Has the Mafia Resurged Post-9/11?

It's been 10 years since Selwyn Raab, now 82, published his seminal work on American organized crime:  Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires.

And, according to Rolling Stone magazine, he's updating it.

But you wouldn't know it based on the title Rolling Stone hid this news nugget under, Is the American Mafia on the Rise?

The Mafia's obituary seem to be written every few years....

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 it was able to hide in Communism's shadow for the greater part of the 20th century.

Once again, 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 law enforcement focused 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.

To illustrate a larger point, note that the above italicized paragraphs were previously published on Cosa Nostra News in February 2014, titled Why New York's Five Families Have Regained Power, which in turn was based partly on the Wall Street Journal's Mafia Is Down—but Not Out.

The Goodfellas Guy
Even the great Nicholas Pileggi wrote the Mafia's obituary, though the story is an uncharacteristic blunder. The article, for New York magazine, was titled "The Decline and Fall of the Mafia" -- and it was published in 1970.

Raab, the Rolling  Stone story reminded us, "devoted the last 20 pages to the likelihood of the "resurgence" referred to in (the book's) lengthy subtitle."

"This [was] a stretch," chalked up to "an apparent attempt to buoy [the book's] relevance," decided Bryan Burrough in the Times' original 2005 review. He's wrong, but since Burrough wrote his own masterpiece, we'll give him a pass....

Raab included that Resurgence segment because he simply understood 9/11's profound impact on the FBI; that terrorism was the new buzzword in D.C. and that way too much investigative resources had been reallocated away from the Mafia...

The big 2011 Mafia bust was a bit of federal law enforcement sleight-of-hand, in a manner of speaking. The Fed's used the arrests of more than 100 mobsters to announce that they were reducing their concentration on the Mafia, by more than half, to focus on Middle Eastern terrorism.

The NYPD didn't make nearly as much noise when it announced this year that it too was reducing its focus on organized crime. The Organized Crime Control Bureau was terminated as of March 1 as per a department-wide reorganization.

In 2006, the Mob was "a crushed colossus," Raab said.

"Decades of indictments brought under the RICO law had vanquished even the most fearsome mobsters; Bonanno crime boss Joseph Massino had just flipped sides for the Feds the year before, and two years prior to that, John "The Teflon Don" Gotti had died a lonely death in a Missouri prison hospital far from the streets of New York," Raab told Rolling Stone.

Selwyn Raab has updated Five Families.

"The Mob was on the ropes and really needed only one or two more crushing blows before the FBI could really turn these people into old street gangs. That changed after 9/11."

Then there was the high-profile bust this past August, of which we're tired of writing about and you're tired of reading.

Five Families drew heavily from Raab's 40-year investigation of the Mafia while working at the New York Times's metropolitan desk. Thought it had some criticism. Some thought Raab didn't delve deep enough into the stacks to trace the Mafia's origins.

As noted, while Raab provides a first-rate work of nonfiction on the five Mafia families of New York, he places the greater emphasis on what happened from roughly 1960 up until near the present. He gives short shrift to the early history of the mob in New York. This is apparent from a simple glance at the table of contents. For a book of around 750 pages, only the first 100 or so are devoted to early Mafia history in New York. 

We pontificated on one mobster who fell through the cracks of Raab's  research, too.

Still, it's a solid book, engagingly written. In fact, it "has since been hailed as the definitive account on all things Cosa Nostra, complete with painstakingly detailed family trees and whole appendixes dedicated to things like 'Mafia Boss Succession.'"

Raab also became an AMC consultant for the 10-part Making of the Mob documentary, which did his Five Families little justice.

Some interesting quotes from Rolling Stone's Raab interview:

...Historically the Mafia is a carbon copy, or a mirror of American capitalism. The Internet is an important tool for the business and a lot of them use it for Internet gambling. And why not? People aren't going to bookies the way they used to, they couldn't compete by just having some old fashioned bookmaking with some guy with a telephone...
The long established rule was that anyone who was a civilian — not implicated in mafia activities — was immune. One of the reasons that's changed is because of these so called "Zips." That's a nickname for Sicilian newcomers who are not members of the Sicilian mafia but recent immigrants, and they've pretty much taken over the Gambino family....

Most of the old Italian-American neighborhoods no longer exist, so mafia members, like everybody else, are now living in the suburbs. And there's money to be made there. Besides that, the law enforcement there traditionally was never looked upon as a major threat, so it's easier for them. And now that they've moved there, that's where they want to operate...

But the big threat with the Mafia moving into the suburbs is that you need to make sure they never get so large again that they have political influence. That is the scariest aspect. They get the money, and then they get the influence. They can fix elections. They get lawyers. They get judges. They were so influential in politics and the court system and with that influence they could fix elections. Even as well into the latter part of the 20th Century....

 They're all replaceable.....