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Headline Archives
 
A BYTE OUT OF HISTORY: Organized Crime and "Joe's Barbecue"

11/13/03

A graphic for "A Byte Out of History: Organized Crime and "Joe's Barbecue"Forty-six years ago today (11/14/1957), an unusual group gathered at the rural estate of a soft drink bottler in Appalachin, a small town just west of Binghamton, New York. Mr. Joseph Barbara was supposedly hosting a "soft drink convention" that day.

Sergeant Edgar Croswell of the New York State Police was intensely interested in the gathering. He'd observed suspected criminals at the house before and was suspicious. With smoke rising from Barbara's grill, Croswell and Trooper Vincent Vasisko openly began to take down the license plate numbers of luxury cars jammed in the driveway.

Suddenly Barbara’s guests noticed…and panicked. Some fled to the woods; others dashed for their cars. Sergeant Croswell ordered an immediate roadblock and soon had detained 62 guests in order to check their identification; among them, Joseph Bonanano, Russell Bufalino, Carlo Gambino, Vito Genovese, Antonio Magaddino, Joseph Proface, John Scalish, and Santos Traficante.

A veritable Who’s Who of what we now call the "Mob," the "Mafia," or "La Cosa Nostra."

Croswell’s important detective work exploded nationally. Concerns had been expressed that a secret network of connected criminal enterprises existed. But many, including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, had disagreed. They said crime was a serious problem, but there was no evidence that a conspiratorial web linked racketeers across the country.

Now there was evidence. Hoover got to work, ordering his field executives to develop maximum information on crime bosses in their areas of jurisdiction. This "Top Hoodlum Program" produced a wealth of information about organized crime activities. In a 1960 Letter to All Law Enforcement Officials, Hoover wryly commented: "If we must, let us learn a lesson from the barons of the underworld who have shown that cooperative crime is profitable – cooperative law enforcement can be twice as effective."

But the Bureau needed legislative tools to get past the small time crooks and connect them with those barons. Congress powerfully delivered, with illegal gambling laws that unlocked mafia financial networks and with laws like the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968 and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970. Soon, major cases like UNIRAC, BRILAB, and Pizza Connection led to the prosecution and jailing of top crime lords across the country. Then, in 1987, Judge Richard Owen of the Southern District of New York, sentenced the top leadership of five New York City "families" to 100 years each in prison for working together as a single enterprise. The "Commission Case" effectively broke the stranglehold of traditional organized crime in the U.S.

Today new organized crime syndicates operate on a global stage, and the FBI is working effectively with its international partners to dismantle them, piece by piece. More on that later...

Links: Organized Crime Program and more FBI History

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