Why New York's Five Families Have Regained Power

A recent WSJ.com report noted that, despite stronger federal laws and the long parade of mob turncoats waiting to testify in court, New York's five Cosa Nostra families have managed to hold on, regroup and rebuild. They have survived, law enforcement officials and mob experts said, because of their "persistence and ability to adapt," the article noted.

In fact, the New York Mafia "has quietly staged a comeback and is now more powerful than it has been in years," Richard Frankel, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office, told the WSJ.

The Mafia's obituary seem to be written about every few years. The king of all examples: In an uncharacteristic blunder, noted mob author Nicholas Pileggi wrote an article for New York magazine titled "The Decline and Fall of the Mafia" -- in 1970!

The fact is, the American Cosa Nostra was organized specifically to perpetuate itself. No matter how many single individuals are knocked out of the box by death or prison, the structured institution itself, currently pegged at about 8,000-strong (including inducted members and associates), continues. And learns.

The key factor now is anti-terrorism, which is benefiting the Mafia in New York the same way Communism did for the greater part of the 20th century. While the FBI sacrifices resources on one menace to chase a perhaps politically overblown other one, the mob gets back to work. It's the same story in Italy; while the cops kept the focus on the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Ndrangheta turned itself into a $72 billion a year criminal empire stretching across the globe that kills anyone and digs bunkers in the street in broad daylight.

(Any of you remember the kidnapping of oil billionaire tycoon John Paul Getty's grandson in 1973? He ignored the first request and was mailed the boy's ear. He then paid the $2 million ransom, which was never recovered. No one was ever prosecuted. That was the work of the Ndrangheta.)

And here in the U.S. we get excited about a bust involving an old man who got paid a few bills for okaying the Lufthansa heist?

As recently as Mafia Takedown Day in January 2011, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had proclaimed the mob was finished (then went about cutting in half the FBI's resources dedicated to battling the Mafia in New York). It seems only the agents on the street fully comprehend that a cosmic game of chess has been under way with Italian organized crime in America. Not checkers. The families are too firmly entrenched for there ever to be a knockout victory, and the fact is, we don't really know the size of the Mafia or its rackets. "Jack Falcone" I believe discovered entire Gambino capos and crews that the FBI was completely unaware of.

We only read about the mob after an arrest is made. In this sense, it truly is invisible. It's almost like deep physics, when scientists first comprehend that something exists not by seeing the thing itself, but by seeing its shadow, or impact on other things...

Only months after Takedown Day, experts were already predicting a resurgence was not only possible, but quite likely.

“They will adjust,” said Howard Abadinsky, professor of criminal justice at St. John’s University in Jamaica, in October 2011. “Whether [the arrests] will have a lasting effect on the structure of the groups — that, I doubt.”

The Mafia is actually sixth on the list of priorities.


The FBI now has two units working the New York mob (whereas it used to have five, one for each family). Special unit C-5 works the Genoveses, Bonannos and Colombos, and C-16 is assigned the Gambinos and Lucheses.

In June 2013, the FBI first reported that there were only two New York City-based squads to keep an eye on the 700 or so members -- and estimated 7,000 associates -- of the Five Families. This was a 50% reduction.

In early December 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder publicly reiterated that the FBI had decided to sharply reduce its allocation of resources dedicated to battling the New York Mafia, something it had already been planning concurrent with the predawn arrests on Mafia Takedown Day.

The Mafia is returning to its roots. Gone is the JohnGotti-style flash of the 1980s.

Here again, we raise the question about special unit C-38. The unit is not among those cited as working on organized crime in New York, yet it claimed credit for taking apart the Colombo and Bonanno families over the past five years, resulting in the arrests of 120 members and associates, including top-level members -- with guilty pleas or jury convictions for 115 of them, according to a Washington Post report.

Supervisory Special Agent Seamus McElearney was running the unit last we heard. As for the composition of the group, it consists of nine special agents and one analyst, the WashPo report said.

George Khouzami, an FBI coordinating supervisory special agent in New York, said the group took some high-risk, high-reward strategies to get mob members to cooperate and turn on their compatriots. At various stages, he said, "dominos fell and members of each of the families no longer knew who to trust."

We believe, based on piecing together different information, that unit C-38 is empowered to pursue and arrest suspects in Canada. But it has never been identified publicly in terms of how it fits into the FBI's existing structure in New York. This raises questions. Is the FBI in New York deliberately underplaying its hand to perhaps win public opinion to put pressure on Washington to provide it with more resources with which to better fight organized crime? Or, perhaps, are the Feds in New York certain that the Mafia is truly expanding, perhaps at an alarming rate? Puzzling...


The Mafia, meanwhile, is trying to become as invisible as possible, officials and experts said. No gangsters are household names anymore, unless of course they are mentioned on "hit" reality show's like "Mob Wives." Hector Pagan is an informant so his being on the show is of no consequence, except perhaps in the courtroom and as fodder for "Mob Wives" producers.

These experts also said that families are also less territorial these days and are more willing to collaborate. In terms of organization, Mafia crews are said to be more isolated, with one crew not knowing what other crews in the same family are doing. By turning crews into isolated cells, members have less knowledge of a family's overall workings; if an undercover agent slips into a crew or if a crew member decides to flip, he will not have as much to offer his handlers besides what's happening inside the single crew.

The five families also are less involved in financial fraud, the pump-and-dump boiler-room-type scams that served as a major racket for them in the early 1990s. They are reverting to their original, core competencies: loan-sharking, extortion, gambling, narcotics and infiltrating organized labor.

They are still finding the occasional blockbuster niches. Two recent example: offshore Internet gambling websites and selling Viagra. Earlier ones: phone sex scams and phone cards.

And Cosa Nostra certainly has the members to run these rackets.

The Genovese family, again, is in the lead, with close to 200 made men, while the Colombos and Lucheses are the smallest, with about 100 each, according to experts quoted in the WSJ piece. Using the above-cited number of 700 made men, that would leave 300 unaccounted for, which means probably around 175 in the Gambino family, and 125 Bonannos.

Also, many "sophisticated, capable" Mafia veterans currently incarcerated are poised to complete their sentences, which means more experienced veterans will be back on the street, said Mark Feldman, chief assistant Brooklyn District Attorney and a former chief of the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's organized-crime unit. That should be an interesting story in and of itself.


  1. The Gambino family definitely has more made members then the Bonanno family.

    1. I agree -- I adjusted my initial estimate from 150/150 to 175 Gambinos & 125 Bonannos... thanks for the feedback!

  2. From what I understand (can't say with 100% certainty) with so much money coming into Manhattan with the constant knocking down and rebuilding that the 2% mafia tax is a given. It's not even balked at anymore.
    Old-School Anonymous

    1. "Takedown" by Rick Cowan is a great read on the topic of the mob infiltrating the carting business...

  3. I see Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky in the middle of the picture. Does anyone know who the other four are?

  4. Its actually six guys in the pic. Check out the pic on my Cosa Nostra Facebook page (please "like" it too!)... Santa, I'd appreciate a full ID!!

    1. True, there are six but besides Luciano and Lansky, who are the other four?

      I'd like to help you with FB but I'm not registered presently. I keep thinking I might get involved but so far my paranoia has prevented it. :)

  5. Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, Sylvester Agoglia,Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, John Senna, Harry Brown


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