Feature Articles

August 2018

The Model Racketeering Enterprise: Mafia

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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What is the mafia? The publications on the topic have been many, and suppositions even more. Everyone has gotten into the game. The contributions of Italian scholars, although sometimes rather abstruse, dig deeply into the subject matter, being aware of the many clich�s. What follows is a brief introduction to that revealing and objective literature. �Mafia� is treated here as a theoretical concept, not simply as your ordinary everyday orgcrime.

Unlike other crime groups mafiosi involve themselves in the workings of the society. Mafia does not fully identify with criminal acts in the short run. Rather it seeks more profitable opportunities that have duration in time and profit. In effect, mafia seeks to infiltrate social, economic, political, and judicial institutions; it is a corruptive force that at its most successful corrupts civil servants to its own ends. Mafia, in particular, is in the business of selling protection and extortion. It is particularly where justice is ineffective, where citizens lack proper protection from racketeering. Those who go along get along, because the state is weak and justice is rare.

A notable difference between, let us say, the Calabrian mobs and mafia is the former are noted for their family-type foundations, where tight familial ties, family-oriented crime groupings, are traditional, highly structured and unchanging, as compared to mafia, which adjusts to cultural variations, thereby functioning more effectively as a racketeering enterprise. Mafia, as such, has a greater adaptability thus greater control over its domain. While �Ndrangheta is more cohesive and compacted, centralized, less penetrable, the mafia model is not. The familial structure helps to insure greater solidarity, a more functional omerta� and a longer durability.

Mafia does have its internal controls by the principle of �Friends of friends� (He is one of us; camaraderie).That is a set of interpersonal bonded networks that intersect and branch out, resulting in compact units, yet that remains functional and open to favors, more effective local interactions, thus opening the possibilities of involvement in societal organizations and primary groups. Once established, this �social capital� allows mafiosi to assume legitimate roles in the community as mediators, patrons and protectors in relational structures. In brief, these racketeers are notable, well educated, esteemed citizens who operate on both sides of the street. A smooth mafia network is a sophisticated form of white-collar crime well beyond the often stumbling ordinary gangsterism.

Mafia is the most organized at the national level. It leaves to others the control of territory and seeks operations that prove most profitable and more sophisticated, called �recycling.� These actions include recovery of credits, the acquisition of contracts, control of publications, financial transactions, and various complex activities, some of which are also of interest to the �Ndrangheta. Intimidation is its valuable tool. Mafia in the past did not tolerate common criminals because they tended to muddy the social order; they now have their purposes. Maintaining a good community reputation is essential. Earned respect is valued. Mafia operates widely. The dynamics of mafia is best grasped up close.

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