Reasons for The Commission's formation
Pre-Commission situationThe Commission was established in 1931 by Lucky Luciano in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The purpose of the Mafia Commission was to replace the old Sicilian mafia regime and establish rule by consensus among the new crime families. Historically, such a system has always been in place. In Sicily, heads of different cosche would meet periodically to discuss business, and in America, the same was true. In his memoirs, Nicola Gentile, a Sicilian-born Mafioso, does not regard the Commission as either particularly new or innovative. He viewed its creation as merely a formalization of already existing consultative practices widespread among the mafia.
In early 1931, after winning the bloody Castellammarese War among the New York gangs, New York Boss Salvatore Maranzano divided all the national criminal gangs into several crime families and then assumed the title capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"). Maranzano then proceeded to impose a dictatorial regime on the families. Since there had never historically been a "boss of all bosses", reaction to this move among the mafia's ranks was largely negative. Luciano, then a Maranzano ally, soon chafed under this harsh control and in September 1931 engineered Maranzano's assassination. Luciano then became the top mobster in the country.
Unlike Maranzano, Luciano did not want to become a "boss of all bosses". At the same time, Luciano wanted to avoid the chaos that had led to bloody and self-destructive gang wars in New York and Chicago during the 1920s. Luciano and Meyer Lansky realized that the best solution was to let the families run themselves, but establish a central organization for settling their differences without bloodshed. This would preserve family control, prevent warfare, promote their business interests, and keep the mob away from public and law enforcement attention.
Luciano established a mob board of directors—to be known as "The Commission"— to oversee all Mafia activities in the US and serve to mediate conflicts between families. Luciano assumed the position of chairman and Lansky served as his chief advisor. The Commission would meet every five years or when needed to discuss family problems. Even though the commission was meant to replace the role of capo di tutti capi, there would be various bosses over the years who would assume the role through the de facto process of controlling other dons on the commission. Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Stefano Magaddino, Carlo Gambino, and Vincent Gigante are examples of influential family bosses who exercised control over the Commission.
Post-formationThe formation of the Commission did not stop all gang wars, but it did reduce their scale and frequency. When one family declared war on another, the aggressor family usually found itself at war with the Commission and the rest of the families. This provided a powerful incentive to the families to negotiate their disputes.
To settle wars or internal conflicts, the Commission would appoint a new Don of the Family and have the usurper or the previous Don assassinated. An example of this is the case of the Bonanno family in the Bonanno War.
StructureThe Commission officially comprised seven family bosses: the leaders of New York's Five Families (Lucky Luciano, Joseph Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Vincent Mangano, and Tommy Gagliano) and the "Fathers" from Chicago (Al Capone), representing everything in the Western United States, and Buffalo (Stefano Magaddino).However, after the 1957 Apalachin Convention, it was decided that two more leaders of the families were allowed into the Commission. These turned out to be Angelo "Gentle Don" Bruno of the Philadelphia crime family, and Joseph "Joe Z." Zerilli of the Detroit Partnership, although these positions declined much over the 1960s and 1970s.
Jack Dragna, boss of the Los Angeles crime family for 25 years, also held a seat on the National Commission. Since his death in 1956, the crime family has been represented by the Chicago Outfit.
In 1931, Luciano and Lansky set up a multi-ethnic board, commonly referred to as the national syndicate or "combination". Non-Italian Jewish mobsters such as Louis Buchalter, Longy Zwillman and Jake Guzik were also allowed to participate in the syndicate's meetings per the Murder Inc. investigation by Brooklyn DA's office (William O'Dwyer) in late 1930's thru mid 1940's and surveillance by Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Although largely acting in the shadows (which helped explain Lansky's eventual "untouchability"), Lansky was able to exercise a good deal of influence (even talking Luciano and the Commission out of putting out a contract on Bugsy Siegel on two occasions.)
With the demise of Murder Inc and the deaths of many leading members such as Bugsy Siegel, the national syndicate seems to have been defunct by the late 1950s.
Executive positionThere was no "ruler" of the Commission, but there was a nominated Chairman or Head of the National Commission. This was used as a substitute to the role of capo di tutti capi, as that had the connotations of the old Mustache Pete system of one-man rule. However, after the Havana Conference, Lucky Luciano took this title anyway so as to solidify his rule after being deported from the United States by the actions of Governor Thomas Dewey.
JudicialThis service had to be authorized by the Commission by vote first, along with the number of targets. Even then the number of targets was usually limited to one or a few individuals. This way the Commission avoided a confusing situation that could result in a war, and minimized possible press exposure.
Historical leadership of the commissionChairman of the commission
- 1931-1936 - Lucky Luciano (arrested in 1936 stayed chairman, but had less authority over the commission. He was deported in 1946, and finally lost his title in late 1950s.)
- Acting 1936-1951 – was a 4 family alliance which was considered the conservative faction. The alliance consisted of the of Buffalo family boss Stefano Magaddino, Mangano family (later called Gambino family) boss Vincent Mangano, Profaci family (later called Colombo family) boss Joe Profaci and Bonanno family boss Joe Bonanno.
- Acting 1951-1957 – the alliance that was considered a liberal faction. Supported by Lucky Luciano in Italy, the members were Frank Costello (leading the Luciano family), Albert Anastasia (who replaced Mangano), Tony Accardo (of the Chicago outfit) and later Tommy Lucchese.
- 1957-1959 – Vito Genovese - boss of Genovese Crime Family and disputed head of the commission. Genovese and his new liberal faction of Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese. He was later disposed of by the Costello, Luciano, Gambino and Lucchese alliance. Genovese's fall began at the Apalachin Conference in New York. He was later arrested in 1959 ending his regime.
- 1959-1976 – Carlo Gambino - boss of Gambino Crime Family and head of commission until his natural death. He was allied with Tommy Lucchese (boss of Lucchese family) and retired Frank Costello.
- 1976-1985 - Paul Castellano –boss of Gambino family and head of commission until his was murdered in December 1985.
- 1986-2005 – Vincent Gigante –boss of Genovese family and head of commission until his natural death.
- 2005 – Present - Unknown
The Commission todayThe Commission is still reported to exist today, though its current membership is composed of only the bosses of the Five Families, the Chicago Outfit, and the Philadelphia crime family leaders. Its activities, like much of the Mafia in general, have receded from public view as a matter of necessity.
The current heads of the families believed to be on the Commission are:
- Bonanno crime family - Vacant
- Chicago Outfit - Boss John DiFronzo
- Colombo crime family - Unknown
- Gambino crime family - Daniel Marino, Bartolomeo "Bobby" Vernace, and John Gambino (Ruling Panel)
- Genovese crime family - Unknown
- Lucchese crime family - Aniello "Neil" Migliore, Joseph DiNapoli and Matthew Madonna (Ruling Panel)
- Philadelphia crime family - Boss Joseph Ligambi
- The Commission played a prominent role in both The Godfather and The Godfather, Part III.
- In the Godfather world, the Five Families are known as the Corleone, Barzini, Tattaglia, Stracci, and Cuneo crime families. A Commission meeting occurs after the murder of Vito Corleone's son, Sonny, in order to broker a peace between the warring Corleone and Tattaglia families. Don Barzini appears to hold the executive position on The Commission. At the meeting, Vito realizes that the Tattaglia, Stracci, and Cuneo families had secretly aligned themselves with the Barzini family in order to force the Corleone family into sharing its political protection with the rest of The Commission, which was involved in a burgeoning drug trade that Vito was opposed to. Vito reluctantly agrees to share his political influence to protect the drug trade, thus avoiding further bloodshed and ending the war. The film ends with Vito's youngest son and successor, Michael, exacting revenge by having Don Barzini, Tattaglia, Stracci, and Cuneo assassinated in dramatic fashion, effectively wiping out The Commission and consolidating the now-hegemonic power of the Corleone family.
- By the start of The Godfather, Part III, The Commission had reformed while the Corleone family had receded from criminal activity in an effort to become "legit" through corporate endeavors. Michael still appeared to exercise de facto control over the body, as he was personally responsible for blocking Joey Zasa's progress through The Commission. As a result, Zasa is believed to have organized a helicopter raid during a Commission meeting at an Atlantic City, New Jersey hotel, but it is later revealed in the film that the person who was trying to kill Michael was in fact his temporary ally, Don Ozzie Altobello who asked for the meeting in the first place. Most of the bosses were killed, but Michael and Altobello were able to escape.
- Another fictional depiction of The Commission is the movie Mobsters starring Christian Slater as Lucky Luciano. In the movie Luciano is caught in the conflict of rival families, and ultimately arrives at the idea to start The Commission to end the bloodshed, setting himself up as the "chairman of the board".
- The video game Grand Theft Auto IV makes several references in dialogue to the commission during Jimmy Pegorino's missions. The game is set in a virtual version of New York City called "Liberty City" and the characters are heavily involved with the fictional mafia and criminal underground in New York.
- Rapper The Notorious B.I.G. called his rap supergroup "The Commission" but the group never released an album after his murder.
- In the 1997 crime drama Hoodlum, there are two scenes where the commission meet to discuss mafia business and strategies.