Photos from 2005
Mafia, name for a loose association
of criminal groups, sometimes bound by a blood oath and sworn to secrecy. The
Mafia first developed in Sicily in feudal times to protect the estates of
absentee landlords. By the 19th century the Mafia had become a network of
criminal bands that dominated the Sicilian countryside. The members were bound
by Omerta, a rigid code of conduct that included avoiding all contact and
cooperation with the authorities. The Mafia had neither a centralized
organization nor a hierarchy; it consisted of many small groups, each autonomous
within its own district. By employing terroristic methods against the peasant
electorate, the Mafia attained political office in several communities, thus
acquiring influence with the police and obtaining legal access to weapons.
Benito Mussolini's Fascist government succeeded for a time in suppressing the Mafia, but the organization emerged again after World War II ended in 1945. Over the next 30 years the Mafia became a power not only in Sicily but all over Italy as well. The Italian government began an anti-Mafia campaign in the early 1980s, leading not only to a number of arrests and sensational trials, but also to the assassination of several key law-enforcement officials in retaliation. Public outrage was tempered by the arrest in 1993 of the reputed Mafia leader, Salvatore Riina.
some of the files used in the prosecution of Mafia figures
Beginning in the late 19th century, some members of the Mafia immigrated to the United States. They soon became entrenched in American organized crime, especially in the 1920s during Prohibition. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 ended most bootlegging, the Mafia moved into other areas, such as gambling, labor racketeering, prostitution, and, in recent years, narcotics. Links with the Italian Mafia were also maintained. As in Italy, prosecution of reputed Mafia leaders in the United States increased in the 1980s and 1990s.
Responsible groups of Americans have, at times, waged campaigns in the media to
obliterate any assumption that crime in the United States is dominated by people
of Italian descent, claiming that the existence of an American Mafia had not
been fully established.
Contributed By: G. Robert Blakey for Microsoft Encarta
carved door panel
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