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Cosa  Nostra: The Threat of Organized Crime In America 
By Paul Davis
In a world threatened by international cyber criminals, violent terrorists and Russian and Chinese spies, one might believe that Cosa Nostra, more commonly known to the public as the Mafia (the criminals portrayed in The Godfather and Goodfellas films), is a thing of the past and of no true concern to modern Americans.
Federal prosecutors in New York think differently. Although the racketeering case against Joseph Merlino, the reputed head of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra crime family, ended in a hung jury, the other mobsters indicted for what the prosecutors called a far-reaching criminal conspiracy in 2016, all pleaded guilty to various charges.
Back in 2016, Preet Bharara, then-United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and other federal and NYPD officials, announced the indictment that charged 46 defendants for their alleged roles in what they called a “sprawling and long-running racketeering conspiracy composed of leaders, members, and associates of the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno, and Philadelphia Organized Crime Families of La Cosa Nostra.”
(Criminal members call the organization Cosa Nostra, “Our Thing” or “This thing of ours,” in Italian - but federal law enforcement members call the group La Cosa Nostra, or LCN).  
During the 2016 announcement, the prosecutors said the mobsters banded together to engage in a multitude of criminal activities throughout the East Coast of the United States - from Springfield, Massachusetts to Southern Florida. The defendants were charged with racketeering conspiracy, arson, illegal trafficking in firearms, and conspiracy to commit assault in aid of racketeering.
“ Today’s charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country,” Pharara said back in 2016. ”From loansharking and illegal gambling, to credit card and healthcare fraud, and even firearms trafficking, today’s mafia is fully diversified in its boundless search for illegal profits.  And as alleged, threatening to assault, maim and kill people who get in the way of their criminal schemes. This remains the modus operandi of the mob’s playbook.”
The FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge, Diego Rodriguez, agreed. “The indictment reads like an old school mafia novel, where extortion, illegal gambling, arson and threats to ‘whack’ someone are carried out along with some modern-day crimes of credit card skimming,” Rodriguez said. “But the 40-plus arrests of mob associates, soldiers, capos, and a boss this morning show this isn’t fiction. As alleged, Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, and Bonanno  LCN crime families are still carrying out their criminal activities from Mulberry Street here in New York City to areas of Springfield, Massachusetts.”
Then-NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton also weighed in, stating, “The charges applied today to these 46 individuals deal a significant blow to La Cosa  Nostra, which the NYPD is committed to putting out of business. These mobsters seemed to use every scheme known to us, from arson, to shake-downs, violence, health care fraud, and even untaxed cigarettes to keep the racket going.” 
The federal charges stemmed from a multi-year joint investigation conducted by the FBI, the NYPD, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The evidence includes thousands of hours of consensual recordings obtained by a cooperating witness and an FBI Special Agent working undercover. 
The mobsters are accused of being involved in gambling, extortionate collection of loans, other extortion activities, arson, conspiracies to commit assaults in aid of racketeering, trafficking in unstamped and cigarettes, gun trafficking, access device fraud, and health care fraud. 

According to the FBI, Cosa Nostra is the foremost organized criminal threat to American society. It is a nationwide alliance of criminals—linked by blood ties or through conspiracy. The U.S. Justice Department defines Cosa Nostra as a criminal organization composed of leaders, members, and associates who work together and coordinate to engage in criminal activities.
According to the Justice Department, Cosa Nostra operates through entities known as “Families.” In the New York City area, those families include the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno, Colombo, and the Decavalcante Family in Northern New Jersey. Each Family operates through groups of individuals known as “crews” and “regimes.”
Each “crew” has as its leader a person known as a “Caporegime,” “Capo,” “Captain,” or “Skipper,” who is responsible for supervising the criminal activities of his crew and providing “Soldiers” and associates with support and protection. In return, the Capo typically receives a share of the illegal earnings of each of his crew’s Soldiers and associates, which is sometimes referred to as “Attribute”.
Each crew consists of “made” members, sometimes known as “Soldiers,” “wiseguys,” “friends of ours,” and “good fellows.” Soldiers are aided in their criminal endeavors by other trusted individuals, known as “associates,” who sometimes are referred to as “connected” or identified as “with” a Soldier or other member of the Family. Associates participate in the various activities of the crew and its members. In order for an associate to become a made member of the Family, the associate must first be of Italian descent and typically needs to demonstrate the ability to generate income for the Family and the willingness to commit acts of violence.
According to the FBI, the major threats to American society posed by Cosa Nostra are drug trafficking and money laundering. The mob has been involved in heroin trafficking for decades, as evidenced by two major historical investigations, the “French Connection” investigation and and the “Pizza Connection.” investigation.
The FBI’s history of Cosa Nostra  explains that the criminal group evolved over the course of 3,000 years during numerous periods of invasion and exploitation by numerous conquering armies in Italy and Sicily. Over time, Sicilians became even more clannish and began to rely on familial ties for safety, protection, justice, and survival.Today Cosa Nostra is still involved in many illegal activities, such as murder, extortion, drug trafficking, corruption of public officials, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, labor racketeering, loan sharking, prostitution, pornography, tax-fraud schemes, and stock manipulation schemes.

About the Author

Paul Davis is a contributing editor to the Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security Int’l.


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