Organized Crime

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Organized crime is alive and well in New York City and has long been associated with it. Since the immigrant street gangs of the Lower East Side in the 1820s to modern day, criminal syndicates of all sorts have been part of the city’s cultural heritage.



Typical Rackets: Gambling, Prostitution, Theft, Smuggling, Extortion, Money Laundering, White-collar crime, Arms trafficking, Counterfeiting, Cigarette smuggling, Contract Killing, Computer Crime, and Chop shop.

Families Operating in NYC: Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Colombo, Bonanno.

The 20th century saw a rise in the Mafia dominated by the Five Families and they still are the largest and most powerful criminal organization in the city. It is by far the most prolific criminal enterprise in the nation. Mafiosi have made an art form of finding angles, loopholes, and opportunities where no one else would think to look.

After some silly business with a trend towards flamboyant displays and flagrant openness, La Cosa Nostra has gone back to its roots. Gone are the days of “dapper Dons”. Omerta rules once again and the bosses have returned to a traditional low profile that has served the organization so well in the past.

For most, the hand of the Mafia is an invisible or light hand – barely noticed in the day to day lives of New Yorkers. But their impact is all too real. Just about any business operating in the Tri-State area pays some sort of fee to the Mafia either directly or indirectly. While a retailer may have to grease the hand of a delivery driver who in turn pays tribute to a corrupt union official to operate and get his fair share of the “choice” routes, a financial firm’s security guards may provide inside information to a crew working high-tech crime. Still others pay through the nose in taxes and fees to the city so it can maintain a police force and host of city officials that look the other way when they are supposed to be investigating the Wiseguys.

If you don’t pay, you don’t do business in the city. Period. Why? Because the Mafia enjoys the most influence among legitimate businesses and even wields great political and bureaucratic influence. This is because the Mafia is one of the oldest organized criminal syndicates operating in the US. It has had time to evolve and become part of doing business. Nearly everyone is open to dealing with these guys on some level. They have benefitted from highly successful PR and the perception of them is highly romanticized. The bosses wouldn’t have it any other way. To outsiders, they are intriguing and charming. They have been popularized in books, TV shows, movies, video games, etc. and they have become almost accepted. Everyone knows that the mob has a code, right? They don’t go after families or civilians and they deal in “harmless vices”. They aren’t like those “Russian animals.” For this reason, corrupt officials find themselves much more inclined to work with a Mafioso rather than a member of any other criminal syndicate. They are discreet. They have rules. Their rackets are clean. They aren’t going to get a city official mixed up in a scandal involving Eastern European girls just barely past the age of puberty working the sex-slave trade. They are shrewd and dangerous, but they are an enemy everyone knows and can count on to be reasonably civilized. They are the mob the other mobs have to go to if they want to get something done through seemingly legitimate channels.


Typical Rackets (US): Gambling, Smuggling, Arms trafficking, Blackmail, Money Laundering, Drug trafficking.

Families Operating in NYC: Yamaguchi-gumi, Inagawa-kaï.

The Yakuza are most heavily active in Hawaii and the West Coast of the US and as such have a very minor presence on the Eastern Seaboard of the US. They are heavily involved in the smuggling of crystal meth cooked in Japan and traded for firearms made in the US which are then sent back to Japan. They operate with the blessing of the Mafia as they bring in rich Japanese tourists who flock to New York City to Mafia operated gambling dens both legal and illegal.

Triads and Tongs

Typical Rackets: Illegal Immigration, Human trafficking, Drug trafficking, Computer crime, Copyright infringement, Counterfeiting, Identity Theft, People smuggling, Extortion, Prostitution, Gambling, Money Laundering.

Families Operating in NYC: On Leong Tong, Hip Sing Tong, Sun Yee On, Wo Hop To.

The Hong Kong Triads have a minor presence in New York City. Most of their activities are confined to people smuggling, illegal immigration, and the smuggling of heroin into the US from the “Golden Triangle” of southeast Asia. They work with their Chinese-American counterparts known as the Tongs in joint criminal ventures that often involve smuggling of drugs, human cargo and indentured servitude. Typically Triads will smuggle Chinese into the US for a fee which will be paid for by the Tong, if the unfortunate immigrant cannot pay for his fare into the US. This immigrant then works for nothing until the debt is paid in the most horrific conditions. Tongs are a link in the heroin distribution chain as they provide the Triads with distribution on a street level via their contacts with Chinese street gangs such as the Ghost Shadows and Flying Dragons.

Tongs originated as benevolent organizations to help the Chinese immigrant communities cope with hostile Nativists. As the Chinese immigrant community is very insular by nature and as practical means of survival, Tongs were established as Merchants’ Associations and served Chinese-American communities with a wide variety of benevolent and necessary services such as immigrant counseling, adult English classes, Chinese schools, business loans, etc. The influence of the Tongs grew as the Chinese-American community came to trust and rely on their services. Soon they were reaping the benefits of this influence by using their halls gambling dens featuring Chinese games of chance that were quite popular and normal activities in Chinese culture (a sort of Chinese version of a Bingo hall), but were considered illegal by American authorities. Little by little the Tongs extended their influence to extort local business owners and prostitution. Trafficking women had been a major source of revenue as restrictive American immigration policies, ensured that Chinese immigrants were overwhelmingly male. So in the Chinese community, women were a premium commodity. To enforce their agenda within Chinese neighborhoods, Tongs often turn to Chinese street gangs for their muscle and also to funnel heroin smuggled in by the Triads from Asia to the streets.

Russian Mafia

Typical Rackets: Illegal Immigration, Prostitution, Human trafficking, Drug trafficking, Computer crime, People smuggling, Arms smuggling, Extortion, Money laundering.

Families Operating in NYC: Odessa Mafia, Izmailovskaya.

The Russian Mafia is a term applied to organized crime syndicates that are from Russia and the former Soviet Union. They are often headed by Vory v zakone or “thieves in law” which is loosely translates into a title like Godfather. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the relaxation on trade and travel, the Russian Mafia has spread like wildfire all over Europe and into the US. One of their first real footholds was in the historical immigration gateway of New York City. They have made the Soviet émigré community of Brighton Beach their home on the East Coast. They are so prolific there as are the strong ties to the old country that much of the neighborhood is known as “Little Odessa”. There they rule as kings. This is because the local immigrant community, having had a history of mistrusting corrupt Soviet authorities, does not easily speak to those in their adopted country either. So they are caught between their fear of the Vory and their contempt for anyone with a badge.

The Russians are much more insular than the Italian Mafia. Part of that is because of the secretive and brutal roots that shaped the network of criminals who had to fight terror with terror in order to survive Soviet oppression. Also being a relatively new immigrant group when compared to the Italians, the Russians have had fewer generations with which to become assimilated into American society.

A side effect of this insular and brutal heritage has allowed the Russian Mafia to strike out into operations deemed too extreme for other organized criminal networks. Tapping into operations like human trafficking, slavery, arms, and even nuclear material has given them relative autonomy and freedom to expand without competition except for internal rivals.

Perhaps their greatest strength is also their greatest obstacle. The willingness of the Russian Mafia to work within such taboo vices has created a huge PR problem for them. They are considered savage foreigners and not endearingly roguish Wiseguys like their Italian counterparts. Because of this, they are treated more harshly by law enforcement which pursues them relentlessly and they find their list of pocketed politicians and other corrupt officials rather short. The public is much less tolerant of them, especially with the recent string of movies, TV shows, and documentaries which have dealt with the international skin trade. So much to their chagrin, they find themselves needing the Italians much more often than the Italians find need of them. And for the Italians’ part, dealing with the Russians is fast becoming a professional courtesy wrought with trouble as the Mafia doesn’t want its image sullied by images of 14 year old sex slaves on the evening news.

Irish Mob

Typical Rackets: Extortion, Money Laundering, Drug trafficking, Chop shop, Theft, Contract killing, Illegal gambling.

Families Operating in NYC: The Westies

The oldest and once the most powerful organized criminal syndicate in the US, the Irish Mob in New York City is little more than an organized street gang. Pre-prohibition they dominated the Lower East Side and the waterfront with legendary names like Five Points Gang.

As the Italians began to form organized gangs and the beginnings of crime families, the Irish responded by uniting their street gangs in New York under one outfit known as the White Hand Gang. The Irish were never able to get it together. Unstable leadership and infighting lost them their coveted waterfront territory.

During Prohibition, the Irish returned with several former gang members forming outfits to run speakeasies and bootleg. One of the most famous Irish bootleggers was Owney "The Killer" Madden, a former leader of the Gopher Gang, who also ran the famous Cotton Club. The glamor and glitz was brief for the Irish gangs, however. The emergence of the Mafia and the Commission along with a series of “unlucky” arrests of key leaders like Madden, condemned the Irish Mob to minor player status and they were never able to capitalize on the opportunity during the US’s “dry” years.

This left the Italians and their Jewish allies like Myer Lansky, in a position to accrue ridiculous amounts of wealth from their bootlegging operations with little competition. The capital from those flush years was then used to expand Mafia operations, leaving the Irish mob in New York permanently in the dust.

Today, the Irish mob is still regulated to just above street gang status and they call themselves “The Westies” as their coveted territory is the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. They nearly lost even this to the Italians in the 1970s because of infighting yet again. A power struggle between two factions for control of the Westies lasted from 1966 until 1977. Michael Spillane's position as boss of Hell's Kitchen was challenged by James Coonan, an up and coming gangster. There was a long history between Spillane and Coonan involving an affair between Spillane and Coonan's mother. It is said that Coonan started the war by shooting up an apartment with Spillane in it. Coonan then started kidnapping Spillane's associates, holding them for ransom or executing them.

In the 1970s, with Spillane's organization already weakened by years of warfare with Coonan, a war started to brew between Spillane and the Genovese crime family over control of a construction site in Hell's Kitchen. The Genovese family moved quickly, murdering Spillane's top three lieutenants in 1976. This prompted Coonan to attempt a complete takeover of the Spillane organization by forming an alliance with Roy DeMeo of the Gambino crime family. The Genovese family decided that the Westies were too violent and well led to go to war with and thus mediated a truce via the Gambinos. The Westies were left in control of Hell's Kitchen (paying 10% of their profits to the Gambinos), and the Genovese family were left in control of the construction site they wanted, paying part of the profits to the Westies.

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