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Feature Articles


February 2000

Dis-Organized Crime: The Decline Of The Italian Mafia

By James Ridgway de Szigethy


Stephanie Gaffney was 8 months pregnant when a package arrived in the mail at her home in New York. Thinking it was a book a friend had sent her, the 18-year-old expectant mother thought nothing of ripping it open. The ‘gift’ was in fact a mail bomb designed to kill her and her unborn baby. The bomb went off and when Stephanie’s uncle, NYPD Detective James Gilmore, was informed of this, he knew instantly whom to suspect as the perpetrator of this crime; Dominican drug dealers he had arrested in Washington Heights. When Detective Gilmore testified against the drug dealers during their trial for murdering six people, the criminals threatened to kill Gilmore. Rather than go after the seasoned cop, the drug gang instead targeted a member of his family.

This vicious crime, which occurred in 1996, was just one of a growing number of instances that reflects the changing nature of organized crime in America; specifically, the supplanting of the Italian Mafia by the new ethnic criminal organizations. Part of the traditions of Italian organized crime is a ‘code of honor’ which dictates that cops and journalists are ‘off limits’ in terms of retaliation. On those rare occasions when a member of the Italian Mafia has violated this code, the consequences have been dire. One example was the 1986 shooting of DEA agent Everett Hatcher by Gus Farace, the nephew of Colombo Family hitman/FBI informant Greg Scarpa. Scarpa actually went public with his disgust for his nephew, telling the Media that there had to be ‘rules’ of engagement between the Mafia and members of law enforcement. Having gotten away with murder and other crimes for many years because of his ‘protected’ status as an FBI informant, Scarpa had no fear in telling the Media that his own Family would hopefully track down his nephew before the authorities could. That is exactly what happened, and once Farace was found, he was blown away.

In Howard Blum’s book “Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob,” the author recounts the concern that some FBI agents had in their pursuit of Gambino Godfather John Gotti. By murdering Paul Castellano without ‘permission’ from the ruling ‘Commission,’ which enforces the Italian Mafia traditions, Gotti had shown that he was living by his own set of rules. Blum tells of the dramatic confrontation between FBI agent Bruce Mouw, in charge of the Gambino Family unit of the Organized Crime Task Force, and Gotti. Mouw had traveled to Gotti’s house, stuck his finger in Gotti’s face, and warned Gotti that no harm should come to any of his agents. Gotti got the message, played by the ‘rules’ and Mouw’s men eventually obtained a conviction against Gotti.

Such a confrontation between an agent like Mouw and the heads of non-traditional organized crime groups would be unthinkable today. During the past 30 years, various ethnic organized crime groups who lack the traditions and discipline of the Italian Mafia have invaded the United States. Unlike the Italians, the heads, or ‘Godfathers’ of these groups, such as the Dominican, Colombian, and Arab cartels, do not reside in the United States. Most of the members of these groups that operate in the United States are illegal aliens and have no familial roots in this country as a restraining influence. When confronted by members of law enforcement, there is little to stop these criminals from murdering them and then slipping back into their home country, where extradition is often impossible.

Commenting on this trend in Newsweek Magazine, Richard Moran, a criminologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, suggested: “Bring back the Mafia!” Investigative reporter William Kleinknecht has written a book on this subject, “The New Ethnic Mobs,” and a retired member of the NYPD Anti-Terrorist Task Force has called these groups “dis-organized crime!”

A quick review of the attacks on cops and journalists by these new groups betrays the changing nature of organized crime. In 1991 Dandeny Munoz-Mosquera, a hitman for the Colombian drug cartel, was arrested in New York for travelling with a phony passport. The authorities found evidence that Munoz-Mosquera had been sent to the U. S. to assassinate President George Bush. Back in his native Colombia, the hitman was implicated in the murders of 50 police officers, judges, and other officials. Munoz-Mosquera was later convicted of planting a bomb onboard an Avianca airliner in 1989 in order to kill two government informants. All 107 passengers, including two Americans, were murdered.

Drug dealers from the Dominican cartel have in recent years murdered NYPD Detectives Chris Hoban, Michael Buczek, and Sean McDonald. Journalists have also been targeted by the new ethnic crime families, notably British journalist Anson Ng, murdered while investigating the BCCI scandal, which involved Arab criminal gangs, and El Diario Editor Manuel de Dios, murdered in New York by a 19 year old hitman from the Colombian cartel.

Stephanie Gaffney was more fortunate; she survived the bombing attack, as did her baby, who was born into a world dominated by criminal organizations very different from what was the norm just a generation ago.


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