The Biggest Mafia Cities
Top Mafia Families of Every City
The Italian Mafia once controlled the majority of the criminal world in America, especially during the early 1900s and well into the middle part of the 20th Century. Everything that included bootlegging, gambling, loansharking, unions and even narcotics were under the Mafias control.
The reign of the Mafia slowly began to develop as soon as Italians began arriving to the United States. To be clear, the vast majority of Italians were not involved any crime or identified as members of the Mafia. Many Italians, who arrived between the late 1800s and early 1900s from poor rural communities of southern Italy, just wanted a chance to earn as the communities that they left were plagued with poverty, famine, and very little opportunity.
The reign of the Mafia only lasted for a handful decades, mainly half of the 20th Century, as the decline in the Mafia’s presence began as the federal government looked for newer ways to combat the problems of the Italian Mob, which would become known as the RICO Act. Standing for Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the sole purpose for the development of the RICO was originally to take down the Italian Mafia through conspiracies and joint cases and indictments.
This changed the whole outlook of the Mob as many were convicted and/or turned cooperating witnesses, which almost completely destroyed the fabric of the Italian Mafia as their power and highly lucrative trades came to an end, only resorting into smaller and less profitable unlawful acts.
Top Mob Cities
Mob Cities: Buffalo
The Italian community of Buffalo was placed in separate sections of the city, usually within a community of Italians that all migrated from the same location in Italy, like Sicilians being located on the West Side around Busti Ave or Calabrians in South Buffalo.
In terms of the old and now defunct mob of Buffalo, Stefano Magaddino was the leader of the former family as he was one of the country’s longest serving heads of any mob family in the United States. The Buffalo family had deep ties in Canada and with New York City, and allegedly controlled territory in Western New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Canada.
Mob Cities: Chicago
One of the largest Italian populations in the country was based in the city of Chicago. At its peak, the population reached almost 100,000 by the early 1900s, many living in the city’s Near West Side community. The railroad, the stockyards, and other labor employment opportunities helped provide opportunities for many Italians. This led to the growth of the Italian population as the increase led to an expansion into Chicago suburban communities like Cicero.
Outside the law-abiding Italians of Chicago, the most famous gangster of all-time is without of a doubt Al Capone, along with his notorious counterpart of Frank Nitti. While only being able to control the streets of Chicago for about a decade before he was incarcerated, Al Capone’s reign was ruthless.
Still to this day his actions as the leader of The Outfit are some of the most memorable moments in the history of the mob, one being the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Even though he was not the first leader of the family, since there was Johnny Torrio and others, Al Capone was the most notorious and the most influential leader of Chicago’s mob scene. The Outfit at its peak controlled Chicago as well had power in other Midwestern cities, like Milwaukee or St. Louis.
Mob Cities: Cleveland
The large Italian population of Cleveland had a few neighborhoods, Big Italy around E. 30th, the area of Woodland Hills around 110th and Woodland, South Collinwood, and the most famous Little Italy of Mayfield Road.
The early days of the mob in Cleveland was centered around two families, the Lonardo’s and the Porrello’s, even though there was officially one family controlling the underworld of Cleveland. Eventually all would be murder and the Cleveland family would officially become known as the Mayfield Road Mob where John Scalish became one of the longest lasting leaders in the city of Cleveland.
Following Scalish’s reign, the Cleveland family would have a number of leaders and have its share of ups and downs over the years with the most known being the conflict between Irish gangster Danny Greene.
Mob Cities: Detroit
While Detroit metropolitan is a large region, the Italian population never grew as large as other cities. Despite its size, there still was an Italian community originally located on the East Side along Gratiot Avenue.
Names like the Detroit Partnership or the Tocco family may come familiar to many who have been aware of Detroit’s mob scene. The fight for leadership for control of Detroit’s underworld was extremely violent during the early 20th Century, with some noting that Detroit had one of the most profitable and most dangerous families in the country.
What some may not know, before Prohibition the city of Detroit was already banning alcohol, known as the Damon Act, which gave the mobsters and gangsters of the city a head start into Prohibition, especially with close ties to nearby Canada.
Unlike most cities, Detroit’s Mafia family was still active into the 1990s and 2000s as federal indictments came down on many of the family’s leaders and members. Probably one of the few families that stayed somewhat active throughout the years after Prohibition and the federal government’s enforcement of the RICO Act.
Mob Cities: Kansas City
If there was a Little Italy in Kansas City then the Columbus Park community, or the North End, would be recognize as such. Many Italians relocated to Kansas City for job opportunities in the railroads around the early 1900s. The family of Kansas City had a few made figures, more like five key guys that included Fat Tony and DiGiovanni. Gambling was very profitable for the family, which explains how they would later have major ties in Las Vegas.
Mob Cities: New England
In the country’s New England region Italians resided in numerous communities, whether it was Springfield’s South End, Worchester’s Shrewsbury Street, or Providence’s Federal Hill, there has always been a large Italian population in New England.
The most famous and largest communities were in the city of Boston. What started out as a mix community of multiple ethnic groups, between the late 1800s and early 1900s, Italians would eventually make their way into the North End of Boston. As the community became overcrowded, many left the North End and made a new Italian enclave in the section of East Boston.
The mob of New England has always been based in two major cities, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. The location often times varied depending on the person who was running the family, which led to internal conflicts that had plagued the family for years.
Mob Cities: New Jersey
One of the largest Italian areas of New Jersey was in the city of Newark, in an area within the city’s North Ward community, while also having a prominent presence in the city of Elizabeth. Often overshadowed by the neighboring five families of New York City, which can be a good thing, the New Jersey family, which is considered to be the DeCavalcante Family, had much longevity and was very lucrative compared to other Mafia Families.
Mob Cities: New Orleans
Some may claim the true start of the Italian Mafia was in New Orleans as the port city helped bring in hundreds of Sicilians. This would in turn help create a powerful mob presence that expanded outside of the city into other southern communities. Headed by Carlos Marcello, the mob of New Orleans was not quite as the same as other Mafia families across the country, but well respected and also had their hands in plenty of activities.
Mob Cities: New York City
Originally, New York City was the entrance point for all Italians who came to America with some staying and others either relocating to other cities or making the journey back to Italy. By the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands Italians resided in the city. This led to numerous Italian communities to be created in places like Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Greenwich Village and East Harlem, the Bronx’s Belmont, and eventually into other communities of every borough of New York City.
While there is much history to New York City’s Mafia families, this is only a brief summary. Officially there were five New York families, which include Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, Lucchese and Bonanao, all carving a piece of the city for themselves.
Before the rise of the five families there was the likes of the Morello Family. Giuseppe Morello led the Morello Family in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood and operated during the very beginning of the 1900s as one of the first mob families in the country. The Morello family would later go through its share of leaders like Joe Masseria and eventually Lucky Luciano before becoming known as the Genovese Family.
A claim can be made that a war between Joe Masseria and his rival of Salvatore Maranzano (The Castellmmarese War), would be one of the leading causes that would later establish “The Commission” and develop the five New York City families, mainly due to the brains of Lucky Luciano who was responsible for deaths of both leaders that ended the war. The Commission would overlook, and somewhat dictate, almost every aspect of mob life in each city that had been established.
Mob Cities: Philadelphia
East of Broad Street in South Philly is the foundation and the very beginning for Philadelphia’s Italian population. To this day, many Italian families still live in South Philly and many Italian businesses still operate there. As the population grew the community became much stronger, while eventually expanded into other neighborhoods of North Philly, South New Jersey and many suburban areas.
The Mob scene of Philly was able to control much of the region, which was Philadelphia and surrounding Pennsylvania suburbs, South New Jersey and parts of Delaware. Until his killing in 1980, Angelo Bruno was the leader of the family that was at its peak during the 1960s with the Philly family having various lucrative businesses and illicit trades to help them profit millions.
As conflicts about who can profit in Atlantic City risen with the New York City families, his reign was cut short due to his assassination. His killing led to much violence in the Philadelphia as many were trying to become the next Don of the city. Following his killing, there were dozens of Mob style slayings in and around Philadelphia throughout the 1980s, which lasted until the 2000s.
Mob Cities: Pittsburgh
The Italian community of Pittsburgh have been in numerous locations. None standout like the Bloomfield community of the city’s East Side as migrants from southern Italy made their way into the Steel City through New York City.
The small family of Pittsburgh was started by Stefano Monastero. Officially, following its founding, there were five official leaders of the Pittsburgh family. Unfortunately all were either murder or sent to prison with lengthy sentences.
Mob Cities: St. Louis
The original community for St. Louis’ Italian population was formerly located in today’s Downtown area. But with the help of work in the nearby clay mines many came into the South St. Louis community of the Hill, starting in the late 1800s.
Before The Hill became solidify as the main stronghold for local mafia, St. Louis was in complete warfare during the prohibition era between numerous fractions of Italian gangs, as well other ethnicities within the ranks.
These gangs included the Egan Rats, Hogan Gang, Pillow Gang, the Cuckoos and the most notorious the Green Ones, with some having deep ties with the Outfit of Chicago. Eventually all of the old St Louis gangs would die out and eventually the underworld of St. Louis would be controlled by one family, with one of the most notable leaders being Giordano.
Mob Cities: Tampa
Tampa was the home of famous mobster Trafficante, who was well respected and had national and international ties, especially with Cuba. His connection to Cuba makes sense since the first Italians settled in the historic area of Ybor City, which was originally home to Florida’s largest Cuban population. The mecca for the Italians and the city’s Mafia presence was Ybor City, but the Mob of Tampa controlled much of Florida, except for Miami.
Mob Cities: West Coast
When Italians originally came into the United States, they mainly arrived in cities of the Midwest and East Coast. While there was a Mafia presence in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, primarily San Francisco, they were not as respected and recognized as others as they operated on a very small scale.
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Resources and Further Readings:
Brody, Lisa. “Organized Crime: Then and Now in Metro Area”. Downtown News Magazine. 24 April 2018. https://www.downtownpublications.com/single-post/2018/04/24/Organized-crime-Then-and-now-in-metro-area
Buccellato, James and Burnstein, Scott. “Organized Crime In Detroit: Forgotten But Not Gone”. CBSDetroit. 24 June 2011. https://detroit.cbslocal.com/2011/06/24/organized-crime-in-detroit-forgotten-but-not-gone/
Deitche, Scott. The Everything Mafia Book. Adams Media, 2009.
Dickie, John. Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. St. Martin’s Press, 2015.
Fairbanks, Phil. “Is the Buffalo Mafia dead or alive?”. The Buffalo News, 8 December 2018. https://buffalonews.com/2018/12/08/is-the-buffalo-mafia-dead-or-alive/
Lee, JC. “From Monastero to Genovese, five Pittsburgh mob bosses who made the news”. Penn Live. https://www.pennlive.com/life/2016/10/pittsburgh_mob_bosses.html
May, Allan. “The Five Iron Men Of Kansas City”. AmericanMafia.com, 27 March 2000. http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_3-27-00.html
McDonald, Evan. “Notable organized crime figures throughout Cleveland history”. Cleveland.com, July 2015. https://www.cleveland.com/metro/2015/07/notable_organized_crime_figure.html
Ruth, David E. “Al Capone”. Encyclopedia of Chicago http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/2214.html
Vecoli, Rudolph. “Italians”. Encyclopedia of Chicago http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/658.html
Volk, Steve. “What Ever Happened to the South Philly Mob?”. Philadelphia Magazine, 29 July 2009. https://www.phillymag.com/news/2009/07/29/what-ever-happened-to-the-south-philly-mob/2/