How ‘La Cosa Nostra’ earned its reputation as a crime syndicate
June 1962, an Atlanta federal prison in the United States: It was a sunny morning and all the prison inmates were taken out for their usual morning exercise. Inmate Joseph Valachi, a low-level soldier in the Lucky Luciano crime family, who dabbled in numbers gambling and racketeering from 1930 to 1950, was convicted of narcotics offenses and sentenced to fifteen years in prison walked quietly with his fellow prisoners. Valachi felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see the beaming face of fellow inmate and crime boss Vito Genovese. Valachi smiled at his hero and boss, who wasted no time in foreplay before planting the kiss of death on Valachi. The kiss of death is reserved for traitors and informers, indicating that the death warrant was signed for breaking the code of “Omerta” or the oath of silence solemnly taken by all members of the Mafia.
Valachi was wrongly suspected by mafia dons of being an informant and now his life was lost under the dark and mysterious laws of the biggest crime syndicate in the history of mankind. Having served under the mafia flag, Valachi was fully aware of the meaning and significance of the kiss of death. Hurt, confused and fearing for his life, he panics and is responsible for the death of another prisoner whom he takes for his mafia executioner.
Federal authorities have now acted quickly: Valachi has been transferred to a maximum security prison and placed in solitary confinement. A deal was then offered to Valachi by the US government: his life for informative testimonies about his former colleagues and partners in the secret world of the mafia. A U.S. Senate Crimes Committee was formed, headed by Senator John H. McClellan, and Vellachi now became the star witness and key informant. It was the biggest coup ever carried out by the country’s crime and law enforcement agencies, as it was the first time in history that an organized crime insider consented to tell the story of the biggest crime syndicate in the world.
Joseph Vallachi died in prison on April 3, 1972 and his testimony was published in 1978 under the title of Wallachian papers in which he described in vivid and bloody detail the history, composition, and inner workings of the national crime syndicate known within organized crime’s inner circle as “La Cosa Nostra”.
In 1975, the US government conducted a federally sponsored investigation into organized crime and the findings were not only alarming but staggering. The total activities of crime-controlled assets and businesses were found to have an annual turnover of US$50 billion. This astronomical turnover and the profits that flow from these illegal activities are made possible by a network of highly centralized business enterprises created for the purpose of engaging in illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution, drugs, loan sharking, blackmail and extortion. Crime as a controlled or major commercial enterprise is a 20th century phenomenon, better organized in the United States. The crime cartel in the United States is bigger than ATT, IBM, the auto industry, the oil companies, or even the dreaded military-industrial complex.
The origins of the Mafia can be traced back to Sicily, Italy, where it formed as a hierarchically structured society. His predecessors were extremely secretive in nature and dedicated to the overthrow of various foreign rulers who wanted to colonize the island of Sicily, namely the Saracens, Normans and Spaniards. Most early Mafia members were recruited from the private armies of absentee landlords who maintained these soldiers of fortune to protect their estates from marauding bandits who terrorized the countryside during the anarchic period of Sicilian history. These private armies were called “Mafie” in the local language. During the 18th and 19th centuries, these private armies were reinforced and organized. Subsequently, they became so powerful that even the most powerful landowners had to pay them heavily in return for protecting their land holdings.
The Mafia not only survived the various governments of Sicily, but also continued to grow in power and influence because they won the support of ordinary people who were fed up with their despotic and corrupt foreign rulers. The Mafia devised its own private justice system, based on a complicated moral code called “Omerta” which stipulated that people should never, under any circumstances, seek redress for grievances from the local system and never inform the authorities of crimes committed. or assist in any way in detecting crimes committed against oneself or others. Breaking this oath or code of silence meant immediate, often deadly, retaliation from the Mafia’s long arm.
The mafia in the United States is organized on the model of its parent company in Sicily. In the United States, the name “Cosa Nostra” was adopted, which in Italian means “Our thing”. All operations are controlled by 24 family groups spread across the country. Most cities have only one family, but New York is unique in having five families. The heads of all the families are the members of an all-powerful commission which functions like a judicial body. The head of each family is called a Don, whose authority can only be challenged by the commission.
Next to the donation is an underboss who functions as a vice president, the next is the consigliere who acts as a legal adviser and is normally a very highly qualified lawyer licensed to practice law at the highest level. Further down the line are the caporegim or lieutenants who act as liaisons between the don and lower levels of the organization, thereby isolating the don from any personal or direct involvement in any illegal activity. Caporegimes control battalions of soldiers, who normally take care of legal family business like licensed vending machines, hotels, and casinos. Some are accused of illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution and narcotics.