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The Mafia: Pinnacle of Perfection
Widely distributed but intricately hidden, the Mafia became the most powerful and successful outfit in American history.
Uncle Sam provided the Mafia's first foothold through the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment (Capeci 125). Established in 1920, the eighteenth amendment launched prohibition. Seeing enormous opportunity, gangsters such as Al Capone and John Torrio cashed in on the dealing and transport of illegal beverages, a process referred to as bootlegging. Though Torrio's outfit in Chicago began the procedures of bootlegging while Capone was simply a co-leader of the family, the business was only refined subsequent to Torrio's return to Italy, at which time Capone took sole charge of the Chicago Syndicate (Lunde 143). Capone ruled over the Chicago family by inspiring his enemies and friends alike with deep terror, a method found to produce excellent results (Pendergast 424). Reigning over Chicago's underground empire from 1925 to 1931, historians have estimated to have grossed nearly $100 million a year in money generated through prostitution and the illegal sale of alcoholic beverages (Lunde 144). Capone, known to his associates as "Scarface," became the epiphany of the intelligent, untouchable mobster, dominating the bootlegging trade for the whole of his seven-year reign (Pendergast 424).
Capone was not, however, the only Mafioso that profited from prohibition. Prohibition provided the Mafia with a need for secure transportation and connections found only beyond the circle of La Cosa Nostra. This forced the Sicilian Mafia to resort to other associates outside of their own ethnic circle, such as the gangs led by Irish and Russian immigrants (Capeci 125). From prohibition onward, the Mafia's newly established partners assisted in their accumulation of power and influence in prominent American circles.
The Mafia's power became evident during prohibition through the Sicilians' extremely useful methods of handling money. Although a crackdown on Mafia-run speakeasies would have proved easily possible, local law enforcers refrained for fear of cessation of extremely generous, anonymously sent bribes (Capeci 124). The newly-appointed Prohibition Bureau became a supreme target for these bribes - nearly 10% of the prohibition officers were caught and fired for accepting anonymous "sweeteners". Only the Untouchables, a fearlessly incorruptible group of enforcement officers, could break the seemingly infinite chain of speakeasies and smuggling trails employed by the Mafia (Leone 47).
Gambling, a slightly more recent form of Mafia exploitation, provided the Mafia with another extremely successful source of income and influence. When Nevada's governing body legalized gambling in 1931, the Mafia immediately realized the opportunity. Mob money and power played a key role in the construction and establishment of many casinos. Through backing the infantile casinos and luxury hotels, the Mafia established their place in "sin city" and the gambling scene (Capeci 135). Many of the more renowned casinos, run by mobsters of the Jewish ethnicity, had partners in La Cosa Nostra to prevent other gangs from stepping in on them. Casinos earned an easy profit for mobsters of the era - they generated a self-sustained and seldom ceasing income. Mafiosos simply preformed an occasional skimming of the casino's profits, made easy through shared, although forced, partial ownership of the casinos (Leone 36). Government officials cracked down on Mafia influence in Las Vegas in the early 1970's, all but removing them from power in the paradise of hedonism. In modern casinos, simple suspicion of Mafia influence can result in revocation of the casino's gambling license (Capeci 132). Though La Cosa Nostra targeted Cuba as another site for Casino and hotel profiteering, all American-owned casinos were shut down by Fidel Castro in the late 1950's, including those owned by the Mafia.
Casinos, although a large source of constant revenue, fed only a portion of La Cosa Nostra's gambling revenue. Illegal slot machines and, more recently, video poker machines, earned a reliable income. Although always susceptible to seizure by government employees, slot machines regularly generated relatively $125 each per week. Mafioso Joseph Valachi, a lowly La Cosa Nostra soldier, testified to having twenty slot machines throughout New York (Capeci 132). These brought in an average total of $2500 per week, or approximately $15300 in current United States currency - amounting to a very large sum of money.
Extortion seems to be the mafia technique that has most thoroughly permeated the pop culture of America. Mafia extortion, given the handle "the Black Hand" by members of La Cosa Nostra, includes assassinations, bombings, blackmail, and other forms of persuasion (Carlo 13). Certainly the most publicly evident method of obtaining and retaining power that the Mafia uses, the Black Hand existed freely, rarely concealed. Rather, it was blatantly ignored by authorities for fear of bringing the Black Hand upon themselves. Inter-family disputes and rivalries commonly resulted in public shootings, bombings often occurred in the houses of citizens that the Mafia deemed objectionable, and thugs were frequently sent out to "convince" the members of the community to act as desired (Carlo 212). Mafia members often used brutality to elect members of the community to political offices, such as Jimmy Hoffa's appointment as president of the Teamster's union, or Alphonse Capone's selection as mayor of Cicero, Illinois. People placed in these offices manipulated the law for their own benefit, boosting the influence of organized crime (Pendergast 425).
Capone's use of the Black Hand became unchecked during his so-called "Laundry War" period, at which time he ran a number of Laundromats in New York. Bombings punctuated the headlines as Capone eliminated his rivals and bought out others, ever increasing his high-profit empire of Laundromats until his arrest. Scholars estimate him to have brought in somewhere around $50 million by 1931 (Lunde 40).
The Mafia used assassination very commonly, progressing in "quality" as years fell off the calendar. The early Mafia preformed murders in public, and the pulse-deprived victims remained in exposed areas, such as restaurants and roads. In recent years, specially-trained and trusted mafia assassins commit the murders and dispose of the bodies in inconspicuous areas (Carlo 1). Much of the time, the bodies are never recovered, such as the case of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. According to mafia hit man Richard Kulkinski, the Mafia compacted Hoffa's body in a car crusher and shipped it off to the island of Japan, where it formed the frame for a foreign automobile (Carlo 192). These extortion techniques led the Mafia to become one of the most feared associations of the era, even more so than the Law.
La Cosa Nostra thusly owns the title of the greatest individually-owned organization in the history of America. Spawned by lowly Italian immigrants, it rose to become the pinnacle of perfection, the most respected and feared group of Americans to work in the United States. Through their unconventional methods of gaining wealth and admiration, they left their impact on nearly every aspect of modern American life - contributing to movies, literature, politics, and even music. An unstoppable force, the Mafia still persists today, profiting off Wall Street and various business scandals. History speaks for itself - the Mafia will forever stand as the most profitable, powerful, and unwavering outfit to ever grace the shores and cities of America.
Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2004.
Carlo, Philip. The Ice Man. New York: St Martin's Press, 2020.
Lunde, Paul. Organized Crime: An Inside Guide to the World's Most Successful Industry. New York: DK Publishing, 2004.
Pendergast, Tom. St. James Encyclopedia of Modern Culture. Farmington Hills, MI: St. James Press, 2000.