From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A crime family is a term used to describe a
unit of an organized crime syndicate, often
operating within a specific geographic territory. The term is used
almost exclusively to refer to units of the Mafia, both in Sicily and in the United States, although it is
occasionally used to refer to other groups.
The origins of the term come from the Sicilian Mafia. In
the Sicilian dialect, the word cosca, which literally translates into
multi-layered vegetable surrounding a vital core), is also used for
clan. In the early days
of the Mafia, loose groups of
bandits organized themselves into associations that over time
became more organized, and they adopted the term based on both of
As the Mafia was imported
into the United
States in the late 1800s, the English translation of the word cosca was
more at clan or family.
The term can be a point of confusion, especially in popular culture
and Hollywood, because in the truest sense,
crime families are not necessarily blood families who happen to be
involved in criminal activity, and not necessarily based on blood
relationships. The Godfather films as well as a spate
of "Mafia princess" made-for-TV-movies in the late 1980s
underscores this confusion.
It can further be speculated that the Mafia was simply
emulating, to a certain degree, a more medieval order in which a noble family would more or less serve as
the power in a local village, in a sort of inverted hacienda culture.
The Calabrian 'Ndrangheta is,
however, purported to be organized along familial lines.
Nevertheless, the term stuck, both in the minds of popular
culture as well as the national law enforcement community, and
eventually began to be used to describe individual units of not
only Sicilian gangsters, but those whose origins lie in other parts
of Italy (e.g., the aforementioned 'Ndrangheta, the Neapolitan Camorra, etc.). Indeed,
the "family" mystique is to such a great degree that in the late
1990s, after many Camorra leaders were imprisoned during a
large-scale crackdown in Naples, many of their wives, girlfriends,
daughters, and even mothers took temporary control of their gangs,
in a widespread phenomenon of Camorra "godmothers".
Sometimes the term is used to describe distinct units of crime
syndicates of other ethnic and national origin, such as the Irish Mob, Japanese Yakuza, Chinese Tongs and Triads, Colombian drug
cartels, and the Eastern European
Mafia (it should be noted here that some of these entities,
like the 'Ndrangheta, may also be organized along blood-family
Mafia crime families
There are many crime families which make up the American Mafia,
ranging from giant powers with international influence like the Outfit and the Five Families of New York to small groups with
only about 30–50 made members.
- New York has five families. These families,
together with several powerful members of Jewish-American organized
crime, established the Commission in the 1930s,
which decided on the rules for the entire American Mafia. This
ruling board was established shortly after the end of the bloodiest
war in the history of the New York Mafia, the Castellammarese War. One of its
most famous founders was Lucky Luciano, who became the most
powerful member of the Commission after arranging the murders of Joe Masseria and Salvatore
Maranzano, the two belligerents in the Castellammarese War.
Although the media often attempts to anoint one boss of one of the
Five Families as capo di tutti capi ("boss of
all bosses") of the American Mafia, in reality the position does
not really exist. The only individual believed to have ever been in
a position to actually claim the title was Luciano, who explicitly
- The Five Families are:
Over the years, the New York Mafia has been the focus of many of
the more prominent pop culture representations of the
Mafia. Such films as Goodfellas, The Godfather
trilogy, Donnie Brasco, and Little
Caesar have been set in New York.
- Chicago is the home of the Chicago Outfit,
the direct descendant of the Prohibition-era gang
run by iconic crime boss Al
Capone. The most powerful Mafia family outside of New York, the
Outfit also controls rackets throughout much of the Midwest, and
once controlled many of the most prominent casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, although its power
there (like the rest of the Mafia's) has waned in recent decades.
Unlike other Mafia families, the Outfit has been noted as very
ethnically diverse in its leadership, with such non-Italian
individuals as Jake
Guzik, Gus Alex, and
Humphreys rising to positions of authority within it.
The Chicago Outfit, too, has been the subject of numerous
portrayals in pop culture, including the TV show The
Untouchables, its Academy Award-winning film adaptation, and the films
Scarface, and Road to
- Philadelphia is the home base of the Philadelphia crime family,
which also has interests in much of South Jersey, especially Atlantic City, Camden,
and Trenton. Although long known as one
of the least violent crime families, it was wracked by a bloody
civil war after the 1980 assassination of longtime boss Angelo Bruno,
allegedly killed for his attempts to keep the lucrative Atlantic
City rackets from other families after the legalization of casino
gambling there. Although Atlantic City mobster Nicodemo Scarfo
would eventually win the war and become boss of the family, he was
convicted under the RICO
Act in 1989 and sentenced to 60 years in prison, leading to yet
another civil war. After reputed boss Joseph Merlino was sentenced to 14 years
in prison in 2001, the family has reportedly been returning to its
tradition of quieter, more low-key operations.
- New Jersey has the smaller and less powerful
DeCavalcante crime family,
which mostly holds control over turf in North Jersey, such as Hudson County and Newark.
Although not as powerful as other families, the DeCavalcante family
is noted for inspiring the fictional crime family portrayed in the
most popular pop culture portrayal of the mob in recent years, the
HBO TV series The
- New England is the domain of the Patriarca crime family, which is
based in Boston and named
after its longest-serving leader, Raymond L.S. Patriarca. Although
once the undisputed master of organized crime in New England, the
family was significantly diminished during the 1970s and 1980s by
the defection of prominent associate Vincent Teresa, who became a government
informant, and the
rising power of the Irish
Mob, particularly the Winter Hill Gang under the infamous James "Whitey"
Bulger. Today, although smaller and somewhat less influential
than in the past, the Patriarca family is still one of the most
prominent American crime families.
- Florida is the home of the Trafficante crime
family, a small family named for its two most notable former
bosses, Santo Trafficante, Sr. and Santo
Trafficante, Jr. Although once a major power in the national
Mafia (especially in their operations in pre-Castro Cuba), the Trafficante family now
operates on a much lesser level, mostly in extortion, numbers, loan sharking, and drug
trafficking. It holds most of its influence in Tampa and Miami, the latter of which is now
considered an "open territory" by the Mafia at large.
- Buffalo is the home of the Buffalo
crime family, also known as "The Arm", which has seen its
fortunes wane considerably in recent years. Originally recognized
when it was led by Stefano Magaddino, a cousin to Joseph Bonanno,
the family has now been removed from the Commission and is no
longer considered to hold undisputed status as master of the Upstate New