Opinion » Columnists

Mafia's new powerful enemy

Is the mafia facing a new and more fearsome enemy? 
Yes, it is, and the enemy is the mafia itself as more and more of the members are violating the sacred oath of  “omerta” - the code of silence, and turning states’ evidence. 

I am not an expert on government anti-mob efforts, but I do know that tougher sentencing, a better witness protection program, and the RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) which made it illegal to even belong to the Mafia, have all taken their toll. 

The RICO act grants law enforcement yet even more power for highly invasive monitoring of an individual, without the burden of seeking more and more court orders.  The RICO Act was ratified in 1970 by the US Government. 

First to break ranks with the mafia, or La Costa Nostra, was Joseph Valachi, a low level soldier Valachi worked for Vito Genovese, of the Luciano family, for a number of years.  Arrested in 1959 for drug trafficking, Valachi was sent to prison, where he found himself in the same cell as his boss.  Genovese started to suspect, wrongfully, that Valachi had turned informer and gave him the kiss of death – from that day on, Valachi’s days were numbered.  Valachie cut a deal with the US Government and became a prime witness against the mafia. 

The mob went under cover again laying very low, until Paul ‘Big Paulie’ Castellano, started running into legal problems.  After Carlo Gambino died, Castellano assumed the highly debated, and embittered, leadership of the Gambino family in New York.  Castellano’s bid manipulation of city and state construction contracts was discovered and he was facing indictment.  Castellano also found out about his lieutenant, John Gotti, dealings in narcotics – a crime punishable by death under mafia code. 

Gotti struck the fatal blow and on 15 December 1985, Gotti hired four killers who took Castellano out, mafia style. 

Gottia, assumed leadership of the Gambino Crime family, but with a whole new twist – he became highly visible. He walked the streets talking with people while wearing $2000.00 suites.  He loved publicity.  Twice, he ‘fixed’ juries and won acquittals – soon Gotti earned the reputation as the ‘teflon don’.   

The federal authorities invoked the RICO Act, and now Gotti was on their short list.  It seems every where, no matter where, Gotti went, the rooms and telephones were bugged with the federal authorities accumulating hours of private, and incriminating, conversations between Gotti and other mafia figures, especially his underboss, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.  

About 1990, Gotti and Gravano were arrested for murder and racketeering. Both Gotti and Gravano walked into the hearing with typical mafia bravado, and swagger.  The state started presenting its case against the two, and threw in an added surprise – a tape of Gotti talking with someone about letting Gravano take the blame for another murder.  Gotti had set his underboss up. 

Granvano turned state’s evidence and with his testimony, Gotti was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. 

Since that time, more and more mafia underlings have been turning state’s evidence and testifying against their bosses, associates and the various families.   

Just last week, a 23 year old murder case was solved thanks to a mafia turn coat.  Three Bonanno family captains were slaughtered by machine gun fire in a social club, and it seemed like it was going to be another unsolvable murder, until a mafia turncoat provided federal law enforcement with the evidence they needed to arrest the killers.   

Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo, a former Gambino family capo, spilled what he knew and as a result, John A. "Junior" Gotti, was arrested for putting a contract out on radio host Curtis Sliwa.  Silwa had made some disparaging comments about John Gotti Sr.  

No one can pin point exactly why mafia members are coming forward, the RICO act, an air tight witness protection program, or possible disintegration of the mafia itself, could be the cause.   

High profile people are being arrested – people such as Vyscheslav “The little Japanese” Ivankov, the infamous mafia member who served time in a US prison, and is now going back to Russia to face prison time there.  Or Ludwig ‘Tarzan’ Fainberg, who eventually had ties to the Gambino and Genovese crime families as well as the Columbina drug lords.  Tarzan’s friend, known as “The Cannibal’ turned, state’s evidence and Tarzan was arrested under the RICO act. 

Perhaps the influx of narcotics, the violence that is spilling onto the streets, has all taken a toll even on the mafia members themselves.  In the yesteryears, being a ‘made man’ was a badge of honor – now, it seems it’s an arrest warrant waiting to happen. 

Sentencing has gotten tougher also.  23 hours a day, seven days a week, in solitary confinement can mentally crumble even the toughest of men into full blown psychosis.  “Life in prison without parole” is ugly words to hear coming from a judge.  This could be adding to the pressure. 

One can hope that the pattern of mafiainformers continues, and the strangle hold of the mafia, world wide, is starting to break. 

I cannot leave this article without mentioning that not all mafia member’s children try to carry on the family tradition.  Victoria Gotti, is one example of a mafia child, who is trying to keep on a level path.  A mother of three teen age boys, she seems to have her hands full, but in spite of everything, she is raising her kids with good values. Not mafia values.  As Humphrey Bogart often said: “Here’s looking at you kid”. 

Michael Berglin