The Mafia, an Italian Criminal Organization, came to America in the same wave that brought legitimate Italian immigrants to the U.S. in the 1890s. Restricting their criminal activities to Italian neighborhoods, Mafiosi held high positions in the Community.
They controlled jobs and political power, operated prostitution rings and gambling halls and ran the notorious Black Hand extortion racket.
The chief Black Hand operator in New York was Ignazio “Lupo the Wolf” Saietta. The racket also ran in Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis and Kansas City. Successful Italian immigrants were sent notes bearing a black handprint and threatened with death or bodily harm unless money was paid. If the payoff did not occur, a family member was killed or mutilated.
In addition to being a profitable extortion racket, the Black Hand provided a level of terrorism within Italian neighborhoods that strengthened criminal control over the community. Mafia leaders were able to convert this social control into political power that protected their activities from the police.
By the 1910s, the Mafia had taken in and trained many young slum gang and members. Behind their backs, the new recruits called the old leadership “Mustache Petes”. Because the slum gangs had developed as a defense against outsiders, these young members preyed on non-Italians and saw no reason to limit their activities to their own turf. As they matured, they conspired to eliminate the Mustache Petes.
During the 1920s and ’30s, mobsters like “Lucky” Luciano systematically killed or retired the Mustache Petes. With the old guard gone, professional urban crime gangs were ready for the National Crime Syndicate, a Criminal League of Nations.
(1992 Max Allan Collins & George Hagenauer)
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