Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mafia is like a chronic disease, never cured

Is the bust the end of the mafia? Or is it just another p.r. splash for the feds in a meaningless ritual dance between cops and mobsters?
Viewed from a historical perspective, it is clear that neither conclusion is true. Rather, last week’s announcement reminds us that organized crime is like a chronic disease. If it is not managed and controlled, it will kill us. We must be honest with ourselves that it will always be there, and we must be willing to devote the resources necessary to keep it in check.
Most people think of the heyday of organized crime as the Prohibition Era, when “Murder Incorporated,” Al Capone and violent gang wars captured headlines. But you don’t have to look that far into the past to understand the price we pay for ignoring the presence of the mob in society. By the 1970s, organized crime had reached a level of power in New York and New Jersey where it controlled entire industries. In those days, you could not put up a building, hire a garbage collector, import goods or engage in many other businesses without paying tribute to the mob. Political institutions and the people who ran them were corrupted with organized-crime values. Law enforcement itself was infiltrated by mob associates.
Starting in the ’70s, we, legitimate society, reacted with force and intensity. Laws were enacted to permit legal wiretapping and bugging. The FBI began to coordinate its investigations with state and local police. Specialized prosecutors devised new strategies to break down the code of silence that prevented Mafia members from testifying. Prosecutions were directed at enterprises rather than individuals. Layers of insulation that had existed for generations to protect corrupt politicians, law-enforcement officers, businessmen and mob leaders were penetrated by law enforcers. Big-name racketeers — Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, John Gotti and many more — were sent to prison.
The Mafia was pushed out of its position of power, became less visible, and we began to believe that the war had been won. But it did not go away.
First, the mob adapts. It is all about making money by any means possible. If large-scale corporate extortion is no longer viable, illegal gambling, hijacking, loan-sharking and even petty larceny will do. New leadership takes over and consolidates its power to control another generation of street thugs who fill in the ranks of the mob.
The second legacy of the 1970s is that organizations and industries that had been dominated by mobsters for generations had internalized organized-crime values and practices that did not change when the racketeers were removed. Although prosecutors have used civil RICO suits to seek the appointment of trustees and monitors to bring about cultural change in some unions and industries, the results have been spotty. Many pockets of vulnerability remain. A glance at the headlines over the past several years shows that corruption continues to be a serious problem in New York’s construction industry, many trade unions and the waterfront, despite the fact that the mob is no longer in tight control.
The Department of Justice consolidated a number of organized-crime-related cases and made the recent mass arrest to make a point; that is, the mob is still with us and capable of functioning as a powerful force if we ignore it. Although the names of many of the defendants may not be instantly recognizable and the offenses with which they have been charged may seem disconnected from one another, it is clear that the infrastructure of organized crime remains.
The arrests are indeed important, but a lot of work remains to be done to keep organized crime from returning to its former position of power. For example, the federal government must renew its emphasis on labor corruption. Unions have been essential tools used by organized crime to wield power and to skim vast profits. Many honest workers remain captives of corrupt leadership who use the power of the union to extort payoffs and steal from pension and welfare funds.
Over time, law-enforcement priorities shift. After Sept. 11, 2001, organized-crime enforcement rightfully took a back seat to terrorism as our No. 1 concern. But we can never permit ourselves to become complacent or assume that the threat of organized crime has been eliminated. The mob’s regenerative powers are remarkable. Mobsters move quickly to exploit opportunities for corruption, and they are attracted to the centers of political power as a means of self-protection.
We now know that the feds have been watching and that they recognize their responsibility to prevent a resurrection of the mob that once was. We should be thankful that their vigilance continues.
Edwin Stier is a partner with Thacher Associates, the former chief of the Criminal Division of the US Attorney’s Office for New Jersey and the founder of the federal New Jersey Organized Crime and Corruption unit.


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