Organized Crime: The American Shakedown

June 19, 1981

Report Outline
War Against the Mob
Gangsters and the Law
Old Ties, New Faces
Special Focus

War Against the Mob

Finding Cracks in the ‘Wall of Silence’

Organized crime in America has been called an “invisible empire.” But if you buy clothes, eat pizza, like to gamble or watch X-rated movies, its influence is a highly visible part of your life. To many business owners, organized crime is a necessary — if unwelcome — “middleman.” To consumers, it is one more reason for high prices. And to law enforcement authorities, it is a continuing menace — in the marketplace as well as back alleys. The gangster underworld is responsible for crimes ranging from stock fraud to arson. It controls labor unions, masterminds drug traffic and corrupts public officials. In the process, mobsters skim untold billions of tax-free dollars from the nation's economy every year.

The impact of organized crime is felt throughout society. “We are bigger than U.S. Steel,” Miami hoodlum Meyer Lansky once said. Yet mob influence, particularly in areas of legitimate business, is often indirect and therefore difficult to trace. It can take years for authorities to learn the complicated workings of a single underworld enterprise and years more to prosecute those involved. Meanwhile, the criminal brain trust is constantly finding new ways to push its time-honored commodities — vice, murder and a fast buck.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation commits roughly one-fifth of its money and manpower to the fight against organized crime. Special FBI programs, as well as a federal anti-crime strike force and improved witness security, are credited with helping the government convict nearly 600 mobsters in 1980, including top Mafia bosses Nicholas Civella of Kansas City, Joe Bonanno of Tucson and Frank Tieri of New York. Tieri, who died on March 29, 1981, was convicted largely on testimony supplied by mob “defector” Jimmy Fratianno, whose willingness to talk in exchange for protection has given investigators what some consider the most detailed account ever of how the nationwide crime network functions. After years of trying, federal officials believe they have proven at last that the underworld's vaunted oath of secrecy can be broken.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Organized Crime
May 14, 2004  Gang Crisis
Mar. 27, 1992  Mafia Crackdown
Oct. 11, 1991  Youth Gangs
Mar. 17, 1989  Racketeering Law Comes Under Attack
Jun. 19, 1981  Organized Crime: The American Shakedown
Mar. 11, 1970  Drive on Organized Crime
Jan. 18, 1961  Interstate Crime Syndicates
Mar. 04, 1953  Criminality in Labor Unions
Mar. 17, 1950  Suppression of Crime Syndicates
Aug. 10, 1934  The Federal Government and Organized Crime
Oct. 20, 1931  Mob Disturbances in the United States
Organized Crime