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

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Are New York politicians the new Mafia?

When state Sen. John Sampson was indicted for embezzlement last week, it marked the 32nd time in the last seven years that a state official has been charged with a criminal offense. What should we do about this endemic corruption?
Note that the reaction to these cases is always the same. Some officeholders declare, with all the credibility of Claude Rains’ Capt. Renault in “Casablanca,” that they’re shocked, shocked to find criminality in Albany.
Others scramble to propose new anti-corruption laws. Yet these, even if enacted, are no more likely to prove effective than the statutes already on the books. I mean, how many times are we going to outlaw crimes like bribery or theft?
Our problem hasn’t been a lack of laws, but the lack of a will to enforce them.
A third popular nostrum is to form some commission to watch over Albany officials. The catch is that commissions must be created by, and answer to, the same public officials they’re expected to police. This is why ethics bodies usually confine their activities to shooting the wounded, i.e. condemning corrupt officials only after they’ve been convicted.
The current two main Albany watchdog groups just spent weeks battling each other over the wording of a report. Create a new one, and we’ll just have a third entity to argue over protocol. (And, surprise, the report, finally issued yesterday, was critical of an Assembly member who’s already expected to leave the body. It is still just words, not action.)
Instead of wasting time on new laws or toothless watchdogs, I propose that we do nothing. Or, rather that we rely on Uncle Sam to deal with criminal officials in the same way he did with the American Mafia.
Throughout most of the 20th century, organized crime syndicates rode roughshod over state and local US governments. In New York City, the mayor elected in 1945 had to obtain the approval of gangster Frank Costello. In 1950, the winning mayoral candidate was backed by mob boss Tommy Lucchese.
Even honest public officials usually ignored the Mafia because they feared political retaliation. The few who did attack it, like Manhattan DAs Frank Hogan and Bob Morgenthau, were frustrated by state laws written to protect criminals and by their lack of jurisdiction beyond New York County.
Finally, the US Department of Justice launched an all-out attack on the Mafia using electronic eavesdropping devices, undercovers and informers within organized crime — and mob bosses around the country finally started to fall.
In the 1980s, the feds began employing the legal equivalent of an atomic bomb — the RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization) statutes, which permitted whole entities, including legitimate ones such as a police department or a court system, to be designated as racketeering organizations.
In Chicago, the FBI installed a bug in a judge’s chambers and the Cook County Circuit Court was cited in a federal indictment as a “criminal enterprise.” When that investigation was done, 20 judges, 57 lawyers and 16 law-enforcement officers had been convicted of criminal offenses.
In New York, US Attorney Rudy Giuliani convicted the entire top leadership of New York’s five families under the RICO law in 1985. All but one were sentenced to 100 years in prison. Today, the mob families exercise only a shadow of their former power.
Today, the same kind of federal assault appears to be under way on the New York political front. Judging from recent news accounts, the investigations seem to be spreading — just as with the anti-Mafia drive. Before it’s all over, it’s likely that many more people will be criminally indicted.
It is sad that we must use the same methods against our officials as we did against the Mafia. But if, as alleged, one of those charged talked of “taking out” witnesses, it seems like the pols already think like godfathers.
The wars against the Mafia demonstrated only the federal government can bring down strongly entrenched criminals. So let’s not worry about cosmetic solutions to corruption at the state and local level.
Instead, let’s throw our full support behind the efforts of US Attorneys Preet Bahara in Manhattan and Loretta Lynch in Brooklyn until they have broken the corrupt politicians in the same way their predecessors broke the mob bosses.
Thomas A. Reppetto is the former president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City and the author of “Bringing Down The Mob: The War Against The American Mafia.”



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