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The Business Of Crime

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US Govt.

Prof. Fowler

Fall 2002

The Business of Crime: Italians and Syndicate Crime in the United States, written by Humbert S. Nelli, contains the history of Italian criminal organizations in the New World, between 1880 and 1930. The book is divided into three main parts. The first chapter, From Italy's South to America's South, contains the political, social, economic, and cultural background of Italians before they entered in the New World. Also, it describes the beginning of criminal organizations, and the national wide impact created with the murder of Chief Hennesy (October 15, 1890). The second chapter, The Immigrant Era, describes the Italian involvement in syndicates activities, and discusses the widely publicized Black Hand extortion, which was "neither the most significant nor the most lucrative" form of crime. The last chapter, Flowering of the Italian Syndicates, studies the effects produced by the federal laws enacted to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages and the Depression of the 1930s over the "Italian-American criminal entrepreneurs".

In order to analyze the book, the report is divided into six different parts. The first part states the author's thesis, and the second one presents examples that substantiate his hypothesis. The third and the fourth parts evaluate the author's arguments and the sources used by him. The fifth part compares the material presented by Nelli's book to similar material in the textbook America Past and Present. Finally, the last part presents a conclusion about the book based in the previous parts.

Part I

Humbert S. Nelli maintains that "the distortions in facts and the repetition of myths", concerning criminal experiences, by writers have become accepted as truths, and that the experience in New York has been generalized to other cities in the country. Moreover, he argues that "much of the confusion concerning the Italian experience in American crime is related to unclear and imprecise terminology used by writers" (Preface).

Part II

He puts forward several examples in which it is evident the inaccuracy of certain facts over many criminal cases which are reported as products of organized Italian mafias. For instance, he remarks in his book: "Gaster's report contained errors in almost every case outlined, and each error served to blacken the reputation of New Orleans Italians" (32). Gaster, the Superintendent of Police, believed he would be killed by the mafia in the same way the Chief Hennesy was killed. In fact, the author listes several reported cases in which the names and nationalities of criminals were changed as Italians. For example:

On January 18, 1887, Dominica Tribiga shot and killed Jean Tamora,

according to Gaster's list; the impression given was that victim and killer were Italians. The coroner's report indicated that both Dominique Trebigue and Jean Marie Trebigue (the actual names) were natives of France (33).

According to the Gaster report, on the night of June 30, 1889, Manuel Mangeloa was shot and killed by 'unknown Sicilians' while he slept. According to the coroner, the name of the victim was Marcel Mangelon, he was French, and the nationality of the killer or killers remained unknown (33).

Another example with which the author supports his hypothesis is the story of Maranzano's murder -the last of the New York "Mafia" overlords. There were two inaccuracies: one was the date of his murder September 11, when it was on the 10th; the other was the view it was presented to the public. Salvatore Maranzano was murdered by order of Charlie Lucky Luciano, who, according to this story, had ordered the liquidation of all "greaseballs" (Mafia old-timers) in America. Although the "number of murdered 'greaseballs' varied according to the writers" (179), there were no other assassinations connected to this case. For instance, according to Burton B. Turkus (former King's County Assistant District Attorney) the number of greaseballs eliminated within forty-eight hours after Maranzano's death consisted of "some thirty to forty leaders of Mafia's

older group all over the United States" (181). However, according to Humbert "a careful examination of newspapers issued during September, October, and November of 1931 in twelve large cities turned up evidence of only one killing that occurred at about the time Maranzano died and might have been linked to his death" (183).

In addition, writers repeated the same untrue stories without wondering whether they were legitimate or not, and spread them as real facts. The author argued, " Officials and the public accepted the information provided,..., no one at the time or since bothered to check the accuracy of the information" (32) and that "instead of reviewing all the evidence impartially and asking probing questions, later writers have tended to accept the theories of the time" (58). The primary problem, therefore, was the lack of reliable source of information, a tendency to publicize "sensational" cases, and a tendency to accept them without questioning.

Part III

Humbert S. Nelli had studied the Italian immigrant adjustment in Chicago and the Italian criminal involvement before extending his research into other cities throughout the country. His work includes research trips to Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

In the first example used in Part II, the author compares two different reports, with which "inaccuracies become strikingly evident when the Gaster's list is compared with the [official] coroner reports" (32). The author not only presents some of those errors , but he also states the reasons behind them -Gaster's belief that the mafia planned to take control of the city and intended to kill him-. Also, using the Maranzano's murder as an example, the author proves that the different writers changed the information and that there were no evidences supporting the theory that Maranzano murder formed part of a "nationwide purge".

The author had made an intensive examination on the Italian criminal activities, and the way he develops the book reflects it. The book contains important facts and personalities that were involved in the criminal organizations between

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