Mafia’s new niche: crime consultants
Connections, expertise now used to assist other groups
By Mike Brunker
Aug. 31 - The Italian Mafia has taken on a new role as “godfather” of the criminal underworld, acting as a consultant to up-and-coming organized crime groups.
ITALY’S MAFIA is actually four distinct crime groups — the Sicilian Mafia or Cosa Nostra, the ‘Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia, the Camorra and the Sacra Corona Unita (SCU). The Sicilian Mafia remains the most powerful of the four groups, with an estimated 5,000 members serving in 180 factions.
Members of all four rely on a vow of silence and family associations that are reinforced by fear of retribution. That fear has been regularly underscored over the years by brutal murders aimed at either eliminating members of the opposition — including crusading prosecutors and judges — or dispatching a comrade who failed to live up to the “law of silence.”
Although the Mafia has suffered substantial reversals in struggles with the Italian government that began in the 1980s, it remains a transnational crime force to be reckoned with.
But Frank Ciluffo, deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ organized crime project, said Mafia dons increasingly are acting as “consultants” for other criminal entities, reaping a share of the proceeds from a particular in exchange for their connections and expertise in things below board.
“They’re sort of like consultants,” he told MSNBC. “… They’re not getting their hands as dirty but they certainly still have their finger on the pulse and coordinating with criminal entities throughout the world.”
Specifically, he says, they have in recent years been known to have cooperated with Russian organized crime, Albanian smugglers and Polish criminal families.
The Mafia also remains active in money laundering schemes, smuggling of counterfeit currency, munitions trafficking and drug smuggling, according to the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Some reports also have suggested that the Mafia has been involved in the theft of weapons-grade nuclear material, but that has not been confirmed.
The Mafia’s American cousin — La Cosa Nostra — has been weakened considerably in the past decade by an aggressive law enforcement campaign against such leaders as the “Teflon Don,” John Gotti.
“The FBI deserves a lot of credit in dismantling American organized crime,” said Ciluffo, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That doesn’t mean it’s extinct by any means, but the old Mario Puzo-type American Mafia is not what it was.”