MYTH: Mafia families fight each other for control of territories.
REALITY: While intra-family wars for control of the family are common, inter-family wars are rare. They cost too much in blood and money, are too disruptive of business, encourage treason, etc. The Mob has adopted a maxim from the 19th Century robber barons: monopoly and cartels are good, competition is bad.

This is especially true in New York City. None of the Five Families completely controls one or more of NYC’s boroughs—most have rackets that abut others’ within the boroughs. They’ve learned very carefully how to avoid territorial disputes. Let’s take a hypothetical example:

Suppose that, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush, Coney Island Avenue has, over the years, become the unofficial dividing line between the Gambinos’ operations (west side of Coney Island Avenue) and the Colombos’ (east side). One day a Colombo made guy rents a vacant storefront on the west side of the street and opens a bookmaking operation. That’s Gambino territory, and the local Gambino crew chief reports the transgression to his caporegime. But the capo doesn’t do anything immediately—he waits a month or six weeks to see if the Colombos’ new business is booming. If it is, he lodges a formal beef with his counterpart capo in the Colombo family.

A sitdown is arranged. After the pro forma bellowing, shouting and threats are dispensed, the two capos come to the preordained settlement: the Colombos can keep the storefront open, but they have to pay the Gambinos a “franchise fee” of $4k/week to operate in their territory. If the business is booming, fine. If the Colombos can’t make the $4k/week payment, they’ll ask for a reduction. If the Gambinos refuse, the Colombos will fold the operation. No way are the two families going to war over such a small time racket.

But what if the racket is big—really big time? Greed is the common denominator among Mafia families. But they’ve all learned that too much greed can be lethal. Huge, citywide and statewide rackets like the “Concrete Club,” the garbage hauling “association" and others are cartelized among the families to prevent jealousy and the fighting that inevitably accompanies it. Sometimes all five will participate. In some cases, the family that launched the big racket will invite another family to participate. That’s a way of messaging the other three families: “We’re sharing this racket—and if you try to muscle in, you’ll be fighting two families, not just one.” But to hog the racket would be fatal.

Case in point: Carmine Galante, the one-time pretender to the Bonanno throne, irritated lots of high-ranking Mafiosi with his coarseness and his bragging (threatening to “make Carlo Gambino s**t in the street”). But his unforgivable sin was to create a huge heroin pipeline from Sicily, and a distribution network in America (the “pizza connection”)—and he refused to share it with the other families. The Commission sanctioned a hit on him. Arrivederci, Lilo.

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