What Explains J Edgar Hoover's Refusal To Take The Mafia Seriously?

This makes the most sense to me, along with simple denial. Maybe it’s a tenuous analogy, but look at the SEC and the black eye it took after revelations of all the Enron style accounting scandals. But before Enron, even if the SEC became peripherally aware of what was going on, the implications were so huge and so negative that the powers that be might have decided they didn’t want to know about it.

Fortunately, Superman was on the case.

It would be a great idea for a Superman elseworld story, set in the sicties with a black Luthor agaisnt a white Superman working for the Establishment.

In The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Anthony Summers claimed that Hoover gambled heavily on horseraces at mob-controlled tracks, and that his debts were often forgiven. Sort of a combination of blackmail and a bribe, if true.

Correction: it was another, more reliable book, the name of which escapes me: the Summers book had the weakly-supported cross-dressing allegation.

But they more than made up for their credibility on the Bernie Madoff scandal. Not.

I heard on the G Gordon Liddy radio show, (Liddy worked at the FBI during this time frame), that MLK had been making the claim that the FBI purposely assigned southern FBI agents to investigate violence against civil rights works, so that they would not pursue the cases. This was not true as the FBI wanted to assign agents away from their areas of origin in order to get a national perspective. The FBI pointed this out to MLK who apparently did not believe them and kept bad mouthing the FBI about this. This is when Hoover blackmailed MLK with the tapes, telling him to stop talking about the FBI. Hoover’s concern about the reputation of the FBI was of more importance than MLK’s ties to communists.

Concerning the OP, Hoover always wanted the FBI to be thought of as super competent. Attacking the Mafia would have been very difficult, and would have required an extensive time of trial and error. People might have found out that the FBI was not as perfect as its public perception.

I heard this was well…it reminds me of the reference to Hoover in the movie “The Godfather”-when Tom Hagen visits Jack Woltz in Hollywood (to secure the movie role for Johnny Fontaine). Woltz reminds Hagen that he is a personal friend of Hoover…and Hagen replies that he respects the relationship…but he represents someone who is almost as powerful.
Hoover exhibited some pretty bizarre behavior-when the Brinks Robbery in Boston took place (1952?), Hoover took over (he alienated the Boston Police-who knew who did the job)-Hoover thought the robbery was committed by “communist conspirators”. Because of his interference, the BPD missed solving the crime right away.

Yeah, but the thing is . . . “the” Mafia arguably didn’t exist. The Apalachin meeting seems to be the exception rather than the rule, to the fact that various largely-independent Sicilian-origin bands of criminals existed in various regions of the country, but without any single-organization management/direction for the most part. Nationwide coordination is easy to over-estimate (at most, there were “gentlemen’s” agreements not to trespass on another family’s territory, or to designate certain cities as “open” for any family to operate in).

If Hoover’s position was that, say, the CPUSA was more “real” than LCN (even if the latter, collectively, had more economic/political influence – which I suspect could marginally be true) – he wasn’t crazy. It’s well-documented that the CPUSA was centrally funded and directed, to a significant extent, by the commies in Moscow, in a more-coordinated/disciplined fashion than the Italian mobsters ever managed (which is why they periodically had shootouts and gang wars).

For years Hoover denied that the Mafia existed at all, calling the entire notion “baloney.” When asked why the FBI was not pursuing infamous La Cosa Nostra figures such as Frank Costello, Hoover replied that the FBI had “much more important things to do than arrest bookmakers and gamblers.” As late as 1962 (by which point the FBI had been actively investigating La Cosa Nostra for almost a decade) Hoover declared “No single individual or coalition of racketeers dominates organized crime in across the country.” Taken literally, this statement was accurate. La Cosa Nostra never had a monopoly on organized crime in America. Even La Cosa Nostra strongholds such as New York and Chicago always had a plethora of other crime syndicates. The statement is especially true when compared to sensationalist claims that the Mafia possessed power, size and unity it never did made by Kefauver and other enthusiastic but poorly informed mob investigators.
However, the notion that Hoover and the FBI as a whole were ignorant of the scope of La Cosa Nostra’s activities or even its existence is absurd. The American media had been reporting on Mafia activities in the United States since the 19th century. The 1890 murder of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy, purportedly committed by the Mafia, and the 1891 mass lynching of his alleged assassins made national news. An article written for the New York Times about the lynching makes due note of the alleged involvement of “Mafia societies,” in the assassination of the police chief. Federal law enforcement agencies were making concerted efforts against La Cosa Nostra as early as 1903. A New York Times article published on December 7, 1903, entitled “Government to Run Down Mafia Leaders,” states, “The New Orleans police, aided by the Secret Service of the Federal Government, are cooperating with the Police Departments of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore to capture the leaders of Mafia societies in this country.” This article proves that decades before Hoover denied the Mafia’s existence, federal and local law enforcement were well aware of the nationwide threat posed by La Cosa Nostra gangs. In addition, the article states that law enforcement officials were aware that Mafia families in different cities were separate entities, but often worked together for business and or other purposes. Legislation was introduced in New York City that was “aimed at the Italian Mafia,” as early as 1904, in this case regarding the carrying of weapons on trains. Reporters were using the term “Mafia” as a generic term for gangs of any ethnicity by 1907.
Since mere ignorance of the problem could not have been the real reason why the FBI initially failed to attack La Cosa Nostra, Hoover must have had other motivations behind his reluctance to investigate organized crime. Some historians have proposed that Hoover was bribed or blackmailed by gangsters to not investigate organized crime. These theories are unsubstantiated, since there is no real evidence that Hoover was bribed or blackmailed by anyone. The theory that Hoover was being blackmailed is even more unlikely since it is based on the supposition that organized crime figures possessed evidence that Hoover was a homosexual and or engaged in transvestitism. There is no evidence to support that these widespread rumors regarding Hoover’s sexual predilections were true, and in fact there is evidence that the rumors were manufactured and spread by political and ethical opponents of Hoover, most notably author Truman Capote.
The most likely reason the FBI did not investigate organized crime during its early years is that Hoover feared damaging the Bureau’s reputation. Organized crime cannot thrive without corruption, and between the 1930s and the 1950s, gangsters had successfully corrupted many local police departments and numerous powerful politicians. FBI agents could not successfully take down organized crime syndicates without making contact with gangsters, whether through the nurturing of informants or the use of undercover agents. Contact with gangsters meant that gangsters had the opportunity to bribe agents. According to Joseph Pistone, an FBI agent who successfully infiltrated the Mafia as an undercover agent in the 1970s (several years after Hoover’s death), “Hoover didn’t want FBI agents to work undercover because it was a dirty job that could end up tainting the agents.”
Corrupted agents were not the only thing that could tarnish the reputation of Hoover’s FBI. Hoover was extremely proud of the high conviction rate of the FBI. The conviction rate is the percentage of people arrested who are then convicted. During its early years, the FBI was able to claim an incredibly impressive conviction rate of more than 96 percent. Hoover knew he could never sustain such a rate if he tangled with organized crime. Mobsters had the funds to pay lawyers and bribe juries and judges. They also had wide networks of established confederates to murder and intimidate witnesses. While Hoover’s true motivations may never be known, the evidence supports that Hoover avoided investigating La Cosa Nostra and other organized crime because he feared that the FBI would have limited success doing so, and that this would tarnish the FBI’s reputation as the premier law enforcement agency in the United States, and vicariously tarnish Hoover’s reputation as the nation’s top g-man.

I actually wrote a pretty extensive report on the Mafia in college. Part of my report addressed this question specifically, and I included it in my previous post. When I went to post it I messed up the format and deleted my explanation of what I was posting some how, and then I couldn’t edit it.

I hope that answers the OP’s initial question. If anybody wants to know why the FBI eventually did start investigating organized crime, I can include another excerpt from my report. But I’ll wait for a request before I do another massive text dump.

Thanks for the informative post. I guess Hoover was right, in the sense that the Mafia didn’t do many things nation-wide-they preferred to keep operations local.
I guess the closest thing to a cross-state operation would be the wire betting network run by Meyer Lansky (who was never a “made man” in the Mafia-due to being jewish).
Anyway, how did Hoover manage to stay in his job so long-did he actively threaten politicians with blackmail (as he did with MLK)?