Q&A with 'Five Families' Author Selwyn Raab


The GothamGazette is running an interview with Selwyn Raab, author of "The Five Families," a massive tome on the history of the Mafia in America which I have repeatedly recommended mob enthusiasts devour. For those who have, or haven't, check it out:

Selwyn Raab recently met with Gotham Gazette's Reading NYC Book Club to discuss his book Five Families: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires, a history of the Mafia from its origins in Sicily to the present day. The following is an edited transcript of the event.

GOTHAM GAZETTE: Mr. Raab, your book focuses largely on the fall of the New York crime families, but the title includes the phrase "resurgence." What's going on with the Mafia in New York City right now?




SELWYN RAAB: Up until 9/11, there had been a 20-year long, concentrated attack against the Mafia, based on the Racketeer Influence Corruptions Act, popularly known as RICO. What was important about RICO was that for the first time it gave prosecutors an effective tool to go after the big shots in organized crime. At the attack's peak, there were 200 people working full time on just investigating the five Mafia families in New York -- the Gambino, the Bonano, the Colombo, the Lucchese, and the Genovese. The FBI had a specific squad following each family, and were able to bust John Gotti, Vincente "The Chin" Gigante, and other bosses, even though they didn't pull a trigger or shake anyone down themselves.

[This prosecution was coupled with a] concentrated effort to knock the Mafia out of some industries. Waste collection and construction were two immense moneymakers for them, and they've been hurt in both industries, especially commercial garbage collection. There is now some oversight by city agencies, licensing etc. The Mafia has been severely wounded in some of these big industries – but not mortally.

As soon as 9/11 occurred, terrorism justifiably became a prime concern and objective for the FBI and most police departments, including New York's. This created a reprieve – suddenly you had this tremendous diminution of people investigating the mob.

Today, the Mafia is still making money in gambling and loan sharking. The penalties for these crimes are very small, nobody goes away for a long time, and bosses are never brought up on charges. Still, this is terrific seed money to keep them going.

The Mafia is still very big on Wall Street, counterfeit credit cards, and phone scams. But a lot of the most recent action has been in the suburbs, where the theory is the local police departments don't have the expertise to stop them.

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