From Boss Of Bosses To The Commission: Optimizing The Mafia

How do you get inherent lawbreakers to follow laws....

 John Gotti and Joe Butch outside the Ravenite
John Gotti and Joe Butch outside the Ravenite social club. (Source NYPost)

That was the question that confronted Charles (Lucky) Luciano and others at the dawn of the American Mafia, the 1931 reorganization of organized crime, when the men running America's Mafia decided to once and for all optimize their "thing" for efficient plunder.

Each member of the "board of directors" had one vote, and the majority determined the decrees that were issued forth.

By putting in place such a construct, Luciano effectively did away with the entity that previously served as the mob's top governing body. The capo di tutti i capi or capo dei capi, the "boss of all bosses" or "boss of [the] bosses," was no longer, though if Luciano had wanted to hold that position, he likely would've met with little dissent. (One almost can't help recalling a sliver of basic American history here that uncannily aligns Luciano with the ultimate American patriot: George Washington, after serving as general of the army that defeated the British Empire in 1776, also declined a top role. Washington nixed the sentiment that he become monarch. He retired his commission, then retired after serving two terms as President.)

Capo de capi
But was it Luciano's decision? (The quoted material in this section was lifted from Alex Hortis's The Mob and the City.)

The boss of bosses had been an informal title, an honorific almost. The men who held the position could be likened to a consiglieri at large available to all Mafia families.

Salvatore (Toto) D'Aquila rose to power before and during the Prohibition years, when vast riches were available for the taking. D'Aquila "was a quiet family man with successful business ventures in real estate, olive oil, and cheese importing. Behind the scenes, it was a different story. According to Nicola Gentile, a kind of freelance consultant to mafiosi in the 1920s, D'Aquila significantly expanded the reach of the capo di capi. D'Aquila became “very authoritative,” enlisted a “secret service” of spies, and brought trumped-up charges against rivals. Other informants confirm that D'Aquila presided over trials of mafiosi who allegedly broke rules of the mob. With D'Aquila acting like a kind of judge, the trials were held before the “general assembly” of Mafia representatives from clans across America."

In October 1928, D'Aquila, 50, drove with his wife and kids to see a physician in Lower Manhattan. During the drive, he noticed that  something was wrong with the car. D'Aquila brought his wife and children into the doctor's office, then went outside and lifted the hood.

Three men approached D'Aquila and started talking to him. The discussion turned into an argument and the trio yanked out pistols and fired at the boss, hitting him nine times and ending his reign.

The boss of bosses role continued with Giuseppe (Joe the Boss) Masseria who in the winter of 1928, was actually elected by the general assembly of the Mafia to be capo di capi.

 "Previously, the boss of bosses title was more honorary and consultative. The boss of bosses was seen as a kind of wise mediator among the Mafia families. But under D'Aquila, more and more authority had built up in the position. Masseria intended to take advantage of this to expand his interests in New York and westward to mob enclaves in Detroit and elsewhere."

The boss of bosses reached its zenith  with Salvatore Maranzano, who followed  Joe the Boss and "proved even more power hungry than Masseria. He made a list of people he wanted dead. “Al Capone, Frank Costello, Charley Lucky, Vito Genovese, Vincent Mangano, Joe Adonis, Dutch Schultz,” recounted Joe Valachi. “These are all important names at the time.” They all happened to be former Masseria allies. So much for no reprisals. An FBI electronic bug picked up Steve Magaddino describing how Maranzano “wanted to shoot in the worst way” various men. “I said what are you crazy…there isn't any need to,” recalled Magaddino. ... Perhaps even more galling, Maranzano began threatening their money, too. There were rumors that Maranzano's men were hijacking booze trucks belonging to fellow mafiosi and dividing the spoils. A new cabal began plotting against the capo di capi."

After Maranzano, there would never again be an all-powerful boss of bosses. The general assembly concluded that giving such a title “to just one, could swell the head of the elected person and induce him to commit unjustifiable atrocities.”

The Commission
All five of the New York families were given representation. The Chicago and Buffalo crime families also were given seats at this exclusive table.

Chicago was ruled by erstwhile New Yorker Alphonse Capone, who ran the lucrative, powerful organized crime entity in the Windy City that oversaw far beyond its Midwest base. (Most of the rest of the country answered to either New York or Chicago.)

As for Buffalo, its ruler was the wily Stefano Magaddino, the highly respected and feared cousin of New York boss Joseph Bonanno, who together were affiliated with both the Midwest and the Sicilian and Calabrian Mafias in Montreal and Toronto in Canada.

The Commission was formally created in 1931 at a meeting of the nation's Mafia leaders. At the time, about 26 Cosa Nostra Families were active. 

As per The Mafia Commission: A History of the Board of Directors of La Cosa Nostra by Andy Petepiece, the primary reason the bosses decided future meetings would be held every five years was to select the seven men to have membership on the Commission. Commission members would  serve five-year terms, it had been decided.

National meetings were held in 1931, 1936, 1941, 1946, 1951, and 1956.

In 1957, there was an "emergency" meeting that was discovered at Apalachin, New York. As we know, it was a total disaster, and was the last national meeting of the Mafia Commission that was ever held. Over time, the five-year term disappeared, and bosses sat on the Commission in perpetuity. Only death or an extremely lengthy prison term could lead to a boss prematurely losing his seat. (Joseph Bonanno is the exception; he was unceremoniously ejected after his failed attempt to depose other bosses.)

In 1986, the Commission trial resulted in convictions. Formal meetings of the bosses were held no more because of the danger of infiltration by law enforcement.

Joe Massino, right, and Frank Coppa, with their wives on what was a working vacation
Joe Massino, right, and Frank Coppa, with their wives on what was a working vacation

Joe Massino, Bonanno crime family boss from 1991 until 2004, when he flipped following conviction, confirmed that the Commission was no more, testifying at the 2011 murder trial of Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano that “(t)here ain’t no Commission. When Paul Castellano got killed in December of 1985, there was never another Commission meeting there.”

Massino acknowledged however that top leaders of the crime rings did and do get together sometimes. He then described a meeting of the leaders of the five New York families.

Massino testified that all of  the men who showed held the acting boss slot, except for Massino himself, the only official boss.  At that meeting, according to Massino: acting Luchese boss Louis (Louie Bagels) Daidone; acting Colombo boss Joel (Joe Waverley) Cacace; acting Gambino boss Pete Gotti; and acting Genovese crime family boss  Lawrence (Skinny Larry) Dentico.

Sammy the Bull's Testimony
Gambino family underboss Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano claimed that Gotti called a meeting of the Commission in 1988. (Gravano, Genovese underboss Vincent Mangano, and Luchese consigliere Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso set it up, he also noted.)

John Gotti met with Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante and Luchese chief Vic Amuso in an apartment. Gotti had an agenda: he wanted to claim the role of capo di tutti i capi by default by hand-picking two Commission members.

By adding the Bonanno and Colombo bosses to the Commission, Gotti would've effectively become  boss of bosses.

Gotti argued his case for putting Carmine Persico’s acting boss, Vic Orena, of the Colombo crime family, on the Commission, and there was agreement.

Then Gotti pushed to have the Bonanno family back on the Commission (they'd previously been ejected for their wide scale drug trafficking, as well as the Donnie Brasco case and yearslong dysfunctionality). If Gotti had been able to engineer the return of his pal Joe Massino to the Commission, he would have had three of the five votes, thereby retaining majority control.

Gigante, no fool, recognized Gotti's machinations and moved that the Bonanno question be resolved at the next Commission meeting. Amuso seconded Chin's motion, and the two were able to hold Gotti by a two-to-one vote.

On October 25, 1996,as per intel gathered from informers and wiretaps by Federal prosecutors and investigators, there also had been a Commission meeting of the Genovese, Luchese, Colombo, and Bonanno families. The purpose was to order John Gotti to step down as boss of the Gambino crime family. At the time Gotti was serving a lifetime prison sentence.

Another meeting is believed to have been held on February 3, 1997. A business controlled by Junior Gotti lead to the discovery  of induction lists. (The Five Families were still circulating the names of potential inductees, is the inference.) The Commission apparently was still approving new members.

The most recent evidence, as per Adrian Humphreys reporting for the National Post, stems from when Domenico Violi, 52, was sentenced for drug trafficking; several revelations came to light based on recorded conversations. The wiretaps, though untested in court, revealed that  Violi had been made the Underboss of the Buffalo Mafia, the second-highest position in American Mafia families. "If the claim is true, he would be the only person in Canada to ever be named to one of the top leadership positions in any U.S.-based Mafia clan."

"It was such a unique situation that the Buffalo boss had consulted “the Commission” about it, the conversation continued. The opinion, he said, was that as long as someone is a member of the Mafia he is entitled to hold leadership positions within that family."

The Buffalo Mafia was thought to have been essentially dead for years.

"The wiretaps also suggest the major American mob families remain intact despite fierce law enforcement crackdowns that caused disarray."

The conversations were recorded between 2015 and 2017. Police seized an array of phones and BlackBerry devices from Domenico Violi’s home after he was arrested.

Violi is the eldest son of Paolo Violi, who was the powerful head of the Montreal mob until his shotgun murder in 1978 by the family of rival Vito Rizzuto, who then seized the city’s underworld throne. All of Violi’s uncles on that side of his family were similarly massacred. On January 22, 1978, Paulo Violi was murdered at a card game that turned out to be a set up. 

Violi is also the grandson of the late Giacomo Luppino, a senior mob authority in Canada who was an associate of Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino.

Luppino reportedly once hacked off a rival's ear and carried it around with him for years.