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American Mafia: Origin, Structure and Promotion Case Study


The American mafia is an organised criminal society that originated from Sicily, Italy. This criminal society includes mostly the Italian-American families. In the United States of America, the mafia is also referred to as “the Mafia”, “Mob”, the American Mafia or the National Crime Syndicate, which encompasses all organised crime including the mafia.

The mafia is involved in wide range of criminal activities, such as gambling, loan sharking, stock manipulation, murder, labour racketeering, corruption, drug trafficking, smuggling, vote buying, theft, bid rigging, kidnapping, extortion and many more activities.

Origins of the mafia

The American mafia or the Cosa Nostra group is considered to have its roots in Sicily, Italy. Most of the mafia groups originated from this area as the Sicilian mafia is one of the most well-organised crime groups. Like the Sicilian mafia, the American one has no formal name but exists as a secret society that conducts criminal activities. The American mafia groups were started by the Italian immigrants that arrived to the United States in the 19th century. The abundance of the immigrant groups from Sicily promoted the growth of these crime groups in the United States. The mafia had control of most of the labour unions and also influenced most of the local and city politics. As well as in the past, nowadays, the mafia groups are active in big cities, such as New York, New Jersey, New England, Chicago and Detroit. There are other families, associates and crews in other cities. There are about 26 cities in the country where the Cosa Nostra family operates. In New York City, there are five families known to be associated with the mafia, these are Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno, and Colombo families. Currently, most of the mafia activities in the USA are concentrated in Chicago and north-eastern part of America. There are also upcoming groups of non-Italian origin and other splinter groups that divided from the main families.

Mafia organisation composition and structure

The American mafia groups are well-organised and have their own hierarchical structure. This structure resembles the one created by Maranzano in Sicily in 1931. Thus the administration of the group is comprised of the “Boss”, the “under-boss” and the “consigliere”. There are other positions that follow after these major ones.

BOSS. This person is the head of the syndicate, the leader and the reigning dictator. Boss is referred to as the “Don” or the “God-Father” of the group. A person to fill this position is selected through voting as well as he may be self-proclaimed. The boss is entitled to a cut from every operation.

The underboss. This person is ranked second in the family, while being appointed by the boss. He is the day-to-day manager of the family and oversees so that all the operations are successfully carried out. He gets a cut from the boss share.

Consigliere. This individual is considered as boss’ “right hand man” as he advises him. He also mediates between parties engaged in conflict and represents the boss at families’ meetings. To fill this position, the boss appoints someone he can trust.

Capo-regime. Capo-regime is also called the captain or the skipper as he manages a group of soldiers who report directly to him. A typical group may contain twenty soldiers and several associates. The boss selects the capo, and the captain can report to the boss or the under-boss. The capo is responsible for overseeing operations, such as murder and other duties assigned to him.

Soldier. To join the group of soldiers, the one is to be either full or half Italian. Once a member is “made,” he cannot be killed without the boss permission. This means that the members are protected by the boss, and one can kill them only if he has the boss’ permission.

Associate. This is a non-family member who still works with the mafia family. They carry out the same duties as soldiers as well as perform some simple tasks. From the associates, the family identifies prospective men who will be appointed to become soldiers.

Rituals and customs. The mafia groups have several rituals and customs. These codes must be followed by all the members as they regulate the interaction between the group members. Among the most prominent rules are the following traditions:

  • Omerta which means that the organisation maintains an oath of silence;
  • Ethinicity that regulates that only men of Italian origin can join these groups and become their members (however, associates and partners can come from any race);
  • Family secret, which states that no one can talk about family business to other non-members;
  • Blood for blood which means that when a family member is killed, one cannot revenge unless the boss permits;
  • The ruling that all the members do not engage in fights among each other;
  • Adultery is strictly forbidden;
  • All members must give some money to the boss;
  • Facial hair, such as moustache, is not allowed;
  • Homosexuality is forbidden;
  • Members should never associate with police officers.

Factors promoting the development of mafia groups

There are many factors that have piloted the development of American mafia groups. It is imperative that these factors would be analysed as they could help in formulating amicable solutions to curb the groups (Fiorentini and Peltzman, 1995). The main reasons include:

Geographical distance

Mafia groups may come from neglected areas, such as deserts, forests, mountains and even jungles. These areas are favourable for breeding grounds for uprising, brigandage and rebellions. Deserted areas create a power vacuum which results in the developments of these groups.


When certain products are prohibited from sale, cartels and mafia groups usually spring up. Forbidden products and services, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling and prostitutions, contribute to the development of these groups. For example, the transformation of coca leaves to cocaine cannot be performed legally. The peasant farmer who grows the crop may not be able to convert it to cocaine. One needs a factory, protection, some people to hide the product from the law, insurance and other things. These cannot be provided through the legitimate process,l and hence cartels spring up to provide these services.

Political changes

Political changes, war and revolutions have all resulted in the formation of these groups. Most of the mafia groups were formed to protect the others. Mafia groups create fear as a way of gang recognition. Once the population develops fear, they can control and protect many people without physical presence at place (Stergios, 2001).


Low income areas in America are considered as breeding grounds for crime and mafia groups. These people consider themselves discriminated and view police officers as oppressors. In these areas, it is impossible for law and order to be maintained. Groups develop to offer protection, but they also end up causing more crimes.

Money and power

Many young people are wooed to the mafia groups through promises, such as huge sums of money or power.

Strategies to counter mafia in America

The mafia groups in the United States have a significant economic and social threat. Most of these organised groups present a security problem to the nation. The mafia groups, if not controlled, can corrupt the national political system though the use of labour unions. Though mafia groups do not kill police officers for fear of serious retaliation from the government, they can easily corrupt policemen through their associates and halt any investigations. Various research works on the mafia groups show that they have a serious economical impact on the economy (Ryan and Rush, 1997). According to the study, the FBI estimates that mafia group earned $50-$90 billion in 2012. These groups’ activities can be prevented through the flowing ways:

The RICO act

With the enactment of the racketeering influenced corrupt organisation act (RICO act), various mobsters and mafia groups have been prosecuted. The act provides for severe penalties to anyone associated with the criminal gangs. Various bosses, under-bosses and captains have been convicted.

Witness protection

The state should encourage the arrested mafia mobsters to testify against their bosses. They should be given protection so as to motivate them testify, which may result in more convictions.

Assimilation of Italian Americans

As more and more Italians become assimilated into the USA, the number of individuals joining these groups will reduce.

Incorporating the youth to mainstream activities

Many youngsters joining the mafia are from the low income neighbourhood and want to rise up their social status and become wealthy. These individuals can be encouraged to perform other duties. Integrating the youth to the mainstream society is a key strategy to counter Mafia in America

Effective prohibitions of banned substances

Most of the mafia groups develop as a result of power vacuum created after the prohibition of some substances, such as drugs. It is important to present strategies to prevent the rise of criminal gangs after banning of some products.


In culmination, it can be seen that the mafia group originated from Italy and was brought to America by the Italian immigrants. These mafia groups are well organised and pose a big threat to the social and economic life of the American people. The main strategies adapted to prevent the growth of these groups are assimilation of Italian Americans, providing the youth with alternative employment, protecting witnesses who are ready to testify against mafia bosses and imposing strict penalties to all who participate in these groups.


Fiorentini, G. & Peltzman, S. (eds.) (1995).The Economics of Organised Crime. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ryan, P & Rush, E. (1997). Understanding Organized Crime In A Global Perspective: A Reader, London: Sage Publications.

Stergios, S. (2001). The political economy of organized crime: Providing protection when the state does not. Economics of governance, 2,173-202.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "American Mafia: Origin, Structure and Promotion." July 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-mafia-origin-structure-and-promotion/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'American Mafia: Origin, Structure and Promotion'. 21 July.

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