The American Mafia, or "Cosa Nostra, and commonly referred to as Italian Mafia or Italian Mob in the United States of America, is an extremely powerful Italian-American organized crime syndicate that likely emerged from the Sicilian Mafia and/or The Camorra. The phrase "Cosa Nostra" means "our thing" or "our work." The founder is often considered to be a Sicilian-American criminal named Charles "Lucky" Luciano.
This criminal society emerged in impoverished areas of New York where Italian immigrants settled, such as Brooklyn or East Harlem in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The organization participated in countless crime activities, including but not limited to protection rackets, robberies, counterfeit operations, bribery, fraud, loan sharking, and human and drug trafficking.
It is considered one of the most influential crime organizations in the U.S., and are today greatly feared in particular areas such as New York, Chicago, and Detroit.
The mafia is often divided into "crime families," units of criminals led by a "boss" that head activities in "territories," or neighborhoods the crime family have decided to operate in. Despite them being called "families," they are not necessarily familial groupings. In the first couple of decades of the mafia's notoriety, all crime families were led by "the boss of all bosses," a supreme leader of the organization. This rank was eventually replaced by The Commission in 1931, a meeting of the most powerful crime families that serves as the governing body of all of the units. The Commission consisted of the Five Families of New York- The Bonnano, Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, and Colombo families- the Chicago Outfit, and the Buffalo family. The last known meeting of the Commission was held in November 1985.
The Mafia in the United States emerged in impoverished Italian immigrant neighborhoods or ghettos in New York's East Harlem (or Italian Harlem), the Lower East Side, and Brooklyn; also emerging in other areas of the East Coast of the United States and several other major metropolitan areas (such as New Orleans and Chicago) during the late 19th century and early 20th century, following waves of Italian immigration especially from Sicily and other regions of Southern Italy. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia but is a separate organization in the United States. Neapolitan, Calabrian and other Italian criminal groups in the U.S., as well as independent Italian-American criminals, eventually merged with Sicilian Mafiosi to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America.
Today, the American Mafia cooperates in various criminal activities with Italian organized crime groups, such as the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra of Naples and the 'Ndrangheta of Calabria. The most important unit of the American Mafia is that of a "family," as the various criminal organizations that make up the Mafia are known. Despite the name of "family" to describe the various units, they are not familial groupings.
The Mafia is currently most active in the Northeastern United States, with the heaviest activity in New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Buffalo and New England, in areas such as Boston, Providence and Hartford. It is also highly active in Chicago and other large industrial Midwestern cities such as Kansas City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland and St. Louis, with a smaller but significant presence in places such as New Orleans, Florida, Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles and with smaller families, associates, and crews in other parts of the country.
At the Mafia's peak, there were at least 26 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots and associates in other cities. There are five main New York City Mafia families, known as the Five Families: the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno and Colombo families.
The Italian-American Mafia has long dominated organized crime in the United States. Each crime family has its own territory and operates independently, while nationwide coordination is overseen by the Commission, which consists of the bosses of each of the strongest families. Though the majority of the Mafia's activities are contained to the Northeastern United States and Chicago, they continue to dominate organized crime, despite the increasing numbers of other crime groups.