Federal law enforcement authorities have made organized crime a priority over the years. One organization in particular, known as La Cosa Nostra or the mafia, has drawn the frequent and focused attention of the FBI. Amid much fanfare last week, Attorney General Holder announced that federal authorities had charged 127 individuals in 16 separate indictments who allegedly have connections with the mafia.
In the past, authorities believed that if they cut off the heads of crime families, the bodies would die. They have traditionally targeted the leadership of New York's five families. However, history has taught authorities that individual leaders are often quickly replaced within the structure of the mafia. This most recent spate of arrests suggests that authorities are adopting a new approach and are casting a wider net in an effort to disrupt mafia operations. Approximately 800 state and federal law enforcement officers made simultaneous arrests for a variety of charges including murder, extortion, arson and drug crimes.
In the past, law enforcement efforts against the mafia were stifled by the rule of omertà, an oath of silence that precluded members from speaking with the government about the internal affairs of the mafia. However, the wall of silence that traditionally stifled law enforcement activities against the mafia may be cracking. The FBI is now working with alleged mafia members who are willing to provide evidence against other members in exchange for leniency in their own prosecutions. Authorities say the latest prosecutions are based on evidence obtained from wiretaps as well as thousands of conversations recorded by mafia members.
As is the case with conspiracy investigations in general, authorities now appear to be casting as wide of a net as possible in its law enforcement efforts against the mafia. Casting a wide net does make for great headlines. After all, 127 charges in one day will garner significantly more attention than 127 charges over the course of a year. However, large law enforcement busts are prone to error. Investigations of a massive scope greatly increase the chance that an innocent person will be among those being charged.
Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, "127 charged in Northeast Mafia crackdown," Tom Hays, 1/21/2011