A matter-of-fact, unsentimental portrait of the five leading mob gangs, “who prefer the warmer title of ‘families.’ ”
Longtime crime reporter Raab (Mob Lawyer, 1994, etc.) began his career on the education beat, where he discovered that substandard physical-plant conditions in New York public schools could often be traced to mob-connected contractors. “The Mafia endangered thousands of children and escaped unscarred, with its loot untouched,” he writes. The pattern holds through Raab’s long history of the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese crime families: Horrific crimes can be traced directly to them, but most of the perpetrators have gone unpunished. The author observes that under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was disinclined to take on the mob, preferring the easier work of busting bank robbers and interstate car thieves. The five families returned the favor by not targeting law enforcement figures; Mafia ally Dutch Schultz was murdered after attempting to organize a hit on federal prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Raab describes the evolution of the gangs from secretive clans into quasi-paramilitary units under the leadership of Lucky Luciano, who structured them so that they could continue to function even if the leaders were imprisoned or killed. Luciano also created a board of directors for the Mafia that brought corporate efficiency to the enterprise. The mob declined in the 1980s, he writes, owing to a number of trends. One was the government’s increased use of antiracketeering (RICO) laws as a prosecutorial tactic; another was the rise of a generation of mobsters who shunned their elders’ orders to stay away from the drug trade and abandoned the old code of omertà, gladly ratting on each other in order to stay out of jail. After 9/11, most police units assigned to track the families were put on antiterrorism duty, “official logic having determined that the mob, a terminally ill enemy, required less attention.” But the Mafia has played possum before, Raab concludes, and it will return.
Swift-moving history with much news, even for well-read students of crime and punishment.