10 August 2014

Disorganized Crime

History Channel: The Mafia in the US
RT’s article reminded me of an acquaintance who opened to me the shadowy world of organized crime. She had been ‘Married to the Mob,’ which, she said, was the most accurate movie portraying the mafia. She insisted upon seeing Goodfellas and the Godfather franchise, although she said The Godfather represented the 1%. The reality of the remaining 99% was a banality that only boys who never grew up could buy into.

Carlotta had been intimate with the Youngstown Mafia and knew the players. She was smart, educated, talented, and charming beyond belief. Following her decision to leave Youngstown and its dark side, she went to a great deal of trouble to quietly distance herself from her former life.

When she registered her car in Florida, the sweet lady behind the counter said, “Oh my, Ohio made a mistake recording your VIN on the title, dear. Honey, just fill out this affidavit…” She rolled her eyes at me as if to say, “You can leave that world but it still follows you.” She had bought the car at a deep discount from a connected dealer named Baglier. His body was later found in the trunk of one of his own vehicles towed from a swamp.

She talked about the protocols. No self-respecting 'made guy' would drive a foreign car, only a Caddy, Lincoln, maybe a Buick or a Corvette if he wanted sporty. Mafioso banked at Bank of America, because BoA was the original mafia banker (and still is, according to some). And in a city where citizens simply disappeared from the offices, their cars, and their dinner tables, the mafia first sent their victims a white rose.

Carlotta refused to shop at a couple of major Orlando malls that she contended were mafia laundry machines. I later bumped into a young woman who owned a shop in one of the malls where she often worked late. She mentioned seeing cash register drawers and a safe carted out in the middle of the night. Once as she was leaving her shop, she startled a handful of suited men who directed her away. “Girly, why don’t you go back to your shop for ten minutes.” (You no doubt noticed I’ve not mentioned the developer’s well-known name because to my knowledge he was often accused but never indicted for any crime.)

Carlotta went to school with the mall developer's son and with Mickey Monus, the CFO of Phar-mor, noted for the largest US embezzlement on record. She was acquainted with James Traficant, the flamboyant Ohio congressman and former corrupt sheriff who ran for office from his prison cell. All connected.

Even Kosovo feels the heat of the Mafia.
Those were the bigger guys.

Carlotta described the mafia as a corporate pyramid. While the so-called ‘foot soldiers’ were low on the totem pole, below them were the teeming worker-bees and wanna-bees, less than pawns in most cases. Picture the hoods in high school who drove around all night talking big, catcalling girls, vandalizing, committing petty larceny and break-ins, initiating a burglary or a spur-of-the-moment home invasion. Now picture those same guys ten, twenty, thirty years later doing the same thing, riding around, talking trash, doing trashy crap. That’s the vast majority of the mafia base: furnishings that fell off a truck, a little grift and graft here, a spot of muscle there, say ten ‘Hail Mary’s and lie to your wife. The boys retell the same stories– the knife fight they almost won a dozen years ago or that time when their dad was being chased by cops and he slipped the smoking gun to their nonna who sat on it, knitting as police conducted a fruitless search.

Night after night, year after year, same-ol’, same-ol’.

Many Italians are offended by the mafia. At New York University, I dated a vivacious student from Brooklyn. Cecilia Mongiardo lived down the street from a mafia headquarters in a warehouse. She said, “Italy is steeped in great history. It’s known for magnificent art, music, and cuisine. We invented modern architecture. We’re noted for design. Yet when people think Italians, they think mafia: Joe Bananas, Masseria and Maranzano, Genovese and Gambino, Gagliano and Lucchese. People think Vegas and Frank Sinatra and the assassination of JFK. It’s embarrassing.”

It’s a shadowy world most of us are unaware of. When writers like R.T. Lawton and David Dean bring us stories of their battles against crime, only then do we get a peek behind that dark curtain.


  1. I put a link in the text, but take a few minutes to read this fascinating account.

    By the way, the names of the convicted and dead are real. Only Carlotta’s is not.

  2. A fascinating article. It seems no matter how many stories, fiction and nonfiction, are written about the mafia, they never grow old. There is always material for another story.

  3. Louis, Mahoning and Trumbull County residents took a perverse pride in their mafia, criticizing federal efforts to clean up area. But as David Grann pointed out, generations were inculcated with the culture of crime and seemed to know no other way. 'Carlotta' was one of those who didn't like it and literally got out of town.

  4. Leigh, interesting article. Thanks for the mention. I've been debating about telling other stories about the mob and may now do so in the months to come.

  5. It would be a great idea, RT. It's a world few of us know anything about. I can't imagine people choosing to live– and die– like that.

  6. Leigh, I read today's blog early this morning, and after lunch, I postponed what I had scheduled for tomorrow and wrote about my "Mafia experience" instead. See you right here tomorrow!

  7. Good for you, Fran. Colleagues have occasionally asked if I minded if they piggybacked an article on mine and I think it's a great idea. Besides, I got my inspiration to write about it from RT.

  8. A rule you didn’t mention, it’s unwise to build friendships. A guy could be ordered to kill his best friend… or vice versa. You’re like a brother to me but I gotta kill you.

    The Bronx/Brooklyn/Jersey/Staten Island players I met freely used racial slurs. They said blacks knew they didn’t disrespect them, specially compared to the Japs, Chinks, Krauts, and the fucking Micks (near a quote as I can remember.) Besides, they called themselves wops, dagos, and guineas.

    And lie to their wives, yeah, they all did that.

  9. You're right. In one of the articles I read, it said mobsters were most likely to be killed by someone they knew, probably a friend.

    There doesn't seem to be much honor among thieves. As David Gann's article mentioned, the only two guys who stuck by the code of not ratting others out was a Jew and a black dude.

  10. Decades ago, in a political science class, the teacher talked about how America has two governments, the official one, and the criminal world: both with their own citizens, rules, enforcement, economy, etc. He was largely right.

    The economy of the mafia has some interesting investments: developments, sure. Casinos, natch. But also utility companies, at least in parts of the southeast. I know about a man who went down to that neck of the woods in what he thought would be a career move to manage a local utility company. He was back in six months, thankful to be out of there alive.

  11. Eve, you reminded me of another point. The mafia in part of the US has taken control of waste management, garbage collection, and landfills (where the bodies are!). The can radically increase their profits by illegal dumping. In the Canfield-Youngstown area, the mafia was paid to recycle but they discovered they made more money by ditching recyclables in landfills. Some companies here in Orlando were found to be doing the same thing a few years ago.

  12. A Broad Abroad10 August, 2014 16:45

    “…worker-bees and wanna-bees…” (smile)

    Can’t imagine living my whole life in fear, never trusting anyone, not even friends and Family.

  13. I dated an Italian once. Only once in the seventies. At the time a city was under Marshall law. (Maybe Boston tho I can't remember why). Anyway, no one was allowed in or out. I overheard one man ask my date if they had "a connection" as he had to get into the city that night.
    My friend nodded. I changed direction, walked away quickly, and refused the second date at which time I was sure he would ask, "let me make you an offer you can't refuse." I either owned some wisdom at 25, or possessed an over active imagination.
    Of course I'm aware of all the Italian contributions to this world and admire them for it but since my twenties, stuck to pizza and spaghetti as my only Italian interaction Although I'm sure I've missed discovering how innocent a non mafian man could be. (Chuckle)

  14. ABA, I don't get it either. Must be some sort of macho combined with greed, a brotherhood where no one can trust a brother. It really escapes me.

    Claire, it must have really spooked you! That's smarter than most of us at age 25.

  15. Definitely seems like a subject ripe for harvesting and sowing into many stories, many angles. My brief encounters in Miami pales to anything I've read in L.L.'s or R.T.L.'s posts, but my mind can certainly blossom with possibilities. Enjoyed both posts very much!

  16. Bradley, thank you. I have to give credit to people like RT and David Dean who picked up the badge to help the rest of us. Especially deserving are FBI Special Agent Robert Kroner and County DA Paul Gains who risked life and reputation to lock up the bad guys.


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