How much influence does the Mafia have on the U.S. today (& other Mafia questions)

A few years ago when they nailed John Gotti, I seem to recall the term “the last Don” being bandied about a bit. I heard numerous news reports and statements from law enforcement officials declaring the Mafia completely dead. Then again, many these folks are the same newscasters and police officers who think that we’re this close to winning the War on Drugs, so they may be prone to fits of exaggeration every now and then.

The TV world seems to think the Mafia is alive and thriving, but that’s fiction. Of course, when you consider that many episodes of Law and Order were “ripped from the headlines,” as their ads proudly proclaim, that introduces a bit of ambiguity, and I’m left wondering. Hell, they showed a Russian Mafia episode on SVU just last friday (quite a good ep, by the way).

My TV impressions (the only mob movie I ever saw was Donnie Brasco) lead me to believe that the major syndicates are composed mostly of immigrants, and sons of immigrants, from three countries. Each one seems to have its own particular quirks.

  1. Italy - Iron-clad family ties that can dissipate on a dime in the event of a betrayal. Hesitant to kill innocent witnesses.

  2. Russia - Large, loosely-based organization. Unmatched in brutality. Thinks nothing of gunning down bystanders and defenseless children. In a word : revolting.

  3. Asian (usually Japanese) - Similar to Russian, possibly smaller in membership. They don’t make it on TV as often as the other two groups (though I have fond memories of that fantastic Pretzel Wagon episode of the Simpsons).
    So really what I want to know is if all of this is the work of scriptwriters with overactive imaginations, or does the Mafia really still run around with bagmen hitting up city businesses for “protection” money? Or are they still around, but diversifying their criminal enterprises into more modern ventures, like online credit theft?

Also, though this may be a subject for another thread, I’ve always wondered why other immigrants to the U.S. never formed large crime syndicates like the Italians did. Why does large-scale organized crime seem to be associated with a few ethnic groups? Why is there no Irish, British, or German Mafia in the U.S? Those groups certainly had immigrant populations meeting or exceeding that of the Italians.

Oh, and I also have one more question that’s been weighing on my brain, if you folks don’t mind :

Why do we call Italians, Russians and Asians “the Mafia,” but similar organized groups that perpetrate similar crimes (money laundering, smuggling, murdering witnesses, jury tampering, illegal business ventures), by different names? I never heard of the Colombian Mafia, the Mexican Mafia, or the Los Angeles Crips Mafia. They’re called cartels and gangs instead. What’s the difference?

r the movie treatment of it rent "American me "
The modern Mafia avoids public notice these days since its bad for business and there trying to really get off the street like the credit card theft ect But many places its are dying out or just becoming another gang
Also The nationality based groups tend to dissipate after the 3rd or 4th generation which is what’s happening to some of the Italian Irish based groups as there’s not a lot of new immigration and People look down on organized crime these days so a family isn’t proud of having some one in the mob or gangs
and in my area there was the “Lancaster mafia crips” Not that they were much from what i gathered and were broken up rather early
Also the Chinese Mafia were called "tongs " and started as mutual aid societies as a response to racism in the old west

but most asian gangs are called “triads”
But 3 things made the Italian Mafia big first was prohibition 2 was Vegas and 3 was drugs … Ironically Its the drugs thats undone the mafia the most

Ack the first like is supposed to read " There is a such thing as the mexican mafia from What I know of it It began in various ca jails in the late 60s/70s and spread as members got out it to the outside " for the movie treatment of it see the movie “american me”

They seem to deal in drugs mostly They made the news a few years ago for being in a meth smuggling and distrubition operation with a skin head gang called the nazi low riders that was ran from prision

Regarding the dominance of the mafia in the US as opposed to other groups, various regional mafia groups had existed in Italy long before mass immigration to the US. Effectively, chunks of a pre-existing organisation were exported to the US and developed from that point on.

I am not an expert on the mafia in the US, but in Italy the mafia’s principal criminal activities have changed over time. Prior to the late 1970s and 1980s the mafia steered clear of “messy” or “dishonourable” areas like kidnapping and the drugs trade (although “dishonourable” seems fairly flexible, meaning “we don’t do it … yet”).

As particular families rise and fall, so do incidences of their preferred crimes. I understand that the mafia in Europe is particularly focused on the drugs trade, and has been since the 1980s.

I recommend the (slightly dated) book A Dishonoured Society by John Follain as an excellent history of the Sicilian mafia in recent times.

Certain industries in certain areas are still quite heavily mob controlled. The cement industry in NYC area is given as a classic example of such and which no one has yet figured out how to bust. You only get one “low” bid on cement. A lot of union stuff is also bad, esp. in construction.

The RICO act, the lack of “quality” in newer members, etc. have all hurt it’s traditional operating style. So it is in the midst of evolving. Presumably at some point there will be a “shaking out” as the new order replaces the old order. Then you hit the mattresses.

The Irish had/have a mob: Westies in NY (mostly done with, I think), Bulger in Boston.

The Jews had M. Lansky/Murder Inc./Siegel.

You still don’t see a lot of trash hauling trucks in the N.E. U.S. that have a name ending with a consonant. Fulton Fish Market in NY was also reputed to be very LCN-influenced till recently at least.

I was walking through an italian section of town in Boston on our way to a supposedly very good italian restaurant.

We passed by a couple cars pulled up along side us on the road and their were two “italian looking” guys in black trench coats having a very heated discussion with an ordinary looking fellow. I was entranced…it looked like a scene right out of a mafia movie.

My brother almost smacked me for staring at them as we passed and mouthed with real fear, “What are you crazy…thats the mob!”

And we moved on. Just thought i would share…

My impression is that the FBI has pretty much broken the back of the Mafia, with RICO and all, but that the mob still hangs on in less ambitious rackets because at this point Uncle Whiskers has run up against the law of diminishing returns.

It is indeed true, that the old-time Mafia has been busted up pretty badly-you don’t see Dons like the late Carlo Gambino anymore. However, the rackets still exist-and the fact that they (the Mafia) are solidly entrenched in certain areas (like construction unions, Teamsters, etc.) makes them even more hard to root out. For example, it costs twice as much to pour concrete in NYC as it does in NJ-this is because racketeers rig the bids. Also, many of the smaller unions are effectively owned by the mob-if you are a business owner, you will have to pay for “phantom” employess, to get labor peace. But all of this is NOTHING compared to the actions of the crooks of wall Street-Ken Lay (ENRON) and his cohorts have stolen more money than the old mafia ever could dream of!

For the OP:

Japanese mafia is called the Yakuza.
Chinese are Tongs or Triads. Sometimes you will hear reference to “The Triads” is a bit of a misnomer since “The Triads” is a catch-all for different Chinese crime syndicates and they rarely cooperate with each other. They each have their own seperate names such as “United Bamboo” etc. I’m sure it sounds more imposing in Cantonese.