Monday, March 09, 2009

American Mafia in a Pathetic State Thanks to "Rats"

Anyone looking for evidence of the pathetic state of America's once mighty Mafia could find it last week in one of Brooklyn's federal courtrooms.

On the defence bench, a bespectacled 62-year-old man in scruffy green sweater and grey trousers sat impassively as an alleged former workmate, a fellow hitman in New York's Gambino crime family, spilled the beans on everything from the murderousness of its menfolk to the infidelity of its women.

The trial of Charles Carneglia for five murders and racketeering charges has been electrified by the evidence of John Alite, a self-confessed assassin for the Gambino clan and their ruling family, the Gottis, who has "ratted" on his old friends.

Alite's lurid succession of claims included that John Gotti Jnr ordered a string of murders, that he (Alite) had an affair with Gotti's married sister, Victoria, and that two police officers helped in at least one of the Gambino murders.

If he sang like the proverbial canary, so too have dozens more New York Mafiosi. Guest appearances by former mobsters, turned state witness in order to secure a lenient sentence, are par for the course in Mafia trials nowadays.

The old days of "omerta", the code of silence that once bound members together and made prosecutions very difficult, were well and truly over.

"The Mafia began as a secret organisation but if you look at it now, you couldn't find a more 'un-secret' organisation," said Rick Porrello, a writer on the Mafia and a police chief in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. "It's hard to think of a major case that doesn't have a high-ranking Mafia witness for the prosecution, and these cases rely on them," he said.

Jim Margolin, a New York FBI special agent, said: "I'm sure the next prospective co-operator will be thinking: 'Well, why shouldn't I if the alternative is going to jail for 40 years.' The more others do it, the less loyalty there is to the family."

Mr Porrello also puts this down to the fact that, from the 1980s onwards, the Mafia was no longer run by the "street-hardened" gangsters of the mob's golden years but by their less disciplined offspring.

There is an old Mafia saying that "the family is only as strong as its boss". As soon as Gotti Snr was jailed and his son, not yet 30, took over, the Gambinos were eclipsed as New York's most powerful mob family.

In a conversation recorded by the FBI, "Junior" was heard complaining about the Mafia life and questioning the love of a father who would "put me with all these wolves".

Indeed, Alite claimed in court that he and Carneglia had plotted to murder "Junior" because they believed he was too "soft" to lead the Gambino family.

A witness protection programme, which proved that it could protect people who turned, was also crucial in encouraging mobsters to co-operate. In the past, they usually ended up dead.

Despite the stream of successful prosecutions, Mafia watchers say the families are still operating, albeit on a smaller scale and often in less serious crimes such as loan sharking and credit card fraud.

Mr Margolin said there was still an FBI squad devoted to each of the five New York crime families -- Bonanno, Genovese, Colombo and Lucchese and Gambino -- and "they're all busy".

"We're not at the point of declaring victory over the Cosa Nostra," he said.

Thanks to Tom Leonard

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