from University of Michigan. He also wrote for ‘Michigan Daily’, student newspaper of the university. He also came third at the Nationwide singing contest. But throat problems led to his dropping music as a career and opting to become a lawyer.

He enrolled with Columbia Law School and after graduation started to practice between 1925-31. He married Frances Hutt, an actress in 1928 and both gave birth to two sons.

His rise to fame

He rose to the position of New York Southern District’s Chief Asst. U.S. Attorney in 1931, which acted as a platform for furthering his political boundaries. It is from here that he took on popular gangsters like Waxey Gordon and had him charged and convicted for hidden taxes and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.

His next target was Dutch Schultz in 1935, he was appointed Special Prosecutor of New York County and more specifically Manhattan. Having Governor Lehman’s solid backing, Dewey had assembled a crack team of investigators, assistants, stenographers, clerks and process servers. Schultz wanted to kill Dewey,  since he was sure that the latter would have all the mafia family members to be behind bars to which the national crime Commission refused  and killed Schultz instead, fearing retaliation from the government.

Although he was successful in his mission to curb mafia control over New York City, he was not considered as Presidential candidate especially with the Second World War looming large, due to his inexperience and young age.

Knowing how to identify the Mafia Family members

Although it can prove to be a difficult task, at times, it becomes possible to have the members of the mafia group to be identified from the crowd. The following points can help anyone to differentiate from the other mobsters, petty thieves and common citizens. However, what one has to understand and keep in mind that any person who have been showing such signs need not necessarily be involved with the Mafia or be one of its members.

Things to look for to identify the Mafia members

One common attribute which can be noticed among the Mafia crime members is the tattoos present on the different parts of the body, more specially those that are located on the visible portion. They are likely to have more than the ordinary tattoos which are availed by the common citizens on their bodies. Again one should not get confused that a person displaying excess is not necessarily a mafia member or a member, since he may find it to be cool to be covered with tattoos in his body. But, it might be considered to be a strong sign of involvement with any gang.


It has been noticed that the mafia gang members at times dress in similar fashion for showing their affiliation and loyalty to a specific group, which can help them be distinguished from the other mafia families. They may be seen wearing white undershirt along with unbuttoned flannel shirt at bottom. Besides this, members of a particular family may wear same colored bandannas for distinguishing themselves. Some gangs have been seen to be wearing baseball cap turned towards the back or at times to their side.

They are few of the dressing styles that are commonly seen among the members of the mafia families. But even the general public could be noticed to wear such styling fashions. Hence, one should assume that any person who is dressed in such a style is a criminal and member of the Mafiosi.

Usage of graffiti

In case, graffiti of any type is seen in the neighborhood, then it can probably be a sign of the existence of any type of criminal gang around. This is because, gangs and mafia members have the habit of having their territory marked clearly, so as to ensure that outsiders and other rival gangs are wary about their presence and the area dominated by them.

Similarities noticed between Corporate America and the Mafia

Corporate America and the industry of Hollywood Mafia are said to share similar operational abilities. For instance, the Bonnono Mafia Family being run by Jack Welch and General Motors by Al Capone. Movies, which are larger than life, tend to replicate reality.

Similarity in functioning

Specific values and rules are said to exist in any core relationship. Working for the Mafia is similar to having the suit put on and working for GM. However, the only difference here is that the rules by which each entity is said to operate. The only business of the Mafia is to make profits and so is the corporation which has opened up to earn profits. The very purpose of the existence of any entity is to have its personal agenda to be fulfilled, but the difference noticed between the two is the means that is used for attaining the needs. Corporation exists for a specific purpose and so is the Mafia organization. They both are organized entity sets, which are governed through set of rules that get driven by values of the founding members.

Some similarities

  • Honesty and Loyalty: They are characteristics which are part of the entities. The Mafia as well as corporate America search for employees who would honestly and loyally serve their need and purpose.
  • Strategy derived from top: It is the top from where strategies are derived. CEO and executives is the people who decide as to where the corporation is to head. Similarly, the decision in the Mafia Family comes from Godfather and board of directors. The Don, councilor and the under don are the main decision makers.
  • Policy & Procedures and Rules: Rules are present in the Mafia that needs to be adhered to by its members for smooth operation. The corporation does have procedures and policy in place which their employees are to follow and implement.
  • Association and power politics: Individuals within the Corporation or Mafia work towards attaining power through association and politics. In the corporate setting, if the person is well connected and liked, then he is sure to move higher the ladder quickly. Similar, the person is made a Goodfella, a made man in the Mafia for good behavior and well liked.
  • Titles vs. Ranks: Ranks are significant in the Mafia, since it determines the position of the person within the organization and his scope of authority. Same aspect goes for the corporation, where it is the title which determines the significance of the individual along with his authority and scope.

Mafia in Las Vegas

Mafia in Las Vegas

It was the Mafia members who had helped the city of Las Vegas to grow into a legal gambling hub and resort. Much of the contribution towards this aspect was made by Mafioso Meyer Lansky, who in order to avoid blame, incase, the Las Vegas gambling project failed, had enlisted the task to Bugsy Siegel.

Setting up of casinos

The job of Siegel was very clear cut, towards raising enthusiasm and cash from the other Mafia families in the region and in other cities of the United States. With pressures from the Mafia, the first casino in Las Vegas, ‘Flamingo’ had a shaky start, as it had been compelled to be opened much ahead of schedule. There were also other troubles faced by Siegel, who is known to have skimmed off a good amount of money from Mafia controlled Union’s pension funds and construction money. The Mafia with this discovery had demanded their money to be returned back, giving a deadline. It was Flamingo’s success that the hopes of Bugsy were pinned upon. He got assassinated by the Mafia Families, who thought the poor start would mean they will not be able to retrieve their cash.


After Flamingo was taken over by Lansky, its fortuned turned. Within a year, this casino achieved immense success and was profiting manifolds of its investments. It is this success which had prompted the other Mafias to get into the scene and make Las Vegas their playfield.

Involvement of other Mafias in Las Vegas

With the approval of the Mafia, over $50 Million were used from the Union’s Pension Funds. The New York Mafia families were joined by the Chicago Outfit by 1950s. Three major casinos were run by the Outfit, which included the Riviera, Desert Inn and Stardust. Later in 1960’s, the new additions were Golden Nugget, The Hacienda, Fremont and Sahara casinos.

Handling competition

With several Mafia Families getting involved in building resorts, competition increased and concerns grew over profit sharing. A deal was agreed upon by the different Mafia Families to give each on an interlocking share in other Mafia’s resort and the piece received by everyone was huge.

But from 1960s, the Mafias of Las Vegas saw their fall, with Howard Hughes, an eccentric  and reclusive billionaire managing to get some changes within the Nevada law to forbid corporations in buying interests in resorts, casinos and hotels. But, in his venture, he lost money. During the 1980s, the FBI attacked all Mafia interests and casinos were cleaned and sold to owners who were legitimate, who went on to change the very look of the city, thereby making it a family based vacation hotspot.

Emergence of the Mafia in Las Vegas

Mafia and Las Vegas as a casino city

The Mafia has always regarded gambling to be an important business. Right from betting on horses, to card games and other types of sports, the members of the Mafia are said to have earned huge from them. Also, they did operate several luxurious and illegal gambling operations across the U.S. Law enforcement agencies and Police Officers were considered to be on the payroll of the different Mafia families that operated in Las Vegas and beyond and hence, ignored all their illegal operations, thereby protecting their activities and enhancing their growth and power. But a significant event that took place in 1931 completely changed casinos and gambling history in the U.S., with the Nevada State legalizing gambling.


Las Vegas during the early 1940s was regarded to be a dirty town located in the desert middle with just few junk food diners, slot machine emporiums and gas stations. It was not a good place for residing or doing business. It was only after the ending of the Second World War that moneymaking potentiality was discovered by the Mafias in this part of the country. It was with great interest that the town had been eyed by Al Capone. However, his plans of making the place into a haven for casinos and hotels for travelers and tourists were never completed.

Emergence of the Mafias in Las Vegas

This place remained Mafia free for a long time, until its potentiality was discovered by Mafioso Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Before its formation, travelers had to visit Cuba for enjoying their time. The highly corrupt Batista regime had then welcomed gangsters in Cuba and casinos made huge profits. With the revolution by Fidel Castro and opening of the very first casino at Las Vegas compelled people with no other option to choose this city for legal gambling.

It was the excellent organizational skill and imagination of Siegel as well as Mafia money that the initial gambling resort of the city named ‘The Flamingo ‘was launched on 26th December 1946. Thus began the first of several Mafia financed resorts, while Las Vegas is said to have proved to be a highly profitable as well as legal business for Mafia members. It was due to the efforts, organizational and innovation skills of the different Mafia that the once dull desert town, has been presently converted into the much glitzy ‘Strip’ that is visited by tourists not only from within the country, but from all parts of the world to get indulged in gambling and to seek pleasures.

Knowing about the deep symbolism associated with Russian Mafia tattoos

The fact is that people in general are just dimly aware as to what is the truth behind the tattoos of the Russian Mafia. Perhaps one must  have come across ‘Eastern Promises’,  a multi award winning and much acclaimed movie which has starred Viggo Mortensen, where he is said to  portray the role of a driver working for the son of Russian Mafia boss. His body has been riddled with several tattoos, which traces his history to the Russian world of crime, which is Vory v Zakone.

Significance of the tattoos among the Russian mafia members

This Mafia film is genuinely worth watching and does show clearly the importance of tattoos that are in vogue with the Russian Mafia. However, such tattoos are considered to be much more than mere body art, with each symbol and picture depicting with some meaning or the other. The life story of  the person having the tattoo can be know, which includes his prison sentences, sins, rank he had possessed, his origin and the number of people killed by him.

Furthermore, the tattoos are regarded to be deeply symbolic, while unraveling properly the meanings that are behind its creation, which can be understood only by the Russian Mafia members. Often, the used symbols tend to be of religious in nature and may include churches and cathedrals having number of spires, which indicate the different times, the person had been in prison.

Who is given the tattoo?

When a person is initiated into the Mafia, as a new recruit, he is given a tattoo, which is engraved on his chest, incorporating a rose. With their rising in the Russian Mafia rankings, they are given more tattoos and once they become a captain, finally they are provided with a star on the shoulder as well as on the knees,  for indicating that they are not to kneel before anyone.


The Russian Mafia tattoo culture is said to have its origination in Gulag, a Siberian prison, known to be among the world’s toughest prisons. A stringent conduct code is followed by the criminals, similar to that of the Italian Mafia. Members who may falsely tattoo themselves for pretending to have achieved certain things which actually they have not or inflating their ranks, often are punished to death. Moreover, if the code is broken, then a tattoo depicting sexual nature is often forced to be had on a prominent place of the body like the forehead. They are designed specifically for embarrassing the wearer.

Fall and Rise of the Sicilian Mafia

It is very much tough to identify the Cosa Nostra or Sicilian Mafia’s beginning. The reason is because of the lack of any kind of historical record keeping and the Mafia’s secretive nature. In Sicily’s history, an upheaval was witnessed in 1812, when this island community had converted to capitalist government form from that of a feudalist. It was during that time that the Cosa Nostra might have begun or later in the 1860, with the annexation of the island by mainland Italy.

Written references

There were found some written references pertaining to Sicilian Mafia in 1864, prepared by Palermo National Guard leader named Nicollo Colonna. His writings had depicted about a sect of robbers that had been operating across the island. Special signals were used by this sect for recognizing one another.  In most of the regions, they enjoyed political protection and was abiding by a loyalty code, made efforts to avoid any kind of interaction with police officials. The sect was only made stronger and popular with the brutal attempts of the Italian governments, according to the warnings of Colonna.

Crushing of the Mafia under Mussolini

With fascist rule in Italy under Benito Mussolini, a campaign was initiated in 1925 for destroying Cosa Nostra as well as its political allies. For this purpose, Palermo’s prefect, Cesare Mori was appointed and provided with special powers for attacking the Mafia.

Mafiosi’s children and wives were held hostage for forcing them to surrender and more than 11,000 arrests had been made. Trials in huge numbers were held and 1,200+ men had been convicted and imprisoned. There were many who had been exiled without any trial. However, as the proclamation of the Fascist, Cosa Nostra was not completely destroyed, but most of the families did break up.

Revival of the Mafia

With the invasion of the Allied troops in 1943, the Sicilian Mafia resurfaced, with the ensuing chaos and there were noticed soaring crime rates and inmates escaping prisons, while black market thrived. With an intention to have the Fascist mayors to be replaced, the Allies unknowingly had appointed several Mafiosi. Having gained power and control of the island’s construction, the cement plants, metal depots and quarries, there was no looking back. Protection money was extorted from the construction firms and wholesalers if they were not members. By 1982, about 80% of heroin trade was controlled by the Mafia in the northeastern part of the United States.

Emergence and the strengthening of the Mafia families in Sicily

The Mafia is known to have originated from Sicily and hence, it is termed to be their motherland. The beautiful land of Sicily located within the Mediterranean Sea is said to be infested with limitless series of assassinations, crime and vendetta. Sicilian Mafia is considered to be around 100 Mafia Family’s loose confederation, with every family claiming sovereignty over a specific territory, generally a bigger city’s neighborhood, town or village. The single Mafia families had been the only rule bodies in the region for several years and remained actual centers of powers, although subordinate bodies had been created in 1950’s such as Sicilian Mafia Commission.

Role models or criminals!

Majority of the Sicilian population had regarded the Mafia to  be role models for everyone and not as mere criminals, someone who can be imitated and followed, since the weak, poor and oppressed were not offered any protection from the ruling government. Even during the 1950s, the Mafioso was regarded by the common people with high respect, someone who stood for greatness of characters, defense of rights and respect of law. The Mafia in Sicily once had stood for something such as honor, pride and also social responsibility. At the same time, being a Mafioso did mean, being generous, noble and honorable.

Re-emergence of the Mafia in Sicily

It was the aftermath of the 1848 and 1860 revolution that Sicily had was into complete anarchy and disorder. During the revolt, the early Mafia families, being small outlaw bands had offered their services to fight to curb the revolt. The reason behind it was to avail the opportunity to have their police records and other evidences to be burnt up and to kill those witnesses and police in the ensuing chaos. But then a new government had been established, thereby making it impossible for the group to carry out their intended plans without state retaliation and prosecution. Hence, during the 19th century’s latter half, they started to have their techniques and methods to be refined. They found protecting local nobility’s large estates and lemon groves to be lucrative business. Their core area of operation then was Palermo, Sicily’s capital, however, their dominance due to patronization from the nobles got them to spread across Sicily. It was in the mid 19th century that the Mafia Families started to strengthen their bond between one another and formed organizations, so as to enhance greater profits and derive safer working condition for everyone.

The Lufthansa Heist – A legendary robbery

There are hundreds of robberies that have taken place in the United States. Some are by chance, but few are considered to be planned out for a good amount of time and executed with great timing. Such robberies can be instances of expert master mind behind the plans. One such example is the Lufthansa Heist, which took place at the J.F.K. International Airport in 1978. This robbery according to historians was said to have taken place in well coordinated manner, with the robbers being successful to loot jewels amounting to $875,000 and cash of about $5 million. It is regarded to be the very first of its type in the whole U.S. history. This heist exposed the weakness of the law enforcement officials, which had left millions of citizens to be astonished and leaving at the mercy of the robbers and the Mafia families, with no adequate protection from the police and law enforcement officials.

Planning of the Heist

The plan to carry out the Lufthansa heist is known to have been drawn on Astoria Blvd., near LaGuardia Airport. It was the Mafia Jimmy Burke, who had come up with this master plan. With his associates, he had planned action during the Airline Diner. Information with regards to the airport was leaked out by knaves, who were one of the airport supervisor named Louis Werner and Peter Gruenwald, his co-worker. The reason for their participation in the plan and to pass on information to the Mafia was because they were immersed in huge debts and had to rely upon thefts.

They knew that American money flew once via Lufthansa airport in a month, which was used for tourists and servicemen living in West Germany to act as monetary exchange. The money within Lufthansa was stored inside a crypt at the Kennedy Airport. The information was passed on to the Burke in 1976. But it took two long years to be executed in 1978. The other associates involved in the plan as Henry Hill and Lucchese.

Ford Econolline van was used by the Mafia to reach the place, where loading of the vault was done. Cargo agents were injured during the raid a senior agent who was aware of the right key combination was forced towards opening up the crypt, after which the robbers got away with the cash.

It became thrilling news and two Hollywood movies and telefilms were directed having this incident depicted.

Mafia during the 1980’s

The Mafia right after the prohibition era divulged into different types of illegal activities to make huge profits and there emerged several Families that took control of their respective region. However, each era saw the emergence of a different group that took the lead in crime and had its own importance.

The 1980s

The small skirmishes, which is said to have accompanied consistently till now among the different Mafia families, was said to have converted into a full-fledged battle which had erupted during the 1980s. It was during this period that Mafiosi in tends and hundreds were said to have been killed in the various gang wars which took place. The early 1980s saw major upheavals to take place with the socio-political Mafia world clime changing very fast and scales were noticed to be tilted towards its favor.

Emergence of the Corleonesi Crime Family as a powerful one

Initially, the Corleonesi Crime family had been shunned by the Mafia bosses. The different reasons cited for the same was because this family had come from very little power and also hailed from Corleone, a small rural town. The Corleonesi family had been avoided for quite a long time, until its leadership was assumed by the ruthless Luciano Leggio. It is only after his coming to power that the family started to gain support from other families around. Leggio, along with his new found power got into the habit to have rival Mafia bosses to be eliminated. As Leggio had to go into hiding to escape law, Riina, his successor followed the same policy like his predecessor and exhibited similar ruthlessness. On 23rd April, 1981, Bontade, the Corleonesi family’s rival was gunned down to death, which is a clear testament of their ruthlessness and determination to eliminate their opponents. Another rival name Inzerillo got gunned with bullets some days later.

30th November 1982 can be regarded to be an interesting day for the history books, when in twelve different incidents which took place in Palermo saw twelve Mafiosi to be murdered, with few cadavers who turned up in those faraway places. Over 500 Mafiosi were said to have been killed, while about 160+ had disappeared from 1980 onward.

Using brute, violent and powerful force, it is without doubt that the Corleonesi Crime Family had become unarguable the most violent and powerful force of the decade. When compared to the functioning standard of the Sicilian ways of murdering State authorities when there was no other choice left with the Mafia, the Corleonesi Family simply did not spare any one. State figures who were anti-Mafia also had been their target.

Mafia and the Undercover Agents

The Mafia is said to exist in the United States of America for more than a century now and the prohibition era, saw them to get a stronghold in the region of their operation. The different mafia families were reputed to undertake various types of criminal activities, which even included gang wars and other aspects that caused huge issues for the government departments to function properly. Added to this, the involvement of numerous police officials and government employees with the Mafia to help them with their operation and to escape from the clutch of the law only created more trouble and their consolidation of their power in the region.

Making an impact on the Mafia

For the FBI and legal organizations to make serious impact on Mafia, what they are required to know is what actually goes in the organization, what type of activities are undertaken by them and to get inside information about the Caporegimes, the Dons and other Mafia family members as well as their associates. The legal department can always conduct raids on illegal gambling rings, drug deals, etc., to arrest those who are involved. But the fact is that the Mafia is likely to find new recruits and to have the arrested members to be bailed out, thereby increasing their gang numbers. Hence, for creating a real damage to the Mafia Family, it is necessary for the legal department to have the top to be arrested like the Don, caporegime, Underboss and his capos.

Undercover roles

This is where the undercover agents were said to play an important role whose task was to infiltrate into the Mafia family. But the FBI agent who is working undercover in the role of an enforcer or mob associate can be a dangerous job. In case, this person is caught during the act of providing information to the legal department or his truth of being an undercover is discovered, then he is likely to get executed without any second thinking.

Importance of the undercover agents

The Undercover agents are said to still be considered to plan an important role in the fight against Mafia families by the FBI. In 1998, in Cleveland, a sting was orchestrated by the undercover agent, which had helped to net over forty corrupt police officials. Since their work is dangerous and can even lead to their being tortured to death, their nature of work always remains a secret. These undercover make use of assumed names.

Mafia and Organized Criminal activities

According to the experts Organized crime has been defined as criminal activities, which is performed by extensive proficient criminal group, which depends upon illegal activities for earning huge amounts in profits. Financial profits which are gained through the functioning of different types of illegal activities are known as black money. These organizations are controlled by centralized syndicate and have synchronized actions.

What is Mafia all about?

Mafia is regarded to be a term which is used to describe different organizations which are responsible towards performing or coordinating variety of organized methods of criminal activities. The Mafia in the U.S. is also called the ‘Mob’. The very first Mafia which had come into existence was the Sicilia Mafia also called ‘La Cosa Nostra’. The person employed with the Mafia was known as ‘Mafioso’.0909

Other Mafiosi

There do exist ‘Mafia’ across the globe and are called popularly the Serbian Mafia, Albanian Mafia, Russian Mafia, etc. with their names being based upon their location. There are many organizations, which are considered to be similar to that of the Mafia, however, are called by various names. Few are mentioned below:

  • Chinese Triads
  • Irish Mob
  • Japanese Yakuza
  • Unione Corse
  • Neapolitan Camorra

The Mafia can be termed to be a gathering of numerous criminal organizations, who are controlled like that of a business, while having hierarchical structure.

Knowing the hierarchy

  • The ‘thugs’ or ‘soldiers’ are at the hierarchy bottom, who work on the less significant tasks like money extortion, etc.
  • Above them are the ‘enforcers’, who are actually bodyguards of those who protect their establishment and hire other criminals for carrying out odd jobs. Own financial establishments are possessed by the enforcers.
  • Above the enforcers are the ‘Commissioners’, who have the capability and power to control or handle the whole city or a widespread region.
  • The boss is above them, who control the individual organization from the multiple organizations of the Mafia Family.
  • Top of the pyramid structure sits ‘The Godfather’, whose word is final and has to be followed by every member of the chain without any question.

Multiple organizations present within the Mafia are known to specialize in specific crime types. They are responsible for crimes such as smuggling or narcotics trafficking, extortion, gambling, hideous crimes like kidnappings, assassinations, murders and prostitution. The Mafia organization which is specialized in assassinations, while having killed any person if ordered to, was known infamously among the media as ‘Murder Inc.’.