Mafia Pomp and Circumstance Has Its Uses

As the "new" Mafia seeks to find its place in the post-9/11 world, families are more selective about who will have the honor of being straightened out, noted Joaquín "Jack Falcone" García.

Falcone--who wrote a book that is essential reading for all who are interested in the goings-on of Cosa Nostra--had been an FBI agent for over 20 years when he infiltrated the Westchester-based crew of Gambino family capo Gregory DePalma. He spoke with Cosa Nostra News this week.

 Gambino family capo Gregory DePalma. 

As part of its overall strategy to better isolate itself while it has the perceived breathing room -- the FBI has magnified its focus on terrorism and other crimes, downsizing its efforts against organize crime in New York -- the mob has put the word out to members: be careful who you sponsor, Falcone said.

"Whoever proposed somebody for membership, they're held much more responsible for any repercussions," Jack said. "They're a little more selective about who is gonna get straightened out."

As for the ceremony of inducting new members, it is the most solemn moment in the Mafia and should be treated as such, with all the pomp and circumstance that can be mustered up.

Falcone noted that, in the mob, getting made for a street guy is similar to a citizen winning the Medal of Honor.

A young DePalma on the left with Sinatra. Know anyone else in the pic?
Leave a comment if you can name everyone!
Many Mafiosi, especially old timers like Greg DePalma, believe that the ceremony, which was created to be richly bejeweled with symbolism, should be exploited to the fullest extent because the men who are being made need to be impressed. They need to be encouraged and won over; they need to be awed.

The Power of the Mafia's Mystique
They need to believe in all the mystique of the Mafia, which is why there is so much symbolism, not just in the making ceremony, but in certain events, such as killing a snitch and putting a canary in his mouth.

DePalma himself was always careful about who he sponsored, which is why he only sponsored one man in his entire life. And it wasn't his son. In another world, he would have sponsored two men, but as the second man he had put on record was Falcone himself, it didn't go as planned.

[A funny story about DePalma's son... When he was getting made, John Gotti Senior himself presided over the ceremony. The dialogue, Jack told me, went something like this:

John Gotti: "Do you know why you're here?

DePalma Jr.: "Yes."

Of course, one is never supposed to reply in the affirmative. "No," is always the answer to that question. It's fortunate for him that Gotti and probably everyone else in the room merely rolled their eyes and continued on with the ceremony. Making such a graphic mistake could get a person killed easily.]

These days, however, the Mafia has to go to great lengths to hide its induction ceremonies; they don't want another one caught on audio or video by the FBI, which has happened twice so far.

"They'll use a hotel suite, a warehouse, maybe somebody's basement," Falcone said. "The decision where is always made last minute."

The ritual has been well documented by many mobsters in books, with Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno probably offering an example of one of the best induction ceremonies ever. With more than 50 in attendance, the event took place in a winery.

Joe Valachi's Bargain Basement Ceremony
The complete ritual--from being told to "wear your Sunday's best," all the way through to the tie-in and -out--is the goal, and a celebratory feast afterward should be mandatory. That is the view of many in the mob, according to Falcone. It was certainly DePalma's view.

As the goal of the ritual is not to burn the person's hands, the mass card is occasionally replaced with tissue paper (sometimes toilet paper, which burns especially quickly); DePalma didn't even believe that was proper. 

"The ceremony was the whole thing," Falcone said. The symbolism embedded in the ceremony is there for a reason: to dazzle new inductees with the mystique.

Falcone noted that, to guys like DePalma, making new inductees in a men's room or on the side of a road in a smoke-filled car (all of which has happened), or substituting TP for a mass card--these instances of cutting corners and running bargain-basement ceremonies are not proper--and have the potential to be dangerous.

"You'll give them (the newly minted made men) a half-ass view of the whole thing," Falcone said.
Big Jack Falcone

They may question what the hell kind of schlock outfit they just committed their soul to, Falcone added. And years, maybe decades later, when they're arrested and given the choice: spend forever in prison or cooperate, they may just think back to that ceremony. It probably wouldn't be the determining factor in whether one flips or not, but it certainly would be the beginning of the mindset they form about Cosa Nostra as a whole.

Joe "Cago" Valachi believed he'd been given a bargain basement ceremony because it had been abbreviated and only a few of the organization's rules were explained to him, which was dangerous. Then again, Valachi was made amid the war-torn 1930s in an atmosphere of crises. Salvatore Maranzano, with whom Joe Cago was with at the time, and Joe "The Boss" Masseria were fighting an open war in the streets of New York. Valachi was driven all the way upstate for his ceremony, which seems like a quite upscale affair compared to what others had to go through to get their button. Michael Rizzitello, for example, was made in Los Angeles in a roadside swearing in that occurred in a smoke-filled car. (Both the LA boss and underboss were in jail, so it also was a crises atmosphere.) The mob, it seems, works with what it has.

Still, "[i]f I was gonna get made," Jack said, "I wanna have a nice feast! I want the boss kissing me on the cheek, I want the homage! You think I'm gonna do 20 years on a RICO if I had TP burned in my hand?"

In this light, is it any wonder that guys like DePalma were furious when they heard the Bonanno family was stripping inductees? (Turns out the Genovese family was doing the same; Jack was unsure about the other three families, meaning he was never given specific information.)

"What does that say about our life?" DePalma told Falcone. "They're making garbage cans today," was a common expression of DePalma's and other old timers with whom he was close.

Getting Your Button--in the Mail
Greg was not above making some money off the idea of the ceremony, in at least one instance. Someone was willing to pay $1 million to get made; DePalma's view was,"shit, let's make him. We'll just kill him right afterward." Whether he was kidding or not we don't know, because there was no follow through as far as Falcone knows.

Jack offered some interesting tidbits:

It's common for a guy to get made, then in a couple of days get a blank card in the mail with a single button inside it. Sometimes, a congratulations card. Then a week later at some meeting, a "friend" will approach with a hug and a kiss and say: You get my card with the button in it?

There is never a drop of ink on any of these letters, but it recognizes that one has been made part of something bigger than himself (at least in theory). Other members know that getting made is a big deal, a major moment in life--especially for the new made man himself.

Boss Arnold Squitieri appointed street bosses and kept the lowest of profiles while Falcone was with DePalma, but he still presided over induction ceremonies. That meant, no shortcut was taken and the Gambino family devoted all its resources to stopping law enforcement from getting anywhere near these ceremonies.

DePalma often complained to Falcone about having to attend just plain ordinary meetings with "Number One," which is how Greg referred to "Zeke." He never spoke his name; and when Greg was not around, he was referred to as "the Old Man." (DePalma was very close to Squitieri, as well as other men who were close to the boss, including soldier Louis Filippelli and capo Alphonse "Funzi" Sisca. DePalma had even made his soldier, Robert Vaccaro, his street capo because Vacarro had close ties to Filippelli. (Ironically, the FBI almost didn't allow Jack to proceed with his proposal to infiltrate this crew as an undercover agent; the FBI was not aware of Sisca, or his crew members, and therefore didn't believe they were a Gambino crew. Unfortunately for all the later-indicted Gambinos, the FBI decided to let Jack proceed. It is for this reason I don't know how accurate law enforcement's data is regarding the size of the New York Mafia.)

To Falcone, Greg often complained about going to meet the boss, saying: "I had to get picked up at 2 in the fucking morning, we had to change cars, we went all the way over the Holland Tunnel and switched cars again and then we drove into Fort Lee. Then I'm suddenly sitting across from him in a diner lookin at the GWB."
The Boss. He must've been in utter
shock when Falcone's identity was

(Not that Greg ever slept; he often called Jack at 4am to ask him if he was watching such-and-such on the Turner Classic Movie channel. Greg had told Falcone to answer his phone every time DePalma called. He had to know where Falcone was at all times; he even called Falcone while he was in Florida attending his own father's funeral. Falcone couldn't tell Greg about the funeral because he said DePalma and his crew would've been on a plane and flying down in a heartbeat, to pay respects.)

Made men never buy cars with GPS; if they do, they have the system removed. Cars deployed to ferry people to important events, such as inductions or meetings with the boss, are carefully checked out for planted devices, using both electronic devices and lifting cars in garages to see what's under them.

The mob has grown quite sophisticated in the area of counter-surveillance, Falcone noted.

DePalma Would Play the Age Card
DePalma was interesting on many levels, and Falcone admits that, while he did like Greg in some ways, he never lost sight of the fact that he was a vicious Mafioso who was hated by many in the mob. At the same time, he was respected.

He always went to trial; like Gotti he never took a plea. The only time he did, ironically, was when Gotti asked him to, for the Scores case.

Greg was known for being a loudmouth, but so are many of them. Falcone was not the first to record him; the FBI, years earlier, had managed to infiltrate and bug DePalma's bedroom.

Falcone believes if bosses and old timers didn't so deeply trust DePalma to do his time like  a man, he would've been whacked a long time ago.

An interesting footnote: When the verdict in the Tommy Shots case was reported, I had to smile when I read how the lawyer tried to convince the judge to be lenient with the sentencing because of how sick Gioeli is.

I thought of an anecdote Jack had told me, using Greg's words, about how he tried to gain a female judge's sympathy during the Scores case:

"Can you believe that bitch! I went full out! I was drooling! Lookin all feeble! I didn't shave for a week! I wore the full mask! I was even laying on a bed! They rolled me into the fucking courtroom on a fucking bed! And that bitch still gave me life in prison!"

I want to thank Jack Garcia for taking the time to talk to me. During our very long conversations, he provided me with a wealth of information on the Mafia, has altered my entire perspective. Hopefully I will be able to use this knowledge to offer better-informed stories here on this blog.

Jack! Thanks man, appreciate it more than you can imagine!

See our first interview with Jack Falcone -- Here


  1. The picture : To DePalma's left,in order are : Frank Sinatra,Tommy Marson,Carlo Gambino,and Aladena "Jimmy The Weasel" Fratianno.Seated in the front is the recently deceased Richie "Nerves" Fusco.

  2. The guys to Sinatra's left are, mason, he ran the place Sinatra was performing. Carlo Gambimo, Jimmy the weasel Fratimno and I think the guys name seated is a guy named Fusco, don't know the first name

  3. If the mob is so good at counter surveilance, how come they can't figure out someone is recording them? Even with all of the counter intel technologies that are out in the market that can tell if someone's recording you or not.

  4. They have become quite sophisticated -- emphasis on "become." The mob is evolving is the point I was trying to make. And you gotta give them credit: In 100+ years only two ceremonies were caught on tape -- none of them recently. I may do a separate article on these two incidents.

    1. Where's the sequel about the Luccheses loading up and getting rid of the Albanians?
      Old School-Anonymous?

    2. I had certain agreements with Jack about what he'd rather I write about. But I will be using on background a lot of his information. I am going to get to that story, Old School, I promise you. I am doing research for a scheduled interview for today. It'll be another major coup if it happens as planned, which I have no reason to believe won't be the case. He's a heavy hitter with the mob back in the days when Gotti Sr., Gaspipe, Wild Bill were all on the street....I don't want to jinx it by mentioning it early, I am just so pleased that it's happening....

  5. Hey Ed.......I remember reading I believe 'the valachi papers' it described Valachi's making ceremony and Valachi says there were almost 40 guys present including Maranzano who officiated the ceremony also Tom Gagliano to whom Valachi was connected plus future bosses like Lucchese and Bonanno. The only thing that differed was that Maranzano did go thru all the rules, He only imparted the 2 most important rules that to betray cosa rostra meant death without trial and also to violate another members wife also meant death. Where did you get the info on a bargain basement ceremony?

    1. J.C. wrote it... Not Jesus Christ, the other one - Jerry Capeci. I didn't have time to read the VPs, so I checked what Capeci wrote about it.... he said Valachi felt he was ripped off....he called it bargain basement, Valachi himself, I believe. I'm going to check....

    2. I'm looking through Valachi's book - he was made during "war times" which must have put a lot of pressure on things.... He may have written about the "bargain basement" stuff in his unpublished memoirs, which I have a copy of. I'll check...

    3. Yeah I just looked thru 'The Valachi Papers' by Peter Maas

      Valachi was made along with Sally Shields and Nick the Thief. Taken on a 90 mile trip to Maranzano's home in Wappinger Falls. I was right about the 40 guys being present also. Check it out cause the version of his making ceremony in this book was anything but bargain basement.

      Also in my above post I meant to say that Maranzano DID NOT go thru all the rules but only imparted the 2 he felt most important because it was a time of war. The Castellamaresi and about 20 men loyal to Gagliano had merger together to fight Masseria.

    4. Here is the link -- he mentions the ceremony but also, writing in the first person, I'll tell you more about this and that... I find no overt reference during the ceremony but later, when he decides to flip, he may have written something. I don't have time to read the whole thing, but I'll double check Capeci's ref. Anyone who is interested, here is Valachi's unpublished memoir, in his own words (called "The Real Thing"):

    5. I read the description of his making ceremony from the link you provided and it jives with what was written in 'the valachi papers' 40 members present from 2 different families, 3 men made and they ate together afterwards. Nothing bargain basement about it.

      How can I get the missing pages of this memoir? 320 which is unavailable has info about the old (disbanded) newark family. I'd love to know what Valachi says about it.

    6. Yeah, I agree, I amended the story.... his concern was that he wasn't told all the rules and that is why he considered it an abbreviated affair.... (the lost pages are lost -- don't believe they exist)... Capeci never gives sourcing but Joe may have discussed his affair more deeply in testimony, which I will look for. Good point you raise here....

    7. Valachi was exactly how Bonanno described him 'the dreg of our society'

      The lost pages def 320 is referred to in David Critchleys book 'the origin of OC in America'
      How and exactly why the Newark family was disbanded and its members parceled out amongst the 5 families is a great mystery.

    8. Does Critchley personally own the missing pages? Are they available anywhere?

    9. He refers to pg 320 in his notes so I'd say yes he has at least some of these pages. He is a member of the real deal forum. I'll pm him over there see what he says.

  6. Paul Castellano, Greg Depalma, Sinatra, Tommy Marson, Carlo Gambino, Alendino Fratiano, Salvitor Spatola, Joey Gambino, and Rich Fusco

  7. Ed, Could you contrast the quality of Jack's book versus "Donnie Brasco"? As time goes on and I read more, Joe Pistone, I think, was just another agent who bailed just to hit the book and movie circuit. I also am very suspicious of his fierce defense of "Lynn" DeVecchio.. Reading the book "Deal With the Devil" currently.

    1. Nah, I can't believe Joe was in it for money. The man spent years--many years, more than Jack--undercover and could've been killed at any moment. Jack and the FBI had the benefit of Joe's background to learn from. I didn't ask John about Joe, these are my opinions. A lot of guys in the FBI supported Lynn. I believe it was on principal. All the feds working organized crime, including Joe and Lynn, guys who were out in the street working with mob guys (albeit on different levels) stick together. I don't believe for Joe and any of Lynn's supporters that it had to do with evidence or lack thereof -- it was about loyalty, a version of the solders' band of brothers. That said, I think that Unfinished Business is a damn fine book but after that I think he's kind of milking it... that is now. He probably sees how popular the mob is (Mob Wives, whatever you think of it, is a hit making a lot of money for a lot of people). He's probably saying, hey, what about me? I think he's stayed in the spotlight maybe a little longer than he should've, I think Way of the Wiseguy wasn't that good, I think he did too many talk shows. I think a lot of things. I wouldn't begrudge Joe for Lynn's actions. I don't know about Lynn; I think the way his trial ended was dubious, Linda Schiro was not the best witness. I think Lynn was in a tough place, though, with a difficult job... I am suspicious of the guys who raised the charges against Lynn in the first place. Anyway, I am rambling on, now....I don't care for Lance for professional reasons, things I know that I won't discuss here. I am not saying Deal is not a good book, I'm saying I am withholding opinion....

    2. Jack, not John, in the above! As for quality, I think Donnie Brasco is a fantastic book that presents a vivid in-your-face look at the day to day grind of street life. I love the tiny details, like Lefty not taking his newspaper back from the guy on the airplane. I think the wiretaps of Lefty are great; hilarious! I find a lot of the mob so much like the Sopranos. David Chase was on the money. Jack's books is great too because it gives us new information... it updates the story. I may have wished Jack had written the entire book on the Mafia, it's more of an overview of all his undercover work, but that's me. Maybe one day he will write another book that offers a more comprehensive view of his time in the life. My opinion -- again, I am not speaking for him -- is that he appears to be more of a low-key kind of guy, just in terms of his nature. Both books are great; quality means a lot of things (remember, both of them had writer partners) so I don't think you can judge these books on the quality of the writing: but the quality of the information is first rate....

    3. I have to amend my 11:55 comment - Pistone wasn't under cover
      "more years than Jack." Jack spent around 25 years undercover, dealing with far more violent gangs than the Mafia, including cartels, drug-dealing psychos, and the like. He was actually undercover a hell of a lot longer than Pistone, who was undercover for I believe around six years with the Bonanno family.

  8. Greg you know who this is...miss u greatly...RIP.....wish you were still here....thank you for all you did for and miss you ....

    1. He was a hell of a guy, from what I've heard about him. These guys have charisma, in spades...

  9. Greg Depalma can pass for feech lamanna in the Sopranos

  10. I thought the exact same frigging thing! Ya know who'd make a good "Chin" in a film? Chazz Palminteri.... I can't believe they haven't done it yet -- instead he plays Castellano!


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