Friday, February 20, 2009

The Mob's Roach Motel

Kevin McMahon never had a chance. Both his parents were junkies.

McMahon was born addicted to heroin, he said Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court. Then, when he was 6, Mommy and her boyfriend killed Daddy. Mommy went away. Grandma took little Kevin in for a few years, but she couldn't handle him in their rough East New York neighborhood, so when, he said, he was 12 or 13, she threw him out into it. He slept in alleys and yards, and one day, he found a cabana and went inside. He was discovered by the owner. The good news: The owner and his wife took Kevin into their home, and over time, they essentially adopted him.

The bad news: The owner was top John Gotti hit man John Carneglia. And he took Kevin right under his gun-bearing wing.

A teenager. Perfect chum. Just the age when kids with not enough love or luck are feeling the most vulnerable. And McMahon isn't the only one the Mafia grabbed at this impressionable age. Peter Zucarro, who also testified at the ongoing trial of mob hit man Charles Carneglia, John's younger brother, said that he was about 13 when neighborhood mobsters started giving him money for doing errands, sucking him in. "I wanted to be just like them," Zucarro said.

One problem: The mob is like a Roach Motel. You crawl in, but you can't crawl out.

Both Zucarro and McMahon and other informants have referred to themselves as "property." The capos owned them. In this democracy, they volunteered to live in a military dictatorship. They obeyed any order. Anything to feel like they belonged.

It's like the story of the child soldiers in Africa, kidnapped and then rewarded for killing. In his great book "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," Ishmael Beah tells of a contest the grownups would hold between the kids "for who could slice the prisoners' throats quickest. ...A lot of things were done with no reason or explanation. Sometimes we were asked to leave in the middle of a movie. We would come back hours later after killing many people and start the movie where we left off as if we had just returned from intermission."

In the mob, you followed orders or you would be killed, as anyone who has a TV set knows. But with law enforcement's ongoing destruction of the Italian-American Mafia, why do we care? Because youth gangs have filled the void. "There are now a million gang members in the U.S., up 200,000 since 2005," according to a report released last week by the National Gang Intelligence Center, and they commit 80% of crimes in some communities.

The MS-13 gang, with roots in El Salvador, is particularly brutal, and many gangs are using the Internet "to develop working relationships with foreign drug traffickers."

"Gangs give a sense of feeling safe, of discipline, of belonging," FBI gang expert Linda Schmidt has said. Schmidt recommends that the government fund programs "that our young people can turn to" and that they be "24/7 - like gangs are."

Thanks to Joanna Molloy

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