The Chicago Syndicate: Joe Valachi
Showing posts with label Joe Valachi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joe Valachi. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Using Witness Protection Programs to Break the Mob

It must be one of the worst choices to have to makeWitsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program ; to choose between decades behind bars or a life in hiding. But that is what confronts accused drug mule Cassie Sainsbury, now languishing in a Colombian prison. She has been asked to either inform on the people who supplied the cocaine found in her luggage at an airport back in April this year and go into witness protection, or spend 30 years in a Colombian jail.

Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program.

If she takes the deal to turn informant she will be joining a long list of people who testified against organised criminals only to lose their identity and liberty under witness protection. Programs to protect people who testify against organised criminals only came into existence in the 1960s and ’70s, even though the need for such a program goes back centuries.

Intimidation of witnesses is at least as old as courts, but it was only in the 19th and early 20th centuries that laws were passed against tampering with witnesses or that witnesses were detained so that they couldn’t be intimidated or killed.

In the US in the late 19th and early 20th century the Black Hand gangs, formed among Italian migrants, often scared away people from reporting crimes or testifying against gang members. In Chicago between 1910 and 1920, police were able to secure prosecutions in 21 per cent of homicides, but in cases relating to Black Hand killings they could only secure convictions in 4 per cent of cases.

The Black Hand: Terror by Letter in Chicago.

In the 1920s and ’30s people such as Chicago mob boss Al Capone were able to literally get away with murder by threatening or killing witnesses. But when authorities found bookkeeping ledgers meticulously detailing Capone’s ill-gotten profits, Leslie (some sources say Louis) Shumway, one of the men responsible for keeping the ledgers, was hidden away and brought to court under police guard. He became a material witness in a case for tax evasion. Capone was convicted in 1931 and sent to prison, after which police broke his control of his crime organisation, freeing Shumway of any fear of retribution. Shumway lived the rest of his life in seclusion but by the ’40s Capone was losing his mind due to late stage syphilis. Capone died in 1947 in Florida and Shumway died in 1964, also in Florida.

In 1963, mobster Joe Valachi testified at a US senate hearing about the dealings and structure of the mob. Valachi, who was already in prison, had organised his own protection. (In 1962 he beat to death an inmate he thought had been sent to collect a $100,000 bounty put out by mob boss Vito Genovese.) Valachi died in prison of a heart attack in 1971. Valachi Papers by Peter Maas.

The US Justice Department’s Gerald Shur, frustrated by not being able to get people to testify in big organised crime cases pushed for a more formal system of looking after witnesses.

In 1970 the Organised Crime Control Act provided for the relocation and protection of witnesses, a role that was taken on by the US Marshals Service under the orders of the US Attorney-General.

Since then thousands of people have entered the Federal Witness Protection Program, or Witness Security Program (WITSEC for short).

Some of the more notorious people given protection include New York City mobster Henry Hill, who was arrested in 1980 on a narcotics charge but turned informant and his testimony helped secure 50 convictions. His story was told in the book Wise Guy: Life in a Mafia Family, by Nicholas Pileggi and later turned into the award-winning Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas (4K Ultra HD) [Blu-ray].



Hill was thrown out of witness protection after he repeatedly revealed his true identity to neighbours. He died in 2012 from heart problems.

Sicilian-born mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta also made headlines in 1992 when he became the first major crime boss to turn informant. He testified into links between organised crime and politicians in Italy. He died while in WITSEC in the US in 2000.

A national witness protection program was also established Australia in 1990 under the Australian Federal Police. It gained notoriety when Reginald “Mick” O’Brien, a small-time criminal with links to crime boss Robert Trimbole, became a protected witness.

O’Brien had been arrested in relation to the importation of cannabis resin, but had made a deal with the National Crime Authority to give evidence against Trimbole. When the NCA became dissatisfied with the quality of his evidence he was dropped from witness protection. O’Brien was shot dead in Granville in January 1992. No one has ever been convicted of his murder.

Thanks to Troy Lennon.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Is the Mafia Still Alive Today?

In mid-1950s, the Italian-American criminal organization known as Cosa Nostra was enjoying the peak of its political influence and economic success. At the time, many questioned the organization’s presence. J. Edgar Hoover completely denied its existence for years. And unfortunately for the criminals describing themselves as “businessmen,” their reign atop the criminal underworld was swiftly coming to a close. Why did the power of Cosa Nostra begin to decline? Is this decline indicative of the death of the mob? And what does today’s mob look like?

The factors that led to this near cessation of overwhelming power are numerous, but two stand out as the most influential. The first is the death of omertà, the code of silence, and the resulting convictions. The second factor involved other criminal organizations pushing Cosa Nostra to the periphery as a result of competition. In spite of these factors, though, the mafia is still very much alive.

A Death in the Family

The downsizing of the mafia began in 1959 with the arrest of Joe Valachi. Valachi was associated with the Genovese family of New York, which was prominent in Cosa Nostra. Offered a deal in which he could either testify about the mafia or face the death penalty, Valachi decided to talk. In an interview with the HPR, Jeffrey Robinson, author of The Merger: How Organized Crime is Taking Over the World, claimed that this was a pivotal point in the history of the Italian mob: “He broke omertà. That’s really a very important moment because until then nobody talked … the FBI realized that they could get inside Italian organized crime.” According to Robinson, FBI agents began approaching mob figures and offer protection from prosecution in exchange for information on other mobsters. It was an overwhelmingly successful approach.

This strategy leveled serious blows to the structure of Cosa Nostra, culminating in the Mafia Commission Trials of 1987 that indicted each head of New York’s Five Families. In 1992, even John Gotti, known as “Teflon Don” because charges never seemed to stick to him, was convicted on charges related to his organized crime activities. Omertà was dead for Cosa Nostra. According to Robinson, so many people flipped that the Sicilian mafia was able to enter the scene and take control of three of the Five Families of New York. They have maintained control to this day.

Ending an Illegal Monopoly

Cosa Nostra’s peaceful cooperation with other criminal organizations also contributed to the group’s decline. Traditionally, moving onto another group’s territory ensured a war. But according to Robinson, as Russian fraudsters relocated to Miami (Colombian territory)—followed by Italians interested in the heroin market—nobody was being killed. Law enforcement soon came to believe that this was because of collaboration between the organizations. When crack cocaine became readily available, many new criminal organizations got involved, and their quickly expanding influence muscled Cosa Nostra into the periphery. This loss of total power, coupled with the end of omertà, forced the Cosa Nostra into a largely successful effort to downsize.

Several criminal organizations, such as the Russian mob and the Mexican cartels, have filled Cosa Nostra’s power void in the United States.El Narco New York University professor Mark Galeotti told the HPR that Russian operations in the United States consist mainly of fraud, including schemes that target the U.S. government. He explains, “There are millions upon millions [of dollars] being looted from Medicare and Medicaid [by Russian organized crime].” Similarly, law enforcement has largely failed in stopping the Mexican drug cartels. In an interview with the HPR, Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, argued that despite efforts by law enforcement to stop the cartels, “you still have a drug industry, you still have thousands and thousands of people working for organized crime, you still have millions of consumers of drugs, and you still have high levels of violence.” Grillo also acknowledged the success of other organizations in exporting their gangs to the United States, particularly Colombian gangs and Jamaican “posses.” These organizations may have supplanted the former power and influence of Cosa Nostra. However, despite their reduced influence, the Italians continue to operate.

Into the Modern Era

In the wake of September 11, the FBI’s focus on organized crime has decreased sharply in favor of counterterrorism operations. In a government document titled “10 Years After: The FBI After 9/11,” the FBI acknowledged that it shifted resources from criminal matters to counterterrorism. The document notes that the number of counterterrorist intelligence analysts has doubled. According to current New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton in a 2007 Policing article, “As law enforcement reacted to the aftermath of 9/11, and the United States’ federal dollars and priorities shifted, organized crime groups were able to exploit the reduction in law enforcement attention and moved aggressively to establish new ‘trade routes’ and alliances.” In a 2011 interview with CUNY TV, former New York Times reporter Selwyn Raab claimed that there were once 500 members of law enforcement working on organized crime in New York City. Now, he said, there are around 50, enabling the survival of Cosa Nostra.

According to Robinson, Italian-American organized crime has found a niche role in construction, extortion and protection rackets. In the construction industry, he explains, Cosa Nostra profits by winning bids to do contract work and then fraudulently collecting revenue for unnecessary or absent employees. According to a close friend of Robinson’s who is now in the witness protection program, five percent of all construction funds in the city of New York go to the mafia. Joseph Pistone, a former FBI agent who infiltrated Cosa Nostra in New York, told Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission, which was investigating construction bid corruption, that the mob controls the construction industry via unions. He said that the mafia bosses control unions and subsequently threaten to strike if the company doesn’t relinquish a “fee.” Robinson adds that the mafia still operates protection rackets, in which a business owner will be threatened and then asked to pay a fee for “protection” from this threat.

Despite its reduced influence, Italian-American organized crime is unquestionably alive. The death of omertà, combined with a crowded criminal market, resulted in a downsizing of Cosa Nostra’s criminal operations. It has transformed from a monopoly on the criminal underworld to another small player in a global network. Despite its diminished influence, it has successfully downsized its operations, paving the way for a sustainable, albeit smaller, operation. Cosa Nostra is not dead, and won’t be anytime soon.

Thanks to Jack Boyd.

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