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American Mob Facts

Fascinating Facts About the Rise and Fall of Cosa Notra

23rd March 1970:  Mob boss Carlo Gambino smiles while standing in handcuffs after being arrested by the FBI.  

Mob boss Carlo Gambino smiles while standing in handcuffs after being arrested by the FBI in 1970. (View larger version)

Photo by Jack Manning/New York Times Co./Getty Images

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  • A government analysis estimated that, in the 1960s, the illicit profit of the nation's twenty-odd mob families topped $7 billion annually, approximately the combined earnings of the ten largest industrial corporations in the country.

  • The FBI was established in 1908. It was originally called the Bureau of Investigation (BOI). In 1935, it was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

  • The American mafia is known as Cosa Nostra, which translates from Italian to "Our Thing." In the FBI it is often referred to as La Cosa Nostra.

  • Fans of Boardwalk Empire should be familiar with some of the names heard in Episode One ("Stayin' Alive in the '70s"), including Charles "Lucky" Luciano, the mastermind behind the mafia's structure.

  • Though one of the main requirements of membership in Cosa Nostra is Italian heritage, Jewish Americans like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky were instrumental in the success of the mafia in the 1920s and 1930s. Meyer Lansky helped "Lucky" Luciano create The National Crime Syndicate and became one of its main overseers and bankers.

  • The Sicilian word omerta, Cosa Nostra's strict code of silence, essentially means ‘men of honor.' Omerta is a way of life and a code of conduct. Along with the vow of silence in dealing with law enforcement, omerta ensures that members of the American mafia swear total devotion to the head of their family.

  • In the early days of Cosa Nostra, their clandestine operations left little evidence of an organized crime syndicate beyond myth until 1957, when New York State Police uncovered a meeting of major figures in Apalachin, New York. It was one of law enforcement's first breakthroughs and is said to be the catalyst for a significant change in the FBI's approach to the investigation of organized crime.

  • "Operation Donnie Brasco" was one of the FBI's first major undercover operations, and was instrumental in collecting evidence that led to the convictions of over 100 mafia members.

  • Joe Pistone, the undercover FBI Agent known as "Donnie Brasco," was an FBI agent for 27 years. He spent about 20 of those years as an undercover agent.

  • When Donnie Brasco's true identity as FBI undercover agent Joe Pistone was revealed, The Bonanno crime family lost its seat on The Commission and a $500,000 open contract was placed on Pistone's head.

  • Joe Pistone's historical infiltration of the mob as Donnie Brasco was the topic of a 1997 movie starring Johnny Depp (as Joe Pistone) and Al Pacino (as "Lefty" Ruggiero).

  • John "Sonny" Franzese told mafia informant Guy Fatato, "I killed a lot of guys...you're not talking about four, five, six, ten." Franzese instructed Fatano to wear hairnets when disposing of evidence, and said getting rid of a body could be done by "dismembering the corpse in a kiddie pool and drying the severed body parts in a microwave before stuffing the parts in a commercial-grade garbage disposal."

  • John "Sonny" Franzese provided some funding for the controversial 1972 film Deep Throat.

  • Former Colombo captain Michael Franzese, son of "Sonny" Franzese, has left the mob and since become an evangelical Christian, author and motivational speaker.

  • Michael Franzese made millions of dollars for the Colombo family with various tax fraud and business scams. In fact, he was on Fortune Magazine's list of the "Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses" at the age of 35.

  • It's estimated that Michael Franzese made more money for the mob than anyone since Al Capone.

  • Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo was the leader of an especially violent faction of the Colombo crime family. He got his start as a hit man for Joe Profaci's gambling and loan-sharking crime syndicate in Brooklyn, New York.

  • Joe and Mary's Italian restaurant was the unlucky site chosen for the gruesome hit on mob boss Carmine Galante as he finished what would be his last meal.

  • The alleged requirements to become "made" – fully initiated – in a La Cosa Nostra family are that you're a full-blooded Italian on both sides – specifically Sicilian, if they're being strict - that you're sponsored by made members of that family, and that you commit a murder for the family. This is called "making your bones." The only other way to become made it through being an "earner" – making large amounts of money for the family.

  • Former Mafia associate Sal Polisi always used a white, plastic "I LOVE NEW YORK" bag for his bank robberies.
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