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The Five Families are the five original Italian crime families in New York. They have maintained control of organized crime in New York City since the 1930s. The five families, all of which have origins in Sicily, are: Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese.

The Five Families were formally organized by Sicilian mobster Salvatore Maranzano, a member of what would become known as the Bonanno family, in 1931. He instigated a mob war in the spring of 1931 designed to allow him to seize control of the Italian mob. Maranzano implemented the modern mob structure: Boss (Capofamiglia), Underboss (Sotto capo), Advisor (Consigliere), Captain (Caporegime), Soldier (Soldato), and Associate, then declared himself the mob's Boss of Bosses (capo di tutti capi). This move didn't sit well with notorious mobster Lucky Luciano's gang, who murdered him in September, 1931.

Maranzano's murder resulted in a change of the leadership structure, replacing the Boss of Bosses with The Commission, a mob council which laid out and oversaw various mob family territories. The influence of The Commission was originally limited to New York and New Jersey, but now spreads across the U.S. The Five Families remain part of The Commission, which also includes crime families from the American midwest, the south and to a far lesser degree, the west.

The Extent of the American Mafia

The mob's greatest spheres of influence have always been the by Five Families of New York/New Jersey and along with mob families in Chicago, Kansas City and other midwestern cities, where large groups of Italian immigrants settled, forming a base which allowed development of robust crime families. Although several of the Five Families have considerable influence in Florida, and there is a strong mob entity in New Orleans, the mob has far less of a presence in the west, where only small pockets remain in most major cities. For example, there are fewer than 20 "made men" from the Gambino family operating in Los Angeles, a city of nearly four million people.

The lack of strong Italian communities and the street gang structure in western cities, particularly Los Angeles, made it more difficult for the mob to gain and then maintain a foothold in the west. Following the murder of Ben "Bugsy" Siegal and the death of his rival Jack Dragna, the lack of a strong leader and the distance The Commission leadership in New York resulted in the mob's loss of control in Los Angeles by the late 1940s. The Kansas City mob maintained their control in Nevada, particularly in Las Vegas, longer. When U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy turned his attention to the mob in Las Vegas during the 1960s, the strong licensure requirements and oversight of gambling by the state of Nevada, coupled with the federal government's steely application of the newly passed RICO Act in the 1970s destroyed their control of the gaming and related industries in Nevada.


The Families

The families to not use these names as labels themselves, but rather were a tool that law enforcement and the media use to identify them. The family names were first coined in 1963, during coverage of the Valachi hearings, and were assigned based on the last name of each family's boss at the time. Although the use of the term "family" suggests the line of succession passes from father to son, this is not always the case, with control of mob families often passing to favored lieutenants or through violent means.

  • The Bonanno Family:
  • The Profaci/Colombo Family: Originally labeled as the Profaci family for their recently deceased boss Joseph Profaci, the name did not stick, and Columbo took hold along with the family's new boss.
  • The Gambino Family:
  • The Luciano/Genovese Family:
  • The Lucchese Family:

The Decline of the Mob