Thursday, January 20, 2011

Goodfellas

Nearly 130 Arrested in Huge Mob Sweep:

In a blanket assault against seven mob families in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, the F.B.I. and local authorities began arresting close to 130 people on Thursday on charges including murder, racketeering and extortion, federal law enforcement officials said.

The sweep began before dawn, and the targets ranged from reputed small-time book makers and crime-family functionaries to six reputed senior mob figures from three crime families, including the entire current leadership of the Colombo crime family, according to the authorities.

A dozen of the indictments naming more than 80 defendants were handed up in Brooklyn. They charged members of all five of New York’s crime families — Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, Luchese and Bonanno — along with members of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family.
It's interesting: every time we discuss organized crime in Criminology, students inevitably ask variations of "are they still around?" or "wasn't that back in the old days?" when it comes to the existence of the mob today. They have a hard time believing the academic evidence, minus some blockbuster trial or sweep like the one done this morning.

Well, here ya go. It has been a number of years since the high-profile arrests and trials of the 1990's, but as the article notes, "several federal, state and local law enforcement officials have expressed some concern about a possible resurgence of the influence of organized crime in some quarters after two decades of decline."

Still, we tend to romanticize and mythologize the mob today (the alien-conspiracy model) in movies such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, or shows like The Sopranos. Suzanne Dalitz, daughter of one of the most "notorious Las Vegas gangsters" Moe Dalitz, offers some great insights and recollections of the "mafia mystique."
That mobster mystique, once it attaches itself to you, sticks. Stranger still are the family publicity stills—Moe and Averill posed in our living room, gazing down at me.

The pictures show something else: Moe was forcing his smiles, and Averill looked like she was about to bolt. By spring, I lived with my mother in Mexico.

My parents’ divorce coincided with escalating mob violence as investigations proliferated and power was reshuffled. A few years later, Howard Hughes moved into the upper two floors of the Desert Inn. “A kook,” my dad called him.

When Hughes bought the DI, he ushered in a new era for the delicate social structures of the town and precipitated a noticeable diminishing of gift ponies to me. “You know, it’s not like it was,” everyone began saying.

Incredibly, you still hear that today when you talk to Vegas old-timers. "What was it like then? You mean, back when things were good?"

As today's arrests and indictments show, the mob and its activities are never "good." Crimes such as murder, racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking, arson, drug trafficking, money laundering and gambling are pretty serious stuff (though if done by a corporation, often dismissed).

The mob may be gone from Vegas (allegedly), but it certainly continues to operate in other areas of the country. We romanticize its existence at our own peril.

UPDATE: Selwyn Raab, a reporter who has written extensively on the mob, notes in Sunday's NYT that Omerta may be dead, but the Mafia certainly isn't.

Even if we drive the criminals out of their traditional corruption rackets, it’s unlikely to be an obituary for the mob. Sports bookmaking and loan-sharking, the Mafia’s symbiotic bread-and-butter staples, will continue to flourish and provide seed money for other criminal endeavors.

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