Do you like watching true crime television shows or movies? It can be exciting to watch the good guys from the police or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chase down and catch all sorts of bad guys.
If you like these types of shows, then you've probably come across a show that features bad guys that are part of an organized crime family. The good guys might have referred to them as the mob or the Mafia. Are these groups real or just something made up for the movies or TV?
Unfortunately, the Mafia is indeed real, and it dates back to the late 19th century in Sicily, a small island off the coast of Italy. For centuries, Sicily was controlled by a long series of foreign rulers.
Originally, the term "mafioso," which has come to mean Mafia member, simply referred to a person suspicious of central . By the turn of the 19th century, however, some of the small groups evolved into private armies known as "mafie."
They began to extort money from local landowners in exchange for protection. As they began to engage in more and more criminal activities, they slowly became the violent criminal organization we know today as the Sicilian Mafia.
Mafia families conducted their business in secret. They forced new members to take an all-important oath of secrecy and loyalty, known as omerta. Members pledged never to leave the family and never to cooperate with government authorities regarding any Mafia activities.
Although it operates in a similar fashion to the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia is its own unique entity. It got its start during the 1920s Prohibition era when gangs of Italian-American immigrants made tons of money from the criminal enterprise of bootleg liquor.
The American Mafia expanded after Prohibition was repealed, branching out into a wide range of illegal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and illegal gambling. By the 1950s, the American Mafia was the most dominant organized-crime network in the U.S.
The leaders of the American Mafia also successfully infiltrated labor unions and legitimate industries, including construction, trash hauling, and the New York garment industry. They showed a willingness to use bribery and violence to intimidate government officials, business owners, witnesses, and even juries to maintain their grip on their growing criminal enterprises.
The American Mafia operates all across the United States, especially in large cities like New York City and Chicago. Their violent crimes and notorious gangsters like John Gotti and Al "Scarface" Capone fascinated the public and made them the subject of popular entertainment, such as television shows and movies.
Although the American Mafia was quite powerful throughout most of the 20th century, law enforcement agencies began to gain ground against the Mafia in the 1980s and 1990s. After Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in 1970, prosecutors were able to target organized-crime families and all their sources of income, both legal and illegal.
These new anti-racketeering laws allowed law enforcement agencies to convict several Mafia leaders. In addition, other Mafia members began to break their code of omerta to avoid long prison sentences. Although the Mafia has been weakened over the past couple of decades, it has not been eliminated completely and still operates today.