The Mafia makes for great movies, but these gangsters are real-life thugs who shake down ordinary citizens for the sake of money and power while disguising their criminality behind a veneer of honor. How much do you know about the Mafia?
With the dawn of Prohibition, there was fantastic money to be made in the black market for alcoholic beverages. The Mafia took up the trade with gusto, often warring with competing families for control of the lucrative business.
The Sicilian mafia was the original mafia … but now the word refers to gangsters in other places, too, including America. The Mafia specializes in all sorts of organized crime.
In the years after the American Civil War, many Sicilians wound up in the United States as workers. Many Americans used "mafia" as shorthand for referring to Sicilians … and not in a nice way.
Organized criminals, of course, are common all over the world. In many places, these groups are lumped into a category as simply "mafia," but there are other names for these criminals, too.
Capos are the Mafia captains. They are in charge of multiple soldiers, who follow the captain's orders.
The RICO Act was passed into law in 1970. It stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and it's been instrumental in helping authorities break down Mafia groups nationwide.
Associates aren't part of the gang. The term refers to anyone outside the Mafia who does business with the group -- for instance, crooked cops, politicians, lawyers or anyone else looking to make money while breaking the law.
Luciano was "Lucky," a vicious man who helped spread organized crime in America. He rose to become boss of the Genovese crime family and was eventually given a long prison sentence … which he managed to avoid.
Giuliani made a name for himself by putting numerous Mafia leaders behind bars in the late 80s. The Mafia then plotted to assassinate Giuliani but never followed through on the plan.
John Gotti took control of the Gambino crime family and became a flamboyant leader who loved the public spotlight. Unlike other bosses, he had no qualms about appearing in front of cameras.
In early 1931, Maranzano gathered the other bosses in New York and told them that he was in command. His title lasted for less than half year. Disgruntled gangsters killed him.
Full-fledged members of the Mafia are called made men. They are also sometimes unironically called "men of honor."
L.A. wasn’t much of a Mafia town in the late 19th century. But New Orleans and New York were hotbeds of gang activity, and corruption and violence were rampant.
A fascist leader named Benito Mussolini took power in Italy, and he initiated a takedown of Mafia-related activities. To escape Mussolini, many Italians (including the mobsters) fled to America.
There were at least 20 Mafia groups operating in America in the 30s. In most cities, there was room for just one family, but in bigger cities sometimes there would be several, at times erupting in violent conflict.
The Castellammarese War was a power struggle between the two biggest Mafia groups in New York. The two sides exchanged murders for more than a year as they fought for control of the city.
Gotti was convicted on a laundry list of felonies, including murder, and sent to prison in Missouri. He died in 2002 after developing throat cancer.
There were five Mafia crime families vying for control of the city. They were the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Colombo and Bonanno families.
The Commission is the name of the governing entity for the American Mafia -- its been around since 1931 and continues to this day.
Carlo Gambino was infamous as "The Godfather." He was a secretive but incredibly powerful gangster in the 1960s and 70s. A famous movie highlights (and fictionalizes) parts of his legend.
For decades Gigante (know as "Chin") made moves up the Mafia ladder. After John Gotti was imprisoned, Chin became the most powerful Mafia leader in America.
Just as in 1931, there are still five main crime families -- and bosses -- in New York City. The Mafia maintains a lower profile today in order to avoid too much scrutiny from the press … and law enforcement.
Gigante made elaborate displays of supposed insanity in the hopes that if he was arrested, he'd be declared insane … and of course, unfit for trial. Eventually, he was convicted, anyway.
Sometimes a Mafia group seeks out new members to expand their ranks … and other times, "the books are closed" and the group can't or won't bring in new people.
Soldiers make up the lowest level of the Mafia hierarchy. They perform some of the nastiest business of the organization, such as physical violence, in hopes of working their way up the family ladder.
David Hennessy was the chief of police in New Orleans when he was executed by several men. Nearly 20 Italian men were eventually indicted for the murder.
Furious locals, enraged by the press accounts of the murder, took matters into their own hands. They forced the men out of jail and hung 11 of them without proper convictions.
The capo famiglia refers to a mafia boss -- he's the guy in charge of a local Mafia family, and he makes all of the biggest decisions.
People pay the Mafia to protect them from other criminals who might cause them problems. The Mafia's ability to exert physical force means it has serious leverage in any dispute ... and it means they can harass the people who pay them for protection, too.
At one point, Italian blood was a prerequisite for acceptance into the Italian-American Mafia. But these days, the rules are a little more relaxed, allowing mixed-blood members into the fold.