Mafia Essay

This essay has a total of 6692 words and 23 pages.


The Mafia Used Prohibition to Become Successful
The Mafia was an organization rooted in defiance of the government (Michael Cavendish 78).
On January 16, 1919, the 18th amendment was ratified, prohibiting the importing,
exporting, manufacturing, and distribution of alcohol. Ten months later the Volstead Act
was passed to enforce the law. The Volstead Act gave the United States Government the
right to enforce Prohibition. The United States Government became an easy target of the
Mafia by trying to enforce the 18th amendment, and bootlegging, or the selling of illegal
alcohol, was born. The unions were overtaken, and as a result distribution to the Mafia
owned illegal bars known as “speak easies”, could occur (Fred J. Cook 52). Any man or
organization opposing the Mafia would lose his life. Henceforth, the selling of
protection grew. Instead of a semi - feudal, exclusively Sicilian association, the Mafia
was Americanized to reflect the diverse character and lush opportunities of the adopted
land. It grew more flexible, more cooperative, and above all more like a giant American
cooperation. Because of the Prohibition Era, the Mafia flourished throughout the United
States of America.

Soon after the first Sicilian Mafia dons arrived, they took over local crime and converted
it into alcohol running operations. In the Little Italys of New York, Boston,
Philadelphia, Louisiana, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and other cities, many households
produced homemade wine and had their own little stills. Put into steady production, these
distilleries poured out thousands of gallons of alcohol for the Mafia gangs to distribute.
At one point, eighty percent of all Canadian whiskey production found its way overland or
by sea into the United States of America. With the Mafia’s deep-rooted clannishness,
hatred for the law, brutality, and talent for organization, the Mafia ruled New York’s
Little Italy (Anton Blok 27). Not only did the Mafia make it’s money through the illegal
distribution of liquor, but the gangsters also operated lotteries and took their cut from
many of the poker games that occurred. According to New York Detectives Tom Tripodi and
Joseph P. Desario the crime syndicate loaned money at usurious rates, imported and
distributed narcotics, and held monopolies on vital foodstuffs: olive oil, cheese,
anchovies, and artichokes (130). Every merchant paid a dollar or two a week as protection
money, right down to the pushcart peddlers, whose carts would be smashed and merchandise
scattered if they withheld as little as a dime. The people either paid the gang what they
wanted or they lost everything they had including their lives. With every dollar that the
Mafia got from its “customers”, they could afford to manufacture more liquor to sell. The
gang sold the liquor at a very high price claiming that it was “fresh off the boat”,
meaning authentic Canadian alcohol but in all actuality, the liquor was just bogus Scotch
or gin made in local distilleries. Every man that had to pay for protection was helping
the Mafia become more deeply rooted in the United States.

As the Prohibition Era got underway, men were trying to steal as much liquor as possible
for maximum profit. According to Anton Block, the night that the Volstead Act was passed,
2000 gallons of whiskey were stolen out of a federal warehouse (64). The Mafia became
involved in bootlegging, and many people tried to overthrow the criminal syndicate and
steal the illegal alcohol. Men tried to hijack alcohol by beating the drivers and
stealing the trucks. Most of those would - be thieves were later found dead on the New
York docks. They were executed mafia style, with either a napalm bomb (a light bulb
filled with napalm that exploded when the light switch went on, burning the victim to
death) or they had their body blown apart by automatic weapons. Rival gangs also decided
to take a cut from the alcohol running business. The toughest gang that the Mafia took on
was the O’Bannion Gang. In Illinois, there were two major gangs controlling all of
Chicago, Johnny Torrio’s Mafia and Dion O’Bannion’s Irish Gang. They left each other
alone until O’Bannion started to cut in on Johnny Torrio’s profit. Al Capone, Torrio’s
under boss, then started one of the bloodiest gang wars known in American history.
Hundreds of gang members died because of the gang wars. Al Capone would have died except
for a stooge who jumped on top of his body saving him from the barrage of bullets. The
bloody turf wars ended when Capone hired “Undertaker” Frankie Yale to come to Chicago and
murder O’Bannion. According to author David L. Chandler, the death of Dion O’Bannion
sealed the fate of over 500 men (190) . Gunfire started overnight and did not stop for
the next few months. Al Capone’s boss, Johnny Torrio announced his retirement because he
found that the streets were unsafe and much too violent. Capone then took over all
operations of the Chicago mob, including the bootlegging and protection plans. He
eliminated all competition in the most gruesome ways that he could find. On one occasion,
Capone learned that three Sicilian gang leaders were planning to overthrow him. After he
wined and dined them to their fullest, his henchmen bound them to their chairs and Capone
methodically broke every bone in their bodies with a bat (Blok 117). This demonstration
of brutality ultimately secured his position as the top Mafia don of Chicago.

The rise of Salvatore Luciana, the top don in New York, occurred in a different way.
Salvatore Luciana, whom at a very early age started his own protection business by preying
on Jewish youngsters passing through the neighborhood on their way to school. The Jews
either shelled out a penny or two for protection or they got beaten and robbed. Only one
Jewish boy stood up to Luciana. A small boy named Meyer Lansky was walking to school one
day and Luciana confronted him. Lansky refused to pay Luciana for the protection.
Luciana later said that he like Lansky from the first time that he saw him. Future
organizational wizard Salvatore “Lucky” Luciana had just met future financial genus Meyer
Lansky. According to author Fred J. Cook, both of these men single handedly brought the
Sicilian Mafia to the pinnacle of its existence. They both started up their own gang and
started to move in on other rival gangs. As they became powerful and started to gain more
members, they started to hijack alcohol running trucks and selling them to the highest
bidder. Because of the profits that Luciana and Meyer had, mafia members began to notice
them and started to look into having them joining the crime syndicate. When Luciana came
to power, he began to eliminate all of the competition just as Capone did. The only
difference between Capone and Luciana was their methods of killing. Unlike Capone’s
brutality tactics, Luciana believed in silent, not - so - bloody deaths. From the
beginning Luciana attracted men to his side. According to the author William Balsamo,
after a few years, Luciana’s gang numbered more than twenty members, which was a great
amount and was controlling all of Manhattan (97). Salvatore Luciana was not the typical
Mafia boss. He accepted all Caucasian men into his gang, though he did not accept
Africans or Asians. Since Luciana accepted most of the men he meant, he improved the
total population of the Mafia a great deal. Also, with the number of different types of
men, Luciana and Meyer had access to many different contacts all over the world. Luciana
used his organizational skills to get more members and Meyer used his mathematical genius
to obtain more capital and more money. With the money that Meyer obtained, he put the
Mafia in every business, almost all of the police were on the salary, and they bribed many
political officials. With the power that Salvatore Luciana and Meyer Lansky wielded, they
propelled the Mafia throughout the United States, increased profits, and increased the
membership so much that almost all of the towns in the state of New York had a crew of

During the beginning years of the Mafia in the United States, many families were at war
with each other. One of the first wars that occurred was between the Masseria family and
Maranzano family. Giuseppe Masseria was one of the most powerful dons in the state of New
York until a new power came upon the city by the name of Salvatore Maranzano. Both of the
bosses were trying to employ Salvatore Luciana and his associates in an attempt to gain an
upper hand. However, Luciana wanted both of the dons taken care of so he and his
associates could move up into power. Luciana felt that if he could take care of Maranzano
and Masseria, all of their men would come flocking to join up with him. That is precisely
what happened. As soon as Luciana had Maranzano and Masseria eliminated, all of what was
left of the two families came over to Luciana asking for forgiveness and membership. With
the new members that he obtained, Luciana had the largest operation in all of New York
(Michael Cavendish 151). He sent for all of the top dons to come to a meeting so he could
discuss the future of the Mafia. At the meeting, he stated that all business affairs
would stay the same and all dons would stay the same until he said otherwise. While this
was all happening, major dons in Sicily started to notice the new American crime power and
started to send over more and more men to improve the ranks of Luciana’s new Mafia. With
the new members that he obtained, Luciana had obtained the largest criminal operation in
all of New York. Over the next few years, the Mafia would use the bootlegging industry to
cover the whole United States with operatives and gangs (Cavendish 160). Because of the
expansion of the bootlegging industry into the far west, many more men, mostly non –
Sicilian, would ask to join. Salvatore Luciana had no idea that one Mafia family war
could result in the biggest crime empire known in the world.

While Luciana was revolutionizing and expanding the Mafia, he started to branch out into a
new enterprise. During his younger years Luciana had heard of certain unions around the
country. The two biggest in New York at that time was the Concrete Union and the Steel
Union. The Mafia was always looking for more ways to increase its profits and the top
dons felt that the unions looked very lucrative. Luciana had some of his colleagues try
to infiltrate these businesses and see if they could bribe top union officials to see
things his way. The Steel Union objected to all of the Mafia’s offers and did not seem
intimidated by the threats. The Concrete Union on the other hand, was much easier to
persuade. They were not as large as the Steel Union and were afraid that the Mafia would
sabotage the union’s plans. Luciana sent operatives into the concrete union to establish
connections with the top officials of the union (Blok 125). Due to the submissiveness of
the officials, the Mafia gained an unofficial salary every week, which aided them in the
manufacturing and distributing more and more “bootleg” alcohol. Any man of Italian decent
was required to apply for a position even if they knew that they would not make it into
the crime syndicate. The Mafia skimmed money from the union members health insurance and
their weekly dues. It is estimated that in one year, the Mafia obtained over five million
dollars from union scams alone (David Leon Chandler, 135). Most of the existing unions,
except for the Steel Union and a few others were under Mafia control. With the unions
under control, the Mafia had free reign over more districts. More land was obtained and
other gangs were either pushed out peacefully or exterminated. Many of the top officials
kept all Mafia ties in tight secrecy, not even letting their own family know or the
government. If people found out that a certain union was involved in illegal activities,
nobody would join and the union would eventually die. Also, the person that “ratted” on
the Mafia would quietly disappear and never be seen or heard of again. Due to the success
of the Mafia’s contacts in the unions, they gained sufficient funds to increase their
bootlegging industry.

Corruption in the United States Government played a big part in the Mafia’s success. From
the beginning of the crime syndicate over in Sicily, the Mafia has bribed every official
that they could get to. That official would then use his power to keep the Mafia out of
jail and out of trouble. During the prohibition era, the Mafia used its money to bribe
police officers to leave their alcohol running trucks alone. Many of those same officers
even sat in the back seat of the trucks to make sure that no one bothered the driver. In
one instance, after a racketeering trial against Al Capone, he walked out of the
courthouse and kicked the mayor of Chicago down the steps, while a paid police officer
walked by watching the whole thing (Blok 81). There are no records of any major political
officials being found guilty of being bribed by the Mafia; it is suspected that in every
state that the Mafia occupied, the governor was being paid off. All states, that is
except for New York. The one governor of New York that valiantly defended his position
was Governor Henry Fiorello La Guardia. The Governor was easily moved around though
because many of his aids were on the Mafia payroll. Through those aides, the Mafia knew
of everything that La Guardia was planning and easily moved their alcohol around the
Governor’s roadblock. Many political powers that were on the Mafia’s payroll helped them
acquire the illegal alcohol (Cook 99). The political powers would talk to suppliers
promising certain kickbacks or a job in office the Mafia was given the alcohol at reduce
prices. If the manufacturer agreed, he would send the Mafia a present and receive his
money some time later. Although he helped the Mafia obtain the illegal alcohol, he never
got his kickback or his political position from the government officials. However, if the
manufacturer decided to deny the offer, he was warned once and then he was eliminated and
his business became the Mafia’s business.

Many of the political officials attached to the crime syndicate felt that they were above
the Mafia and could do as they pleased. Those thoughts were totally wrong. The Kennedy
Family started to amass its fortune during prohibition and Joseph Kennedy Sr. was the main
benefactor (Cook 98). He sold thousands of gallons of illegal alcohol during the 20’s and
30’s. When the Mafia caught up to him and confronted him with this accusation, he
furiously denied it and wanted to know who told. To prove his respect for the crime
organization, he offered fifteen percent of his weekly income from the alcohol sales and
would use his political power to keep the Mafia out of trouble with the law and
government. Joseph Kennedy Sr. was forever more a watched target just in case he decided
to pull a double cross and try to beat the Mafia at the bootlegging business. Joseph
Kennedy Sr. was not the only politician that tried to cooperate with the Mafia, but is one
of the few who succeeded in making a fortune while cooperating. There were those
officials who felt that they were above the Mafia and could control them, but those few
men were dealt with and were never seen of or heard from again. According to Professors
William Bridgewater and Seymor Kurtz, the double – dealing men of the government and the
Mafia all contributed their time and effort into the making of the major bootlegging
business . Because of the illegal running of alcohol, many of those contributors lost
their friends, family and their own lives. But, for those men who stayed alive and
survived during the Prohibition Era, they amassed great fortunes and like Joseph Kennedy
Sr., those men are still known today.

The two-faced men of any organization could either bring riches or rags. The men in the
Mafia were always deceitful, trying to turn a profit any time they could. The more power
that they could obtain without the boss knowing, the more time he had to over – throw the
current man in charge. Many of these men would turn out to be very powerful. One of the
most powerful two – faced men was Salvatore Luciana. He strived many years to become
“Boss of all Bosses” (Chandler 167) . He destroyed many families and killed many men to
obtain the most important position. He earned respect and power and with those key
factors, many men came to his side and decided to join him against the old Mafia dons.
The first thing that most of these men did was to take over the local bootlegging business
of the boroughs of New York. With the possession of the local bootlegging industry, they
were able to amass enough funds to acquire more men to help with the take over. As the
“revolution” progressed, many men died and many men made themselves new reputations. New
enterprises were made, such as prostitution, extortion and murderer for hire. The most
prominent group was Murder Inc. They were a group prominently dominated by Jewish toughs
who would hire themselves out to kill men (Cook 187). The advantage to this corporation
was that these men came from out of state, did the job that they were paid for, and then
left to go to another state. Luciana used this corporation to execute many of his rivals
and foes. With the competition exterminated, Luciana rose to power and elevated the Mafia
beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Although being two – faced sounds like a bad and horrible
thing, that type of mind frame kept the Mafia at its peak, keeping the alcohol business
thriving, money always coming in, and success a never ending mind set.

During prohibition alcohol was a quick way to get rich. Although many people say that
just about everyone could get rich, only the few who had the resources and the attitude
could get rich. The Mafia might not have been a single person, but the entire crime
organization used all of its resources to achieve greatness. Through the bootlegging
business, they achieved a reputation that is talked about even today. The original La
Cosa Nostra recognizes them with respect, which is a great honor in the criminal world.
Without Prohibition, the Mafia might not have been as successful and significant an
organization. The capital and funds that the crime syndicate gained cumulated to ten
billion just during that era. When people think of the Mafia, they see murder, conspiracy
and racketeering. However, the Mafia greatly increased the economy, improved living
conditions and increased their own profit and membership so that they could be the most
prosperous, dangerous and sought after organization in the world. If prohibition had
never been enforced, the Mafia might not be known as it was, as it is, and what it could

The Mafia Used Prohibition to Become Successful
The Mafia was an organization rooted in defiance of the government (Michael Cavendish 78).
On January 16, 1919, the 18th amendment was ratified, prohibiting the importing,
exporting, manufacturing, and distribution of alcohol. Ten months later the Volstead Act
was passed to enforce the law. The Volstead Act gave the United States Government the
right to enforce Prohibition. The United States Government became an easy target of the
Mafia by trying to enforce the 18th amendment, and bootlegging, or the selling of illegal
alcohol, was born. The unions were overtaken, and as a result distribution to the Mafia
Continues for 12 more pages >>