By Chris Mao
For over 200 years, since the 1800s, the Mafia has placed an overwhelming influence over political activity, police authorities, and even large corporations. Our modern society helps today’s people visualize the “Mafia” and their great influence through film productions such as “The Godfather,” “The Sopranos,” or “Goodfellas,” giving society a great image of the old Mafia but leading people to believe that it is all in the past, that mob activity no longer exists. However, uncommonly known is that the mob still silently reigns with its threat of violence and its vast amounts of members all around the world even to this day. Continually expanding politically, socially, and economically, the Mafia has at one point or another indirectly influenced the hotel rooms you live in, the fish you buy at the market, apartment rent wages, or even the pair of pants you are currently wearing (FBI, 2011).
When the terms “mob” or “Mafia” are used, people usually bring to mind Hollywood or the Prohibition of the 1920s. The prohibition, although very irrelevant in our day and age, is a great example of the organizational skills and widespread power of Mafia activity. Alone, liquor smuggling may seem like any other drug smuggling ordeal, but what stood out in the Mafia legacy was how flourishing the business was even under the knowledge of police and public officials (Jacobs, 2006).
The influence of the five original Mafia families – The Bonamo, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Luchese- during the 20th century ranged into so many organizations such as construction firms, stock markets, and political organizations that much of their activity was concealed, whether through simple compliance or force by the mob(Pantaleone, 1996). In those days, tribute, in terms of money or other worthy goods, was required to the mob if one wanted to put up a building, hire a garbage collector, import goods, or engage in a number of other businesses.Ultimately, the Mafia played a very impacting role in just about everything only a few decades ago, leaving the question as to where they are in today’s world.
The term “Mafia” in society is largely used to be a term of the past. However, the five mafia families are still extremely strong and alive even today. Nowadays, the activity of the Mafia ranges from drug trafficking to illegal gambling but is most prominent in the infiltration of labor unions. A prevalent issue known in labor unions today is known as labor racketeering, the exploitation of unions and union power by organized crime. It includes crimes such as stealing union treasuries and pension funds, selling out of union members’ rights in exchange for bribes from employers, or abusing union power to extort employers( Jacobs 2006). Labor racketeering serves as a huge bridge for the Mafia into the power of the work force in many cities. Through these labor unions, mob members exploit and threaten large corporations such as taxi companies, automobile dealerships, waste management companies, and a number of restaurant chains. Many taxi drivers and owners of restaurants and automobile dealerships have been hooked in into one of the many businesses of the Mafia. Owing debts sometimes in the tens of thousands, business owners and blue collared workers are forced to comply with the Mafia’s requests. Moreover, there have been cases in which political officials provide protection to racketeers in exchange for campaign contributions, campaign workers, votes, or even opportunities for personal enrichment. In the end, the Mafia has grown into a very socially influential organization. One could only question as to how they are adapting technologically in our modern world.
Over the past two decades, the Mafia has adapted to utilize communication and business transactions through private online networks. Little is known in terms of how these private online networks work, but police officials have reported finding encrypted hard drives with information regarding money laundering, online gambling, and loan sharking. Some houses have been searched and cleared of entire servers, along with hundreds of feet of wire, connecting what authorities think include communication and data transfer. Also, the U.S treasury department Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has reported that the Mafia, especially the Russian Mafia, has been involved in numerous hackings of credit card network (Balsamo, 2006). The majority of the cases filed have been involved with Paypal, taking credit card information from online vendors such as Ebay and Amazon.com. In recent years, however, credit cards have lost their value in the black market, leading Mafia activity to shift over to a practice of corporate espionage. In the act of corporate espionage, one firm would hire Mafia members to have intellectual properties, such as source codes for programs or technical architectural plans, heisted and retrieved from other firms. “They could go after thousands of credit cards or one very, very sensitive document,” said Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute research center for cybersecurity. The authorities have been gradually working towards the prevention of corporate espionage, but the technological means of the Mafia have proven too intricate at the moment for any progress (Jacobs, 2006).
But in attempts to keep up with the evolving Mafia, starting in the early 21st century, law officials began their process of legitimizing policies to rebuttal the activity of mobs. Laws were enacted to permit wiretapping and bugging, and lawsuits such as the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) act began to arise. The RICO act was an attempt to eliminate the corruption of labor unions and capture the political and public officials involved. After many years, numerous law enforcement officials, politicians, businessmen, and mob leaders were prosecuted for countless charges with evidence from phone conversations, the infiltration of some Mafia networks, and sound recordings placed in homes or cars of Mafia members(Balsamo, 2006). Moreover, on January 20, 2011, nearly 130 members of the Mafia in New York and other East Coast cities were arrested. Members of the New York’s notorious five families were prosecuted, facing charges including murder; drug trafficking, arson, loan-sharking, illegal gambling, and extortion. This takedown was noted as being the largest nationally coordinated organized crime takedown in the history of the FBI (FBI, 2011). Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of New York’s field office, commented, “The notion that today’s mob families are more genteel and less violent than in the past is put to lie by the contained in the indictments unsealed today (January 20, 2011).” The new report was covered by ABC news on that day as seen in the following video.
The news report thoroughly exemplifies the remaining prevalence of the mob’s existence and their widespread organization. Although the number of arrested individuals is a very impressive one, the numbers of mob members that could still be blended in with our society is very unknown. After so many thriving years, the expansion of the Mafia since their beginning is a number that will remain a mystery to all except those affiliated.
There is no clear answer as to when the end of this continuous chase between cop and mobster will end. Wherever there is opportunity to use fear and violence to exploit the people of one area, organize crime will always be in existence. The Mafia has currently adapted new strategies to remain off the radar. Many American Italian groups are aiming to submerge themselves into governed economics, hoping to remove themselves from the nation’s top priority lists. With such a change and revolution in society’s technological means, much of mafia activity has gone underground. However, one could say that the term “underground” simply means that the Mafia has developed new methods of staying out of the targets of federal government. Although talk of the Mafia has been largely unheard of aside from Hollywood films or in history lessons, the ongoing war between cop and mobster remains very prevalent in aspects of everyday citizens, right beneath our very noses.
- Jacobs, J. B. (2006). Mobsters, unions, and feds [electronic resource] : the Mafia and the American labor movement / James B. Jacobs. New York : New York University Press, c2006.
- Balsamo, A. (2006). Organised crime today: the evolution of the Sicilian mafia. Journal Of Money Laundering Control, 9(4), 373-378. doi:10.1108/13685200610707626
- Pantaleone, M. (1966). The Mafia and politics. Introd. by Carlo Levi. New York, Coward-McCann .
- FBI. (2011, January 20). Mafia takedown. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2011/january/mafia_012011
- ABC , N. (Producer). (2011, 01 20). An Epic Mob Bust, 127 Arrests [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njr506_YyPI
- Brinzac, Dan. Taking out the Trash. 2013. JPEG
- Al Capone.me. The Real Scarface. 2012. JPEG
- FinCEN. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. 2013. JPEG