Ever wondered what the mafia are really like? The Daily Shift’s Aaron Mc Nicholas has the facts that aren’t put in the public domain…
In the real world of news coverage, the most graphic content can be censored. But films don’t need reality to show us some intense colours.
When we speak of intense colours in action flicks, we first think of blood that looks brutally stunning. But we also think about a character’s true colours, especially when loyalty between mobsters is crucial to the plot.
“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgement.” Those are the words of Al Pacino, playing the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy.
So far, this all sounds more captivating than dangerous. But that’s the attitude that many people have towards real organised crime groups. “There is a mob fascination around the world that you can’t believe,” says Canadian-Italian author Antonio Nicaso.
Nicaso has written multiple books on organised crime, and is a regular consultant to universities, governments and law enforcement agencies worldwide.
According to him, the problem of organised crime cannot be solved by the police or the courts. When mobsters become part of a nation’s culture, they will find their place in every new generation, and it will take a fundamental change in attitudes to disrupt that.
“I grew up in an area of southern Italy where signs of the mafia were everywhere, including in the spirit of the people,” Nicaso recalls. He first became aware of the mafia’s influence at the age of six, when a schoolmate’s father was murdered at their hands.
The FBI now estimates that the Italian mafia boasts a membership of 25,000 across four different groups. These are groups powerful enough to extend their influence across international borders. They have more than 3,000 members and affiliates in the United States alone.
“The mafia need politicians like fish need water,” says Nicaso. “Otherwise, it’s impossible to explain the longevity. If it was just a military problem, they would disappear in one or two generations.”
But understanding the reach of organised crime is difficult when so many of our favourite films have been dramatising the facts. The original Scarface was released in 1932, at a time when a national ban on the sale of alcohol – known as Prohibition – had been in effect in the US since 1920.
Providing illegal alcohol during the Prohibition era is what made Al Capone famous, but really, it was an opportunity that would have brought notoriety and wealth to the first unremarkable criminal to take advantage of it. “Capone was an idiot,” says Nicaso. “But in Scarface he is a statesman with strong connections.”
By the 1970s, the mafia in the US were involved in much more than smuggling. Judges and police officers were dying as a result of their actions. But then 1972 saw the release of The Godfather. It was the first film to introduce the mafia as a family concept, with respect and honour shaping their activities.
“Mobsters loved the movie,” says Nicaso. “It portrayed a grandparent rather than a mobster.” That is the image of the mob that has had a lasting effect, because when The Sopranos series aired in Italy with its more realistic image, it failed to gain popularity.
Mob activity is based on what Nicaso calls “functional friendships” and their approach is not always so elegant. This past September, a Canadian public inquiry into corruption showed footage of backroom dealings between members of the Rizutto family, once considered the most powerful crime family in the country.
The footage showed that cash was not changing hands by an exchange of briefcases. Instead, a Rizutto man was shown counting the money, then stuffing it in his socks. This is arguably not an image of mafia conduct that would be taken seriously on the big screen.
Mr Nicaso says that the organisation has a code, but it is still a criminal business built on breaking the rules. In Ireland, we don’t have a justice system that can stay ahead of it, because organised crime is globalising.
“They are an organised minority, facing a disorganised majority,” says Nicaso. He pointed to the ‘deep web,’ also known as the ‘undernet’, as a powerful tool for international collaboration between mobsters. The ‘deep web’ is a collection of online content that is not indexed by standard search engines. It’s an estimated 450 times bigger than the open Internet, and criminals are able to buy or sell anything by taking advantage of it.
Meanwhile, various countries have different weaknesses in their legal systems that create opportunities for the global mobster. According to Nicaso, suspected criminal communications cannot be intercepted in public places in Germany. In Spain, search warrants can only be acted upon during daylight hours.
States should establish an international strategy to meet the challenge posed by a globalising mob, says Nicaso. “People don’t understand that the mafia is not an ethnic problem,” he added. “Unfortunately, when you say ‘Italy,’ one of the first things people think of is the mafia. It’s something that affects all of us, like it or not,” he continued.
We’re all left to wonder how cautious we should be. The ones that should worry are those that have an abundance of two key things: money and power. Europe has already given drug traffickers a huge portable convenience: the €500 bill, and Ireland’s low corporation tax rate is as inviting to the criminal as it is to the businessman.
These are threats that target government and big business, but for the individual, it still means money can be lost to the criminal when it could be meeting the needs of the public. Perhaps the public needs to take just one page from the mobsters’ book, and interact with our leaders with a determination that makes breaking a promise to us as dangerous as breaking a promise to the godfather.