Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style

Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style

Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style

Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style

Synopsis

Secrecy is one of the defining characteristics of the Italian Mafia. Wiretaps, financial records, and the rare informant occasionally reveal its inner workings, but these impressions are all too often spotty and fleeting, hampering serious scholarship on this major form of criminal activity. During her years as a consultant to the Italian government agency responsible for combating organized crime, Letizia Paoli was given unparalleled insider access to the confessions by pentiti (literally, repentants), former Mafia operatives who had turned. This mafia "hard core" came primarily from the two largest and most influential Southern Italian mafia associations, known as Cosa Nostra and 'Ndrangheta, each composed of about one hundred mafia families. The sheer volume of these confessions, numbering in the hundreds, and the detail they contained, enabled the Italian government to effectively break up the Italian mafia in one of the dramatic law enforcement successes in modern times. It is on these same documents that Paoli draws to provide a clinically accurate portrait of mafia behavior, motivations, and structure. Puncturing academic notions of a modernized Mafia, Paoli argues that to view mafia associations as bureaucracies, illegal enterprises, or an industry specializing in private protection, is overly simplistic and often inaccurate. These conceptions do not adequately describe the range of functions in which the mafia engages, nor do they hint at the mafia's limitations. The mafia, Paoli demonstrates are essentially multifunctional ritual brotherhoods focused above all on retaining and consolidating their local political power base. It is precisely this myopia that has prevented these organizations from developing the skills needed to be a successful and lasting player in the entrepreneurial world of illegal global commerce. A truly interdisciplinary work of history, politics, economics, and sociology, Mafia Brotherhoods reveals in dramatic detail the true face of one of the world's most mythologized criminal organizations.

Excerpt

The main aim of this book is to reconstruct the culture, structure, and action of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ′Ndrangheta. Not only are these Italy's most dangerous criminal organizations, but they have also profoundly influenced the mafia phenomenon in North America. It was from the Sicilian Cosa Nostra's nineteenth-century forerunners that the Italian American mafia developed, as millions of Italian immigrants settled in the United States, most of them coming from southern Italy. Significantly, the largest and most influential Italian American mafia confederation is called Cosa Nostra as well. The Calabrian ′Ndrangheta also has offshoots in the Anglo-Saxon world. In the early twentieth century, 'Ndrangheta groups were established in both Canada and Australia, and these are still active now, maintaining close contacts with their Calabrian counterparts.

In order to depict the culture, structure, and action of these organized crime groups, I consulted numerous sources, ranging from criminal cases to parliamentary hearings, from archival and other standard secondary sources to interviews with law enforcement officials, local politicians, and anti-mafia activists. The portrait given in this book, however, relies most heavily on the confessions and testimonies of former mafia members now cooperating with judicial authorities. As my introduction explains, these statements have not been accepted uncritically but have been taken seriously even when they seem to contradict the evil activities in which most mafiosi engage. Cooperating mafia witnesses are, in fact, the most direct source of information about the mafia, describing the mafia world not only from the outside but also—as one defector put it—from within.

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