Here's another "myth vs. reality" entry--a rework of something I posted quite a while ago:

OF COURSE The Mob deals drugs--but don't get caught!

A durable myth of the Mafia is that that they "ban" drug trafficking, and decree the "death penalty" for dealers. Wrong! The Mafia has been dealing drugs since Day One. Don Vito Cascio Ferro came to NYC in the early years of the last century in part to establish a drugs pipeline between Europe and the US. Charlie Luciano dealt drugs as a young man, and is reputed to have ratted out a partner in return for getting a pass from the cops. Joe Bonanno's "vacation" in Italy in 1957 was really a meeting with Luciano and some Sicilians to make Bonanno the top drugs guy in America. The aborted Apalachin NY meeting that year was, in part, an attempt by Vito Genovese to outflank Bonanno as the top drugs guy. He and Joe Valachi went to prison on drug charges. John Gotti was the top earner in Neil Dellacroce's empire becauase he and his crew dealt drugs...and on and on.

Drug-dealing puts Mafia bosses in a quandary: They know that heavy penalties are a threat to them. But they love the money that drugs bring in. They also know that a “ban” on drug trafficking in their families would be unenforceable—there is too much money and greed to stop it. They’d be in the position of the Federal Government during Prohibition: passing a law that nobody obeyed and everyone disrespected—and a Mafia boss can’t afford any disrespect. They wouldn’t be able to effectively police their families: how could they know everything that every street guy was doing every hour of every day? They might be in the position of having to kill the wrong guy, or worse (from their viewpoint), a good earner. Finally, a real “ban” would simply drive the trafficking totally underground—meaning that they wouldn’t get their cut.

So the Mafia Dons fall back on the common denominator of Mob life: hypocrisy. They declare a "ban" on anyone caught selling drugs, with a death penalty for violators--and promptly look the other way. They figure that the threat will discourage the weaker soldiers, who are more likely to get caught. The more capable, ambitious guys are be willing to take the risks—and are less likely to get caught. The money continues to flow upward, which is all the bosses care about.

Now let’s look at how this might work in real life:

Vinny is an up-and-coming made guy in a NY family that officially “bans” drug trafficking. He’s a good earner, so he’s been given a slice of territory in Spanish Harlem, where he has some gambling, sports betting and loan shark action. One day, Jose, a neighborhood guy who’s an occasional borrower, asks Vinny to lend him $8k for two weeks. Whoa, says Vinny, that’s a lot—what do I get as surety for my loan (other than your kneecaps)? Not to worry, says Jose: I know a guy who knows a guy who’s a crewman on a freighter coming to NY from Lebanon. He’s bringing in a kilo of heroin. By the time we finish cutting the stuff and selling it, we’ll make $80k. Vinny says yes. Two weeks later, Jose (looking real dapper in new threads and gold chains) pays him his $8k plus $960 vig (6%/week for two weeks). Technically, Vinny didn’t violate the Family’s ban on drug dealing—he didn’t sell drugs. But he financed a drug deal that put a key of H on the street.

Like every other Mob guy, Vinny’s greedy: why should he make only $960 on a deal that netted a nobody like Jose more than $70k? Jose comes to him a month later and says he wants to borrow $40k because the sailor’s coming in again, this time with five keys of H. Vinny says that, for such a big loan, he’ll have to meet the guy. He tells Jose to bring the sailor, and his five keys, to a Mobbed-up bar near the waterfront. As soon as they meet, Vinny pushes Jose aside and tells the guy that he’ll buy the five keys, directly. He tells him he wants a “volume discount”: Since he’s buying such a big quantity, he’ll pay $5k per key, not the $8k that Jose was going to pay. The sailor starts to protest but Vinny replies: “Hey, you’re still makin’ a pile of money on s**t that didn’t cost you more’n a coupla grand in Syria or wherever you got it. You don’t like it, you can leave—feet first.” The guy catches the drift, takes Vinny’s $25k and hands over the five kilos of heroin. Vinny smiles: “Hey, I’ll take all the s**t you wanna bring in, anytime you come to NY. Just let Jose know when you’re gonna be here.”

Jose’s been too scared to say anything, so Vinny throws him a bone. He puts his arm around him and says, “Hey, ya done good tonite, Jose. I’m gonna let you have that H. It’ll cost you $20k per key—that’s my fee for hosting the sitdown and for protection. Don’t worry about sellin’ it—if the s**t’s as good as you said, you can cut it down more.” Where’s Jose going to get $20k/kilo? He can borrow it from Vinny! Now Vinny’s got two sources of profit: he quadrupled what he paid for the heroin—and he’s getting vig from the guy he cheated. He could make even more if he sold it on the street, but Vinny’s too smart to take that risk, and too busy to spend his time mixing milk sugar with the drug and selling dime bags to a bunch of lowlifes. He’ll let Jose do it.

Now, Jose’s really got to hustle to make his payments to Vinny. So he recruits some members of a local street gang to sell the dime bags. But those guys are ruthless—they’re not going to settle for making a dollar on every dime bag. Their leader kills Jose, takes the remaining dime bags, cuts them further, and sells them. This is just what Vinny was expecting. He lets a couple of weeks go by, then grabs the gang leader off the street. Vinny tells the gang-banger forcefully that he assumed Jose’s debt when he appropriated Jose’s stash—and he’s now two weeks behind in the vig. He smacks him around to reinforce his point. Then he smiles: “You can make up the vig, and make yourself more money, if you buy the rest of the s**t and distribute it. I’ll even make sure nobody interferes with your operation in this neighborhood.” The gang-banger, grateful for his life, accepts.

Vinny’s now making even more money. He kicks a nice piece of it upstairs to his crew chief. In turn, the crew chief passes a cut to his capo, who shares his piece with the Don. Pretty soon, that whole East Harlem operation, and everyone in it, is looking very good to the Don. But the Don’s not dumb—he has a good idea where the money originates. He hears about a drug bust that netted some members of a Jamaican posse in Brooklyn. He mentions to his capos, “Hey, it’s a real good thing that we have a ban on selling drugs in our borgata, and a death penalty for violators. Otherwise we’d wind up like them no-good, undisciplined mulinians over there.” The capos pass the word on down. Vinny’s crew chief, who knows what’s going on, says to Vinny, “Uh, by the way, you ain’t sellin’ drugs, are you?” “Me?” replies Vinny, indignantly. “Sellin’ f*****’ s**t to a buncha lowlifes on the street? Not on your f*****’ life!” Vinny told the literal truth: he’s not actually selling drugs on the street—he’s just wholesaling drugs to the guys who are selling them. As far as he’s concerned, he’s not violating the family’s ban on “selling drugs.” His crew chief is satisfied—and so’s everyone over him. They’re all getting their piece of Vinny’s action. As long as Vinny’s producing money, they’re content to look the other way. If he gets caught, he knows they’ll try to kill him before he can rat them out. Everyone knows the score.


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