The Cleveland Mafia: Death of a don ignites Bomb City, USA

For decades, John Scalish ran the Cleveland mafia like a well-oiled machine. His sudden death 40 years ago unleashed one of the biggest outbreaks of mob violence in American history -- when the city became known as Bomb City, U.S.A. (The Plain Dealer)
By John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The best mobsters weren't movie stars.  Fame and attention were the last things they wanted. It could lead to early grave or a life behind bars.
Cleveland mob boss John Scalish was smart enough to avoid the trappings of fame and attention, not to mention wily enough to avoid getting whacked or getting busted and rotting away in the pen.
Yes, the don who was born and raised in the East 110th Street and Kinsman Road neighborhood ended up living in a spacious house in Pepper Pike. Yes, he enjoyed la dolce vita -– er, rather, the American Dream.
But Scalish also kept a low-profile. Few knew much about the underworld figure and head of the Cleveland La Cosa Nostra.
Even his death –- 40 years ago, on May 26, 1976 –- was pretty regular: He died of a bad heart, like any other stiff. His funeral at Calvary Cemetery was officiated by three priests and attended by 250 mourners -– well-dressed, in suits, most arriving in Cadillacs.
There was no mention of his line of work in the eulogy. There were no photos taken at the funeral and none ran in a Plain Dealer story that was buried on the obituary page -– Page 6, Section Two. In death as in life, Scalish's photo rarely appeared in the paper. You'd be hard-pressed to find it anywhere.
But what followed over the next months was front page news, in The Plain Dealer and around the country, and it came with photos and photos of wreckage. The death of Scalish led to one of the biggest outbreaks of mob violence in American history.
In 1976, the city became known as Bomb City, U.S.A. -– thanks to a mob war that resulted in 37 bombings that took place in Cuyahoga County, including 21 in Cleveland.
That year, the Browns finished in third place in the AFC Central. The Indians finished fourth in the AL East. But Cleveland was No. 1 in America in car bombs, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
"Cleveland had the best burglars, thieves and safe crackers in the country," says James Willis, a Cleveland attorney who specialized in representing organized crime figures. "I know, I represented a lot of them."
There were reasons other than Cleveland's home-grown "talent" that explained the rise in bombings, however.
"When John Scalish died, there was a battle for power in Cleveland," says author Rick Porrello, whose book "To Kill the Irishman" was made into a 2011 film starring Christopher Walken, Paul Sorvino and Val Kilmer. "That's when all hell broke loose."
Hell came with many players, most notably Irish mobster and government informant Danny Greene on one side and Scalish's successor James T. Licavoli on the other.
Their battle for control over the Cleveland rackets resulted in a series of car bombings, culminating with the 1977 murder of Greene.
Licavoli had free rein of Cleveland. Well, for two months -– until he was arrested in connection with Greene's death by the FBI, which found an 18-inch knife in his cane.
"I managed to get him acquitted of the charges the first two times we went to trial," says Willis, who was Licavoli's lawyer to the end. "The third time wasn't a charm."
In 1982, he was tried under federal RICO charges and convicted and sentenced to seventeen years imprisonment, leaving the Cleveland mob in a free fall.
He was done in by informants -– the kind of rats that Scalish always worried about years earlier. His attempts to safeguard against them ended up weakening the mob.
"Scalish was no John Gotti," says Porrello, referring to the flamboyant and outspoken New York crime boss. "He knew that the mob was a secret organization and that in order for it to be effective you couldn't bring attention to it."
Scalish -– aka "The Big Boy" -– enjoyed a 32-year reign that was by far the longest of any area boss. During that time, he oversaw the rise of the Cleveland family that at its peak had 60 made men.
In 1950, he set up gangster Moe Dalitz in Las Vegas, at the legendary Desert Inn, putting the Cleveland mob in the middle of skimming operations. On his watch, the mob became engaged in loansharking, gambling and labor unions, and forged ties with the Jewish mob.
The seeds for the Cleveland mob's demise were sown as organized crime was at its peak, in 1957, when the American mafia held the Apalachin Meeting. The summit of more than 100 mobsters from America, Italy and Cuba took place in Apalachin, New York. The meeting addressed a variety of subjects: gambling, narcotics, loansharking and territories.
Cleveland was represented by Scalish and his consigliere, John DeMarco. The high-profile meeting was busted by New York state troopers, when they noticed a suspicious number of expensive cars from out of state converging on the small town.
Some of the mobsters were arrested and some taken in for questioning, including Scalish and DeMarco.
Scalish refused to talk, taking the Fifth Amendment even when he was asked for his wife's maiden name.
"My Lord, is it that bad? Are you ashamed of your wife?" he was asked, according to a July 3, 1958 article in The Plain Dealer.
"I respectfully decline to answer," said Scalish, "on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me."
Scalish was charged and sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring to keep silent about the meeting, but the conviction was overturned by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The headlines resulting from the meeting did, however, make mob activities a priority for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had seen communism as the bigger domestic threat in the 1950s. It also exposed Scalish's ties to the Teamsters, after police found that his car was registered to a cigarette vending company.
People started asking...
"Who is John Scalish? Even Policemen Differ," read a 1958 headline of a Plain Dealer story that ran on page 18.
"Who is John Scalish? What part does this enigmatic personality play in the underworld? You can ask these questions of a dozen veteran policemen and get about that many different answers," went the story.
"Scalish became increasingly secretive and stopped bringing in new members in the 1950s and '60s," says Porrello, who is currently the Lyndhurst chief of police. "And so the Cleveland mob lost its middle management."
Like a handful of other Cleveland kingpins, he moved out of the city to quiet Pepper Pike and into a 10-room, two-story home that resembles the Corleone's Lake Tahoe house in "The Godfather Part II." Under Scalish, the Cleveland mob even saw the marrying of sisters of members to other members, another sign of its growing insularity.
He refrained from ruling with an iron fist, however. Scalish was tolerant of bookies and other racketeers working on the fringes and even outside of the mob, all in the name of keeping the peace.
All good, until he died unexpectedly when he went in to have heart surgery on May 26.
"The problem is Scalish didn't have a plan of succession set up," says Porrello,
Scalish allegedly told his treasurer Milton "Maishe" Rockman -– who was the mob's connection to Teamsters president Jackie Presser -- that he wanted Licavoli to take his place.
The move took the underworld by surprise.
"No one thought it would be Licavoli," says Porrello. "He was already an old man, a bachelor and walked around with a cane."
"Jack White," who was 72 at time of his promotion, was more of a grandfatherly figure than a mobster to the residents of Little Italy, where he lived in a modest home and often walked around greeting kids as they played ball.
Nardi, a Cleveland drug and arms trafficker who was angry that he wasn't chosen by Scalish, saw weakness and smelled blood. Wreckage ensued.
He teamed up with Greene, who rose to power in the 1960s when he muscled into the International Longshoreman's Association. Green became involved in the numbers racket working for notorious racketeer Shondor Birns.
The Irish mobster later became a suspect in the 1975 car bombing that claimed Birns' life, which came in response to a botched Birns-ordered hit on Greene. Birns' death put Greene in control of gambling rackets and a partnership with Nardi against Licavoli.
As if the bombings didn't bring enough publicity, there was the flamboyant Greene going on TV to taunt his enemies and boast that he was alive and well -– even after multiple murder attempts.
After a numbers of failed attempts, the family finally got Nardi –- with a car bomb in May 1977. Greene was next, also via car bomb, on Oct. 6, 1977.
Greene's death put an end to his taunts, but it paved the way for the feds, who were forced to confront the mob control of Cleveland after months of high-profile violence.
"The mob had hooks into City Hall and banks and institutional activities -– a vast control of many aspects of life in the city," says Dennis Kucinich, who took over as Cleveland's mayor in 1977, as mob violence was reaching its climax. "The escalation in gang violence was far from a signal of the end of the mob; it was the mob expressing the hold it had on the city at the time.
"They had the vending machine business and were involved in the waste-hauling contracts, corporate pursuits, a number of things," says Kucinich. "Trying to separate them from the public trough was a daunting challenge."
Kucinich became a target of the mob, according to a 1984 Senate inquiry into organized crime activities. The plot involved taking the mayor out during a 1978 Columbus Day parade -– payback for his attempts to crack down on organized crime.
Kucinich missed the parade that day because he was hospitalized with an ulcer. There was also an alleged plot to take him out at Tony's Diner, a West Side spot where he was a regular.
The hit on Kucinich was alleged to have been organized by Thomas "The Chinaman" Sinito, a capo who lead a crew of soldiers in the Cleveland family. He recruited help from Maryland.
"All around the country, Cleveland was known as the bombing capital of the America, and all these things were happening out in the open," Kucinich adds. "They took it so far and the system finally caught up with them."
Just as the FBI organized crime efforts were getting stronger, the Cleveland mob was descending into anarchy.
"Licavoli made millions in gambling, but hadn't been involved in running an organization," says Porrello. "He was an old mobster, and the culture around him was changing."
"You had young guys coming in with no sense of loyalty," adds Porrello. "So when the feds started infiltrating with informants and witness security, you'd have all these people talking."
On top of all that came the drugs -– and the even shabbier characters they attracted.
"It was like 'Goodfellas,'" says Porrello, referring to Martin Scorsese's 1990 mob classic. "It's all going good and everyone's making money and then they get into drugs, and the next thing is they're robbing drug dealers and dealing with people on drugs and they're doing drugs and everything falls apart."
The once-insular, secretive circle of Scalish had become a sinking ship full of rats. Or as Licavoli famously told informant Jimmy "the Weasel" Fratianno:
"Sometimes, you know, I think this (expletive) outfit of ours is like the old Communist party in this country. It's getting so that there's more (expletive) spies in it than members."

Mobsters in the News: Gotti Underboss Fights for Audiotapes He Says Prov...

Mobsters in the News: Gotti Underboss Fights for Audiotapes He Says Prov...: By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.MAY 6, 2016 One evening in December 1989, John Gotti had a conversation with his acting underboss, Frank Locas...

Gotti Underboss Fights for Audiotapes He Says Prove He Didn’t Plot Murder

One evening in December 1989, John Gotti had a conversation with his acting underboss, Frank Locascio, about murdering a troublesome underling in the Gambino crime family who had failed to show up to a meeting.
“Louie DiBono,” Mr. Gotti said. “You know why he’s dying? He’s gonna die because he refused to come in when I called. He didn’t do nothing else wrong.”
Mr. Locascio predicted Mr. DiBono would be bringing Mr. Gotti a large sum of cash the next day. “But I wouldn’t take nothing,” the crime boss answered, affirming in colorful language that Mr. DiBono’s days were numbered.
That taped conversation, along with the testimony of the family’s third-in-command, Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, was enough to convict Mr. Locascio of conspiring to murder Mr. DiBono, who met his end violently in a parking garage 10 months later. Mr. Locascio receiveda life sentence for murder and racketeering.
For years, Mr. Locascio, who is 83, has insisted that he tried to talk Mr. Gotti out of killing Mr. DiBono. He claims he tried to broker a deal that Mr. DiBono would pay Mr. Gotti $50,000 to make peace.
And he contends the same audiotapes used to convict him, if enhanced with modern digital techniques, would prove he is right. Many of his words are inaudible during the conversation with Mr. Gotti, swallowed up in music and background noise.
Having exhausted his other avenues of appeal, Mr. Locascio is now locked in a legal battle with the federal government over access to two of the tapes, which were sealed by Judge I. Leo Glasser in 1998. He has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in Washington seeking to force the Federal Bureau of Investigation to hand over the tapes so his audio expert may analyze them with digital tools.
He faces more than legal obstacles. Justice Department lawyers said in February that the original seven inch reel-to-reel recordings made by F.B.I. agents had been damaged beyond repair when Hurricane Sandy flooded the agency’s storage facility in New Jersey. In court papers, the Justice Department has also said officials searched the 151 boxes of records from the trial and could not find copies of the two tapes Mr. Locascio is seeking.
Even if undamaged copies of the recordings are located, the Justice Department contends it does not have to release them under the FOIA, according to court papers. Though the tapes were played in court and the transcripts have been published in a book, they are now under seal and are no longer in the public domain, the government argued in court filings.
Complicating matters, F.B.I. officials in Washington handed over a redacted copy of one of the tapes on a compact disc in late March, only to ask for it back a few days later, saying they had made a mistake. On Monday, prosecutors went into Federal District Court in Brooklyn and asked Judge Glasser to order Mr. Locascio’s lawyers to return the CD.
The suit is the latest in a long series of unsuccessful attempts by Mr. Locascio’s lawyers to get a new trial. Judge Glasser and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit have repeatedly upheld his conviction — five times.
In 2011, Judge Glasser also rejected Mr. Locascio’s request to unseal the tapes, noting that his lawyers were given copies of the original recordings at trial. The judge said he had ruled against Mr. Locascio at trial when he tried to call on an audio expert to interpret the tapes for the jury. That ruling still stood, he wrote.
“This is a thinly disguised effort to re-litigate a ruling made during the trial upon which Locascio and his counsel can only be described as fixated,” he wrote.
Mr. Locascio’s lawyer, Ruth M. Liebesman, said Mr. Locascio should be able to analyze the original tapes with modern audio techniques, just as other defendants have been allowed to re-examine old DNA evidence with advanced technology. “Why shouldn’t we be able to do that with tapes as well?” she said.
The recordings were made with a bug placed in an older woman’s apartment above the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street in Little Italy in Manhattan, where Mr. Gotti held court. The jury never heard the original reel-to-reel recordings. Copies were made on cassettes, and the originals were put back in the F.B.I.’s safe at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan, an agent, George Gabriel, testified.
The agent also testified the tapes had not been enhanced or altered before the jury heard them, a contention Mr. Locascio’s audio expert disputes.
Even if Mr. Locascio obtains the original tapes and can tease out a clearer recording of his words by digitally filtering out distortion and background noise, he is unlikely to persuade the courts to grant him a new trial. For starters, Mr. Gravano testified that no murders were committed without the agreement of both Mr. Gotti and Mr. Locascio.
The jury also seemed to be persuaded by an F.B.I. agent’s testimony that the December 1989 conversation between Mr. Gotti and Mr. Locascio showed the decision to kill Mr. DiBono had already been made, and no payment he might make would change the plan. Judge Glasser highlighted this point in a 2005 opinion denying Mr. Locascio a new trial.
In a 2011 affidavit supporting his request to unseal the tapes, Mr. Locascio remembered things differently. “It is my clear recollection that, after telling Gotti that ‘I predict that he’s going to bring you fifty,’ I told Gotti, in sum and substance, to take the money and forget about his anger with DiBono,” he said, adding: “I had nothing to do with the DiBono’s murder.”
For Mr. Locascio, time is growing short. Had he been convicted only of racketeering, the maximum sentence would have been 20 years and he would now be free. But the murder conviction means he will die in prison, just as John Gotti did in 2002.
Mr. Locascio is incarcerated in a prison hospital, the Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, Mass. To pay legal bills, his family has sold an upstate horse farm he owned. He uses a wheelchair, has emphysema and cannot stand on his own. Most days, Mr. Locascio maintains an old street tough’s optimism about his chances of release, despite the long odds, his nephew, also named Frank Locascio, said. Other days are darker.
“I only heard him down in one visit,” his nephew said. “He was saying ‘I’m the little fish in the fish tank and the water’s evaporating.’”

Committee Rejects Philly Mob Boss' Home As Historical Landmark


Angelo Bruno, Philadelphia's mob boss in the 1960s and 1970s, was killed by a shotgun blast in 1980 as he sat in a car in front of his house on 934 Snyder Avenue.
The grisly story is no doubt a point of fascination for Mafia aficionados, but it wasn't enough to land the address on Philadelphia's list of historical designations.
On Thursday, a historical landmark advisory board committee said the home of the mobster known as the "Gentle Don" was not significant enough to merit the landmark status, reports Bobby Allyn with NPR member station WHYY.
Author Celeste Morello nominated the home for inclusion on the designated list last month, positing that Bruno was an important historical figure, whose underworld dealing helped shape the way police tracked and prosecuted organized crime.
"And it's an interesting story, and the history affects all of us," Morello said, according to Allyn's February feature on the home.
"If Bruno didn't do things to make law enforcement notice him, I doubt that Philadelphia would have been one of the first organized-crime law enforcement units with a 'strike force' in the country," she said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
The logic sounds like a joke to David Fritchey, the recently retired chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force in the U.S. Attorney's Office. The newspaper wrote:
"[He] burst out in laughter last week when the Daily News informed him that Bruno's house could become a landmark.
" 'That's a little unorthodox,' he said. 'It's not like he was William Penn or Ben Franklin.'
"Bruno, who ran the Philadelphia mob through the 1960s and 1970s, was a shrewd businessman with a reputation for preferring diplomacy over violence - at least compared with bloodthirsty Nicodemo 'Little Nicky' Scarfo, who took over as mob boss in 1981.
" 'That's sort of like saying the Visigoths were nicer than the Huns,' Fritchey said of Bruno. 'He had his share of bodies.' "
At the hearing, Morello said Bruno's FBI file is part of the John F. Kennedy assassination record, and includes transcripts of conversations in which Bruno says he wanted the president killed.
"That's big. That is very significant," Morello said, according to Allyn, who reported that the committee was skeptical of Morello's reasoning:
"Committee member John Farnham said the nomination presented 'a serious of temporal coincidences involving Bruno and law enforcement developments, but doesn't really ever provide any direct link between Bruno and those developments.'
"Farnham further contended, 'Bruno may be notorious and infamous, but he is not necessarily a person of significance.'
"To that, Bruno's daughter, Jeanne Bruno, sitting in the front row of public seating, objected with an interruption.
" 'Excuse me,' Bruno said. 'I don't like the word infamous, not with my father. They could never prove murder or anything. He was against that.' "
The Mafia chief's 74-year-old daughter who still lives in the family home, said she would consider the designation "an honor" and wondered if it would warrant any tax breaks, according to The Associated Press.
The Daily News writes that other cities have historically designated buildings with certain shady histories, but not to honor criminals:
"Damaris Olivo, spokeswoman for New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the city has some landmarks associated with unsavory characters 'but that's not the reason why they were designated.'
"Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of Chicago's Department of Planning and Development, said its city council had given landmark status to buildings affiliated with gangsters such as Al Capone (the Lexington Hotel) and John Dillinger (the Biograph Theater). But, as in New York, those mob ties didn't play a role in the designation, he said.
" 'A person's affiliation with the underworld is not considered a significant contribution to the development of the city,' Strazzabosco said."
Morello, who wrote a biography of Bruno in 2005 called Before Bruno and How He Became Boss, is undeterred in her quest for recognition for the late gangster and his former home.
Allyn says Morello asked if she could "resubmit the application" with a stronger argument.
Committee member Jeffrey Cohen, a Bryn Mawr College professor of architectural history, said "I don't think you see a lot of encouragement here."

‘Adopted son’ of crime boss John Gotti claims credit for FBI raid on ex-deputy’s home

John Gotti must be spinning in his coffin.
The late Gambino crime boss’ so-called “adopted son” Lewis Kasman is claiming credit for the FBI raiding the Florida home of a former deputy sheriff on Monday.
A spokesman for the Miami office of the FBI confirmed a search warrant was executed, but declined further comment.
But Kasman, 59, bragged to The Daily News that he had secretly recorded the ex-deputy, Mark Dougan, for the authorities in Florida.
“I did it because it was the right thing to do,” Kasman said, claiming that he suspected Dougan might be planning to harm the current sheriff and deputy sheriff of Palm Beach.
Dougan laughed off Kasman’s assertions.
“He’s a f-----g wack job,” Dougan told The News. “I knew he was recording me. That was seven months ago. He kept setting his phone on the table with the microphone toward me. He's a moron.”
Dougan said the feds and the local authorities are after him because someone hacked the personal information of law enforcement officers and dumped it on a website he previously owned.
“Kasman doesn’t know what he’s talking about," he said.
Several years ago, the feds revealed that Kasman had been a deep undercover mole, passing along information to the FBI about the Gambino family and wearing a wire that picked up Gotti’s widow Victoria, his daughter Victoria, Jeffrey Lichtman, the lawyer for Gotti’s son John, and assorted mobsters.
Licthman was amused by Kasman's latest claim of fame.
“Lewis Kasman is the kind of guy who takes credit for the sun rising every morning," Lichtman said. “He’s also the kind of guy who secretly taped and attempted to entrap me, his own lawyer, at a courthouse urinal in the middle of a trial. ... My only regret in even providing this comment is that I'll be forced to decline ten of his phone calls tomorrow."
Kasman said he helped the Florida feds to "save lives," just as he did in the past when he heard the Gambinos were going after journalists and the warden of the prison where John Gotti was serving a life sentence.

“John Gotti wouldn't be spinning in his grave for me,” Kasman insisted. “He would be spinning because of his children and their behavior.”

Bonanno mobster Ronald Giallanzo back in prison after violating release terms with appearance at Staten Island mafia Christmas bash


 The party's over for a Bonanno gangster who was caught mingling with mobsters in violation of his supervised release.
Ronald Giallanzo, a made man and the nephew of acquitted Lufthansa airport robber Vincent Asaro, was sentenced Friday to a year and one day behind bars.
The jail term was an early Christmas present for Giallanzo, 45, who was caught on surveillance camera attending the Bonanno crime family's holiday party at Bocelli's restaurant on Staten Island in December as well as three other prohibited meetings with fellow gangsters, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsay Gerdes.
Giallanzo, convicted of racketeering and extortion in 2007, admitted that he was meeting with people on his "do not associate list" under the terms of his prison release.
Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who has presided over the criminal cases against scores of Bonannos, said he understands full well what goes on at mob get-togethers.
"Doesn't everyone have parties in December where they pass around envelopes of money?" he said sarcastically. "You think I just got off the boat from the South Sea islands and I don't know what's going on?"
Giallanzo and his infamous Uncle Vinnie both sport the same "Death Before Dishonor" tattoos.

The prosecutors were seeking a two year term while Giallanzo's lawyer argued for the same year-and-a-day sentence that capo John Palazzolo got last year for a similar violation. But Palazzolo got a break from Garaufis because the 77-year-old mobster was afflicted with a medical condition that rendered him unable to stop urinating.

Mobster U: Even the Mafia benefits from more school

Take a tip from the Mafia: It pays to stay in school.
Mobsters with more education enjoy significantly higher earnings, according to a new paper that digs into the history of Italian American organized crime. Just one extra year in school has typically increased a gangster’s income by about 8 per cent.
The authors of the paper – Nadia Campaniello of the University of Essex, Rowena Gray of the University of California at Merced and Giovanni Mastrobuoni of the University of Essex – want to make it clear that they’re not recommending lives of crime for PhD students. But their research, presented Monday at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in Brighton, Britain, does shed surprising light on the real-world value of school. Among other things, their findings suggest that hours spent in the classroom do generate tangible benefits later in life. That holds true even if your chosen profession happens to be on the wrong side of the law, where nobody cares if you got an A in calculus.
“The study is really about the payoff from education,” Prof. Mastrobuoni said in an interview. “We found that the extra earnings related to more years of schooling were quite large, especially in more sophisticated areas of crime.” Gangsters who engaged in more cerebral forms of larceny – fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion and counterfeiting – enjoyed an income bump of approximately 16 per cent for each additional year of education, according to the new research paper, entitled, “Did going to college help Michael Corleone?”
The starting point for the study were files compiled by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics that contained details about hundreds of Mafioso, or Mafia members, operating in 1960. “The FBN was really the first law-enforcement agency to systematically study mobsters,” Prof. Mastrobuoni said. “Back then, the FBI was busy tracking down Communists.”
The researchers painstakingly matched up the criminals listed in the old FBN files with people listed in the 1940 U.S. census, resulting in a sample of about 300 mobsters. Thanks to the census information, they could compare the criminals’ education levels, declared incomes and home values (or rent paid) against those of their non-Mafioso neighbours as well as against each other.
This rich data set also offered ingenious ways to circumvent gangsters’ propensity for not declaring all their income. The researchers could use both housing quality and neighbours’ incomes as guides to what the Mafioso were probably pulling in.
Over all, the results were clear: An extra year or two of education was linked to higher incomes for mobsters – much more so than for Italian immigrants in the legitimate U.S. economy. However, the payoff from education varied widely depending on what types of crime a mobster specialized in.
The lower-level Mafioso – the knee-cap breakers and hit men in the FBN files – derived relatively low returns to education that were roughly in keeping with those of Italian immigrants in the legal economy. In contrast, so-called business criminals, who engaged in white-collar crimes such as fraud, loan sharking and gambling, enjoyed much higher paybacks.
“These results are very consistent with our narrative that mobsters have surprisingly high returns to education because of the complex nature of the crimes and criminal network they are involved in,” the authors write.
To be sure, the results are based on findings from an era where many people didn’t finish high school. Moreover, they date from a time when ethnic discrimination was rampant, limiting the potential payoff from education in the legal job market.
However, there’s no reason to think that the payoff from education has disappeared for criminals, especially for those who operate in highly centralized hierarchies such as the Mafia, the researchers say.
“Many of the skills students acquire at school are likely to be useful when setting up a racket (i.e. extracting the optimal rent), a loan sharking business (i.e. weighing interest against default risk), a drug dealing system (i.e. setting up supply chains), etc.,” they write.
The bright spot, at least for law-abiding citizens, is that other research indicates more education also reduces a person’s risk of pursuing a life of crime in the first place.
“I like to think that the preventive effect of education is stronger than the effect we’re measuring in this study,” Prof. Mastrobuoni said.