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La Cosa Nostra Organized Crime Essay

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Updated: May 13th, 2020


Available criminology scholarship demonstrates that La Cosa Nostra (LCN), also referred to as the mafia, the mob, the outfit, the office, and the family, was by any standards the most prominent criminal organization in the United States from the 1920s to 1990s (Finkenauer, 2007; Mallory, 2007). Although law enforcement agencies have in the recent past registered marked success in infiltrating LCN due to its organizational structure, it remains an influential organized criminal enterprise not only in the United States but also globally (Layman & Potter, 2007). This paper provides an assessment of LCN, explicitly focusing on the group’s historical orientation, national and multinational structure, operating techniques about the drugs business, as well as its business-related interests over time.

Historical Analysis of LCN

A historical examination of LCN shows that the organized criminal outfit was initiated by Sicilian immigrants in the United States in the early 1920s, with available documentary evidence demonstrating that most of these immigrants were Sicilian Mafioso who entered the country illegally. Charles “Lucky” Luciano is one of the notable Italian organized crime figures who came to the United States during this era and helped in structuring the LCN after the Sicilian Mafia (Mallory, 2007). However, it is essential to note that other Sicilian Mafioso, including Giuseppe Esposito, had successfully entered the United States during the late 1800s.

American Mafia operations were heralded into the limelight with the October 15, 1890 murder of New Orleans Police Superintendent David Hennessey, though the criminal outfits continued to operate independently and evolved over the years under different names including Black Hand gangs, the Five Points Gang and the Al Capone’s Syndicate. By the end of the 1920s, two primary organized crime factions had emerged, leading to a war of organized criminal activities in major cities across the United States and subsequent murder of faction leader Joseph Masseria (Italian Organized Crime, 2014; Mallory, 2007). The violent killing of the faction leader in the 1920s brought an end to hostilities between the two groups and even facilitated they’re coming together to form a more lethal organized criminal group now popularly referred to as LCN.

National & Multinational Structure About the Drug Business

At the national level, the group is structured around the so-called families, each with a boss who controls the family makes executive decisions, maintains order, and maximizes profits for the family. Drawing on the hierarchical organizational structure, the underboss is the second in command and functions to collect information for the boss and ensure that instructions get down to the underlings. The senior advisor (consigliere) serves at the same level with the underboss but enjoys considerable influence and power in the context of providing advice to all members of the family, including the boss and the underboss. Further down, there are several captains or “capos,” whose primary function is to supervise ground crews consisting of “soldiers” or “made members” of the criminal enterprise (Finkenauer, 2007; Mallory, 2007). Although LCN is operational in the United States, it works with affiliate criminal groups in Canada, South America, Australia, and parts of Europe by forming associate relationships (Italian Organized Crime, 2014).

In the illicit drugs business, the boss has all the contacts and makes all the decisions relating to trafficking and maximization of profits, while the “soldiers” engage directly in distributing drugs on the ground, protecting the business, and collecting the proceeds for onward submission to the “capos” and those above them (Mallory, 2007). It is important to note that the boss, the underboss, and other high-ranking officials within the family are not directly involved in the trafficking of drugs on the ground as this is squarely the function of soldiers. A soldier may operate an illicit drug ring in a particular city on a commission basis, or he may have the right to ownership of the illegal drug enterprise and pay an agreed amount of the proceeds to the organization in return for protection or right to operate (Layman & Potter, 2007). In multinational contexts, LCN has been found to enter into agreements with other international organized crime entities to manage the trafficking of heroin and cannabis products while other groups control the smuggling of cocaine and related drugs.

Operating Methods & Business Interests

In the trafficking and sale of illicit drugs, LCN operates through corrupting the police and public officials, employing violence (threats, assault, murder), and enforcing discipline over members and non-members (Finkenauer, 2007; Mallory, 2007). When the criminal enterprise was at its peak during the 1990s, it was known for its ruthless employment of personal and property violence through targeted beatings, killings, bombings, arson, and explosions. The systematic use of force was and is still considered a tool of doing business among the loosely consolidated organized crime families within the LCN. The group continues to employ violence and threats not only to discourage and eliminate competitors in the illicit drugs industry but also to maintain internal discipline (Layman & Potter, 2007). The oath of secrecy taken by members upon recruitment demands strict adherence to the rules of the organization and members who open up to the outside world are punished by death. Additionally, the group has continued to use its vast resources and financial capability to corrupt the police and other public officials as it goes about its illicit drugs trade (Mallory, 2007).

LCN has traditionally relied on gambling (numbers, policy, dice, bookmarking) and drugs (heroin and marijuana) as its principal business interests. However, the available evidence demonstrates that the organization has diversified to other legitimate (e.g., food products, restaurants, bars and taverns, garbage disposal, securities) and illegitimate (e.g., loan sharking, extortion, hijacking, murder) business interests (Finkenauer, 2007).


From the above exposition, it is clear that LCN is not a new organized criminal outfit in the U.S., and that it is organized around the so-called families and employs a hierarchical organizational structure to maintain order and discipline in the organization. It operates within the international arena through associate relationships and entering into agreements with other organized groups. The group’s working methods about the illicit drug business entail corruption, use of violence and enforcing discipline among members, while its primary business interests are in gambling, drugs, loan sharking, extortion, and infiltration of legitimate business organizations.


Finkenauer, J.O. (2007). Web.

Italian organized crime. (2014). Web.

Layman, M.D., & Potter, G.W. (2007). Organized crime (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Mallory, S.L. (2007). Understanding organized crime. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

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