Becoming a “made” member of one of the city’s five crime families was once the goal of every ambitious mobster -- and an offer definitely not to be refused -- but those days are gone, authorities told The Post.
With rats lurking around every corner and aggressive feds breathing down wiseguys’ necks, many lower-ranking Mafiosi have been doing what was once unthinkable -- saying “no thanks’’ to the title.
Low-level associates may earn less, but there’s also a better chance they’ll stay out of prison.
They believe that becoming a made man or soldier makes them a bigger target for the FBI, experts say.
A Brooklyn federal prosecutor just last week detailed how Joseph Petillo -- “a longtime and very well-respected associate” of the Colombo crime family -- recently decided to pass on an offer to be made.
“The Colombo family believed, based on Mr. Petillo’s prior history, that he would be a valuable member of the Colombo family. The Colombo family sought his membership,” Assistant US Attorney Liz Geddes told a federal judge.
But in the end, Petillo “turned down an offer of membership,” Geddes said.
Other criminals have made similar decisions -- among them Gambino, Bonanno and other Colombo crime-family associates, sources say.
Some modern mobsters have other reasons.
One Gambino associate declined an offer because “he didn’t want to put the crime family before his own family,” a source said, referring to the mob’s oath of allegiance, which calls for members to do just that.
Some mob associates who run lucrative illicit businesses also believe they can make more money if they aren’t made, because members have to “kick up” a larger percentage of their earnings to the family’s leadership, experts said.
By remaining an associate, “you’re more independent, you’re more on your own,” a defense lawyer explained.
Such decisions are a far cry from the heyday of the New York mob in the 1970s, when turning down an offer to become a made man was tantamount to signing your own death warrant.
“Years ago, it would be like disobeying orders -- literally from the boss,” an attorney said.
Today, in certain circumstances, the mob leadership appears to understand and accept the reasoning behind turning down promotions.
When Colombo associate Francis “B.F.” Guerra declined an offer from the Colombos, he had the heft and standing within the mob community to make such a decision without repercussions, FBI Agent Scott Curtis testified recently.
“Everybody knows his reputation and all the criminal activities he’s done in the past. He doesn’t need a title to carry that reputation around,” Curtis said.
“It depends who they were and their reputation.’’
Other experts say the decision to remain an associate is a clever move that might help a mobster sidestep charges under the feds’ powerful racketeering, or RICO, statutes, which require prosecutors to prove membership in a criminal enterprise.
John Meringolo, a New York Law School professor, said that in the eyes of the Justice Department, “a ‘soldier’ is automatically involved in the RICO conspiracy.”
Proving an associate was involved in a RICO conspiracy can be more challenging, he said.