'Mafia Summit' explores a historic – and disastrous – meeting between Mob leaders
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Robert's Rules of Order weren't in effect. But Murphy's Law – if anything can go wrong, it will – definitely worked its magic.
Thanks to an eagle-eyed state trooper, federal law enforcement swooped in on the confab at a mobster's estate, arresting dozens and sending fancy-suited mobsters fleeing into an unfriendly forest.
The meeting didn't spell the end for organized crime, which exists to this day. But it did mark the demise of an era in which mobsters often had more to fear from each other than the long arm of the law.
A nemesis and future attorney general named Robert F. Kennedy rose from this crucible. There was more: public awareness (never mind FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's epic denial) and racketeering laws that turned out to be as incredibly useful as the tax regulations that tripped up Al Capone.
Gil Reavill, an author and screenwriter, tackles the events of that day in Apalachin – pronounced "Apa-lay-kin," not like the mountain range – in his new book Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mob. It's a gritty and fast-moving account that punctures the myth of the honor-bound mobster and exposes the nasty, rotten business of organized crime.
In an interview, I asked Reavill about the leadership of the mob, the oblivious public, and the ultimate legacy of the Apalachin raid.
Q: This was a summit meeting of Mafia types. Was it a board of directors meeting?
A: That's the corporate metaphor that a lot of people use. But that's not quite accurate. It was much more loosely organized than that corporate image, more of a group of like-minded individuals with similar interests and goals and similar concerns.
But there was a national organization of the mob. It was created by Lucky Luciano in 1931, and it really gripped the underworld from that time from 1931 to Apalachin, the golden years for the national syndicate.
Q: What did the governing commission do?
A: The commission controlled the mob to the degree that it tried to eliminate random violence, to keep the level of violence down to an acceptable minimum.
It was sort of a don't-scare-the-horses strategy to have the business run smoothly and stay out of the headlines as much as they could. That was Lucky Luciano's insight: blood in the streets isn't good for business.
Q: Could the commission decide that someone needed to be killed?
A: This was only about made guys. You had to go to the commission and say, "This guy did this wrong, and I want permission to rub him out," and they'd say yea or nay.
When it first happened to a guy over an unsanctioned hit, it was cause for celebration because the system worked.