Mafia shaken by blow to leadership

The Mafia still exists, but it has been shaken to its roots. The result in the short term could be more violence as a destabilized mob seeks to fill the power vaccuum. But the new crop of leaders are younger, less experienced, and may be easier for law enforcement officials to target.

That's the opinion of organized-crime experts after Wednesday's conviction of eight defendants, three identified as bosses of crime families in New York, in the so-called Mafia commission trial. The US government successfully prosecuted the case, focusing on what it termed ``the board of directors'' of the Mafia, which oversees mob business and relations between crime families nationally.

Changes in the way crime is organized will likely take effect, just as a major corporation would change with a broad shuffle of executives. Investigators already tell of informers and wiretaps that hint toward chaos in the crime families.

The upcoming mob leaders do not have the contacts and experience of members being taken out of the ranks. Indeed, some officials say the current targeting of top Mafia leaders has made some second-tier crime figures shy from leadership positions.

And the assault on organized crime continues. The reputed leader of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti, is on trial in Brooklyn on federal racketeering charges. In New Jersey this week, the largest pool of jurors in the state's history has been called as jury selection begins in the trial of 26 members of the Luchese family. Nicodemo Scarfo, alleged head of Philadelphia organized crime, was recently arrested in Atlantic City and charged with racketeering.

Convicted Wednesday were Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, boss of the Genovese family; Carmine (Junior) Persico, boss of the Columbo family; Anthony (Tony Ducks) Corallo, head of the Luchese family. All were convicted of being members of the commission and of participating in a multimillion-dollar extortion scheme.

Sentencing has been set for Jan. 6. US District Court Judge Richard Owen ordered all defendants jailed until then, agreeing with US Attorney Michael Chertoff, who said, ``Every minute those men are out on the street is a minute [they] will be directing the largest and most vicious criminal enterprise in the history of the United States.''

Few experts are predicting the end of La Cosa Nostra. And further efforts must be made to eliminate its influence in the industries that have long been dominated by crime. But there is a sense of victory among officials.

``It's a great turning point in the destruction of organized crime,'' said US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani. Mr. Chertoff says there has already been something of an ameliorative effect, as seen in the trial. Some contractors who had been forced to make payoffs in the past no longer are forced to make those payoffs.

William Doran, special agent in charge of criminal/organized crime of the New York division of the FBI, says the ensuing power struggle will make things easier for law enforcement officials. Petty jealousies, factions, and personality conflicts ``will work to our advantage.''

The FBI has developed its intelligence and gone after the crime families. Now, says Mr. Doran, it will go after the power bases that allow the family to exist. That includes labor unions.

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