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The New York Mafia: How Much Do You Really Know?

The Commission New York Mafia
Editorial Credit: Wikipedia

The New York Mafia

What do you know about the history of the New York Mafia? You may be a Godfather fan but that doesn’t mean you know La Cosa Nostra? After more than ten years of skirmishes over territory between the five major Italian American crime families in New York, one man and one family emerged victoriously…

Salvatore Maranzano, a bootlegger from Brooklyn and member of the Bonanno, declared himself the boss of all bosses: capo di tutti capi.

This state of affairs didn’t last long, and Maranzano was slaughtered not long after this happened in 1931.

Nevertheless, the overall power of the notorious Five Families of New York lived on and became one of the key drivers of the American Mafia.

Here’s a snapshot of those all-important families:

The Five Families of New York

Bonanno – Colombo – Gambino – Genovese – Lucchese

1) Bonanno Family

Joseph Bonnano New York Mafia
Joseph Bonnano
Editorial Credit: Wikipedia

When Salvatore Maranzano was assassinated on the orders of Lucky Luciano, this put Joe Bonanno in the spotlight at the tender age of 26.

Bonanno forged a strategic allegiance with the Profaci family, but he soon came unstuck when his plot to assassinate Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese was discovered in 1964. This triggered a power struggle that escalated into the Banana War.

Over the next decade, Carmine Galante – acting boss – started taking out rival gangs intruding on his drug-trafficking operations. This culminated with Galante’s assassination in 1979.

As a result of Joe Pistone infiltrating the family, there were over 100 convictions leaving the family in tatters. This infiltration was immortalized in the movie Donnie Brasco, named for the alias Pistone used.

The Bonnanos nevertheless managed to stage a comeback under Big Joey Massino’s leadership, although things turned sour. Arrested in 2003, Massino shockingly became the first crime boss from New York to turn informant.

2) Colombo Family

Joseph Colombo New York Mafia
Joe Colombo
Editorial Credit: Wikipedia

Joe Profaci formed the Colombo family in 1928. A legitimate businessman with interests in olive oil, Profaci also dabbled in illegal activities like drug trafficking, extortion, and prostitution.

Profaci’s dogged taxing of underlings caused an outright mutiny led by the Gallo brothers in the 1960s.

When Joe Colombo became boss, more trouble ensued. When an attempt on his life was made in 1971, the family stagnated then fell into a civil war that further decimated the ranks.

The family lives on today, though, thanks to its rigid control of the union for cement and concrete workers.

3) Gambino Family

The Gambinos have been age-old rivals of the Genovese family and the two families have always tussled to control the Commission.

Carlo Gambino New York Mafia
Carlo Gambino
Editorial Credit: Wikipedia

Albert Anastasia was accused of causing the founder of the family (Vincent Mangano) to disappear before he was assassinated at a barber’s shop in 1957.

Carlo Gambino stepped into the vacuum. Gambino was succeeded by Paul Castellano, famously assassinated by John Gotti, the Teflon Don. Gotti was later convicted on the testimony of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, his former underboss.

More than sixty members of the Gambino family were arrested on charges of federal racketeering in 2008.

4) Genovese Family

Lucky Luciano was the first Genovese boss and remained a driving force until he was arrested on charges of prostitution.

Vito Genovese New York Mafia
Vito Genovese
Editorial Credit: Wikipedia

Frank Costello assumed leadership and ran operations until he was convicted of drug charges in 1959.

The family’s reach started extending into Las Vegas as the century played out. Vincent “The Chin” Gigante tightened the family’s grip on construction rackets and unions, but he became increasingly unhinged and paranoid over the years.

The Genovese family has been referred go as the Ivy League of organized crime. The scope and breadth of family operations and the way members rigidly adhered to the code of silence (omertà).

5) Lucchese Family

The Lucchese family was a low-key operation under first Tommy Gagliano then Tommy Lucchese. When Carmine Tramunti took power – he is famous for his role in the French Connection heroin trafficking ring – things changed for the worse.

Tommy Luccchese New York Mafia
Editorial Credit: Wikipedia

Anthony Corallo assumed power next and dialed things back to a more subdued level. The Lufthansa Heist his crew pulled off at JFK Airport was the inspiration for a scene in seminal mob movie Goodfellas. Corallo was a victim of the mid-80s Mafia Commission Trial.

The bloodthirsty Vic Amuso became boss until he was informed on by his leading lieutenant. Once again, the code of silence was shattered.


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