With the FBI making headlines about their 100 plus mob arrests this week, terms like La Costa Nostra, capo, consigliere, underboss and other mafia-related terms have been bandied about law enforcement and others. The general reading population may be unfamiliar with these Italian mob terms about the mafia hierarchy or even where this group of illegal-operating misfits hail from, so lets look at all that.
La Costa Nostra originated in Sicily, a southern port of Italy, originally, making its way into the United States decades ago, where it sought to “expand” its horizons and provide new opportunities of illegal operations, especially as poverty began to impact that part of the country.
Much is made at times in academic circles about the “Old Mafia” and the “New Mafia” and the centuries that divide the two–as well as the geographical distances, but for purposes of this article, suffice it to say, the La Costa Nostra mafia operating in America is one more rooted in history here for the most part, as family members live in America and conduct their illegal activities here as well.
The famiglia (an Italian family, which can include distant relatives), is like your own in a sense: there is a leader and their are those who function in different capacities. The difference, of course lies in the illegal activities of the Italian mob families and their functions versus legitimate Italian families and yours.
La Costa Nostra not Russian Mafia
Don’t confuse all mafia or mobs with La Costa Nostra, as there are Russian, Asian and other mobs operational in the U.S. too, not just the Italian La Costa Nostra families like Bonoanno, Colombo, DeCavalcante, Gambino, Genovese and the Lucchese families.
At the top of the La Costa Nostra mafia family sits the Don or boss, according to the FBI, but Italian families also sometimes refer to this person as the Capo de Famiglia, because that means “head of family” too.
Terms like underboss (second in command), soldiers (men who do the bidding of the Don), and capo are typically used to describe the men that fill these mafia-related positions in the illegal organization.
The terms consigliere (counselor) and campieri (men of respect because they didn’t hesitate to use violence) are also mafia language used within the Italian family.
In Italy, the term “cosca” is often used to symbolize the tight-knit relationship between family members. An example is the artichoke, with its leaves tightly woven around the center of the plant. The mafia head in Italian crime families are tightly protected from police and threats in this same way by the members of their mafia family.
FBI New York Field Office ADC
Janice K. Fedarcyk, the FBI New York Field Office Assistant Director in Charge acknowledged the need to attack the leader of the mob when coming against La Costa Nostra.
“We know that the most effective mob-fighting strategy is investigating and prosecuting the leadership of the five families and the people who do their bidding.”
The FBI has come against La Costa Nostra before, in the 70s for example, in which a soon-to-be future FBI Director named Louis Freeh used his Italian ancestory to propel him into the secret organization. Freeh was so good at undercover work–and helping bring the Italian mob to justice back then–that a resulting 110 convictions followed those 70s arrests.
That is impressive! It is one thing to make an arrest; it is another for it to lead to a conviction in federal court.
The FBI arrested more than that this week, but how many will see successful prosecution in the days ahead? Will the FBI and the men and women in justice see their 127 arrests lead to 127 convictions in a court of law as Freeh and his contemporaries did in the ’70s?
La Costa Nostra members still in communities
The FBI had lots of help in going up against La Costa Nostra this week, and the local police departments deserve their own applause, since they risk so much more in combating mafia on their own turf following arrests like this weeks.
Those assisting agencies include the Suffolk County Police Department, the Providence Police Department, the Rhode Island State Police, the New Jersey State Police and the New York State Police.
And just because many members of the five mafia families were arrested this week in the northeastern part of the country doesn’t mean there aren’t still many La Costa Nostra members still out there planning to exact revenge (known in Italy as vendetta).
The FBI arrests of La Costa Nostra mafia members doesn’t make a dent in the Russian, Asian and other mobs operating in that part of the country–or who will attempt to expand into it in the future now, either.
References: FBI, Columbia University Press text “History of the Mafia”, NNDB, and communications with undercover organized crime operative