Mafia background info
I basically compiled this off of several Wikipedia pages, and I’ve mixed a bit of information about the American and Sicilian Mafias together. All of the information can be found from there, and none of it is mine. The picture isn’t mine either.
The Mafia is an Italian-American criminal society. For our purposes, the term has two uses, the American Mafia and the Sicilian Mafia. The former originates from the latter and came over with the 19th century Italian immigration. Only the organizations in Sicily are called the Mafia (or sometimes the Cosa Nostra, which means “our thing”), as other groups are called by other names. For example, the Camorra are from Campania and the Stidda are from southern Sicily. The Cosa Nostra are mostly from western Sicily and Palermo. Formally, those not the Cosa Nostra are not known as Mafia, but the common usage of Mafia is as an umbrella term that covers all organized crime network. Their common crime is protection racketeering.
The traits of the Mafia are that they have a strict code of conduct and they have territories, which they watch over in groups called families or clans. The members call themselves “men of honor, “ and the public call them the “Mafiosi.”
The term “Mafia” itself may just be a fabricated word, but who knows, as accounts differ. The word may have derived from Arabic, the words mahyas for “bragging” or marfud for “rejected.”
There still exists Mafia in New York, New England, Florida, and Las Vegas (amongst other places) in the US.
The Mafia have a strong reputation for violence, not without due cause. They are effectively “businesses,” where their service is their strength, so Mafiosi often don’t hesitate to show their power. This is also how they negotiate territories, to gain reputation, and to gain more clients.
The Mafia is made of families, and within the families (or clans, cosche, or borgatas), there is hierarchy. The members are generally not related by blood. The hierarchy or the chain of command, in generally, looks like the figure below.
Starting from the top…
Boss – The head of the family. Also called Don or “Godfather.” The leader is usually voted upon, either by the caporegimes or the Underboss. The Boss gets a cut from every operation in the family (it’s one of the laws in the code). He reigns as dictator and his orders are absolute. Rather than being elected, a Boss may be appointed after a violent succession. In the Sicilian Mafia, a Boss’s term is usually short, especially since he’s close with all the members in the smaller family and doesn’t get much reward.
Underboss – The second-in-command, also called the capo bastone or sotto capo in some families. He takes over if something should happen to the Boss. If the Boss dies or is arrested, he’s the likely successor. Traditionally, they run the day-to-day responsibilities of the family and oversees the most profitable job. The Underboss is traditionally someone close to the Boss, usually to prevent him from undermining the latter (especially since, with long periods of imprisonment, the “acting boss” may become the “effective boss” as he gains power and influence form the Boss’s absence). He may also has his own capos and right-hand man. He also makes the most, under the Boss.
Consigliere – Often the Boss’s “right-hand man” or an advisor, and translated as “counselor.” There’s usually only one per organization, the Boss’s most trusted man. The Consigliere, Underboss, and Boss constitute the Administration, which is a 3-man ruling panel. He doesn’t have any capos or soldiers working for him. He advises and represents the Boss and may mediate disputes within the family. The word Consigliere may come from the Latin words consiliarius (advisor) and consilium (advice). The Consigliere doesn’t succeed the Boss.
Caporegime – There are several names for caporegime, including captain, skipper, capo, “crew chief,” and capodecina (capo of ten). Originally there were only 10 soldiers working under a capo, but that’s changed to be “as many as you can effectively control.” The capos have social status and influence in the family and report directly to the Boss or Underboss. They also give a portion of the money they earn (from their crew) to the Boss and/or Underboss. Different crews specialize in different jobs and act independent of each other. The number of crews in a family is a secret protected by the Omertà.
Soldier – A made member of the family, the lowest rank, and are usually only those of full Italian (or half) background. Another name is soldato, sgarrista, “button man,” or “made man.” A very low-level soldier is known as a picciotto. They may have been associates recommended by the capo when the family is accepting new members. They have more prestige and are higher in rank than associates. They’re the main workers and do the muscle work, such as assault, murder, extortion, and intimidation. They’re protected, so they can’t be killed by a family unless that person gets permission from the soldier’s boss. Failing to do so may end with the murderer getting killed. He must get money to remain in favor with his superiors, but there’s no need to earn as much money as associates need to (still, some may become rich). They have to follow all the rules of the family, as a made member.
It seems that all made members are automatically soldato. Made men are also called men of honor, goodfella, or wiseguy. They’re also referred to as “a friend of ours” (as opposed to a “friend of mine”). The latter two may also be used to refer to associates, though. Traditionally, made members must be of Italian background. They cannot have been in the police force or attended police academy or be closely related to one. Before being inducted, the made man must be sponsored by a capo or a senior. There’s no age limit. Also, the man’s legit occupation has no affect on his prestige in the family.
Associate – Not a made member so they don’t get protection, but they have connections to the family. They’re also not required to be Italian or have to follow the restrictions all made men do. They are also called “connected guys” or giovane d’onore (man of honor). They work and share the profits of criminal endeavors. All guys start out at this level before they’re sponsored and become a soldier.
In addition, the Commission is a representation consul that allows for consultation between independent families. Other names are Commissione and Cupola. They are geographically restricted and by no means hold central power over the families. Their major function is to restrict the use of violence and to deal with succession. For example, they can divide up a clan’s territory’s upon the Boss’s death, or they can appoint a regent to stabilize the clan until they can elect a new Boss. Originally, to avoid power troubles, no member of the Commission could be a made member with a leadership position, but that was quickly dropped.
Before the Commission was around, there was a capo di tutti capi (Boss of all Bosses) that ruled all of the American Mafia families. This was turned over by Charlie Luciano in 1931 who established the “board of directors” to oversee all Mafia activities in the US. They would meet once every 5 years or so.
The Mafia are very strict about their code. There’s the initiation ritual, and sometimes the initial contract killing to mark the entrance of a made man.
To introduce two men in the Mafia, a third made man would have to introduce the two of them, even if the two know each other by reputation. This is to prevent outsiders from infiltrating.
Mafiosi of equal status may call each other compare and those of higher rank padrino. (Both mean “godfather.”)
Then there’s a list of rules that must be followed and are punishable by death.
- Omertà – “code of silence” or “never talk to authorities.” Never rely on authorities even when you’re the victim. If he’s arrested, he’s to serve his sentence without giving police any information of the real criminal, even if the criminal isn’t related to the Mafia or is your deadliest enemy. The word may have come from the word for “manliness” or for “humility.” The suspicion of being an informant is the worst of the worst and are called pentito. They’re considered weak because they couldn’t handle their problem themselves. It’s counted as an extreme form of loyalty and solidarity.
- Only men of Italian descent may be made members. Associates have no such limit.
- The family business is strictly kept within the family and may not be spoken of to non-members.
- If one member is killed by another, no revenge murder can be had until the boss gives permission.
- No fighting amongst members.
- Every month, the members must pay the Boss, as well as a cut in any side deals.
- No adultery with another family member’s wife.
- No mustaches.
The Sicily Mafia also have other suggestions, such as “Always be available to the family,” “Don’t go to pubs or clubs,” “Wives must be treated with respect,” “Money cannot be appropriated from other members of the family,” and “When asked for the information, always answer with the truth.”
Mafiosi are discouraged from alcohol and drugs as this leads to a loss of self-control and thus may lead to a leak in information. They also are forbidden from writing down information about their activities.
In addition, homosexuality is incompatible with the American Mafia code of conduct and may get a made man killed.
A common job is protection racketeering, where the Mafiosi uses threat of violence to protect their clients from fraud, theft, and competition. For example, if someone wants to make an (illegal) deal with another, they would contact the local mafia clan to supervise the deal. The protection the Mafia members provide is very complete, so there are many who would protect the Mafia for this service.
There’re also protection from theft (which may require the cooperation between different clans if the thief crosses borders), protection from competition, and protection from fraud.
Mafiosi approach potential clients sometimes by offering free favors and other times by harassing the person. However, this rarely leads to death. Usually, Bosses prefer long term connections with a client and, if taken under his permanent protection, he’s called a “friend,” which leaves little confusion as to who’s protected and who’s not. The Mafia usually separate themselves from the actual business, to make themselves more trusted to their clients and thus not have to fear that their business would be taken over.
To prevent disputes, Mafia families negotiate territories. This often results in Mafia wars.
Other jobs include vote buying, smuggling, bid rigging, and loan sharking. Mafiosi are forbidden from committing theft and kidnapping.
The CR: 5 from Lucky Dog 1, as you may know, is not a “normal” Mafia family. There is no Underboss and there are only 5 caporegime in the entire organization.
You may also note a very interesting rule listed in the Rules section…