Camorra in New York

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The Brooklyn Camorra or New York Camorra is a term for a loose grouping of early-20th century organized crime groups that formed among Italian immigrants originating in Napoli living in Greater New York, particularly in Brooklyn.[1] In the early 20th century the criminal underworld of New York City consisted mainly of East Harlem-based Sicilians and groups of Neapolitans from Brooklyn, sometimes referred to as the Brooklyn Camorra, as Neapolitan organized crime was called the Camorra.[1] The substantial population of the New York Italian community offered plentiful economic opportunities. At the turn of the century, some 500,000 Italians, mainly originating from the impoverished southern regions of Italy, lived in New York City and had to survive in difficult social and economic circumstances.[2][3]

Italian immigration “made fortunes for speculators and landlords, but it also transformed the neighborhood into a kind of human ant heap in which suffering, crime, ignorance and filth were the dominant elements,” according to historian Arrigo Petacco.[3] According to sociologist Humbert S. Nelli: “New York’s Italian community offered a lucrative market for illicit activities, particularly gambling and prostitution. It also provided a huge market for products from the homeland and from the West Coast, such as artichokes and olive oil, the distribution of which the criminal elements attempted to control.”[2]

Early crime bosses[edit]

The cheap labour needed for the expansion of capitalism of that time was made available by the scores of poor Italian immigrants. Like earlier immigrant generations a few Sicilians and Neapolitans engaged in criminal activities to succeed, employing the crime traditions from their original Italian home regions.[3] One of the prominent crime bosses was Enrico Alfano, who became one of the principal underworld targets of police sergeant Joseph Petrosino, the head of the Italian Squad of the New York City Police Department.[4] Another prominent criminal boss around 1910-15 was Giosue Gallucci, the undisputed King of Little Italy born in Naples, who employed Neapolitan and Sicilian street gangs as his enforcers for the Italian lottery or numbers game and enjoyed functional immunity from law enforcement through his political contacts.[2][3]

Apart from them there were different Camorra gangs in New York. The gangs had their roots in the Neapolitan Camorra, but most members were American born.[1] The two New York based Camorra groups were the Neapolitan Navy Street gang headed by Alessandro Vollero and Leopoldo Lauritano, and the Neapolitan Coney Island gang under the command of Pellegrino Morano who ran his activities from his Santa Lucia restaurant in Coney Island. They initially worked together against the Morello crime family from Italian Harlem for control of the New York rackets. Eventually they were decimated when their own members turned against them.[5]

Mafia-Camorra War[edit]

The fight over the control of the New York rackets is known as the Mafia–Camorra War and started after the killing of Giosue Gallucci and his son on May 17, 1915.[2][6] The violence and string of murders prompted a reaction from the authorities. Police convinced Ralph Daniello to testify against his former associates of the Brooklyn Navy Street gang. He provided evidence about 23 murders.[7] Several Grand Juries issued 21 indictments in November 1917.[5][8][9]

The trials in 1918 entirely dismantled the Navy Street gang. Testimonies of their own associates destroyed the internal protection against law enforcement they once enjoyed. The demise of the gangs meant the end of the Camorra in New York and the rise in power of their rivals, the American-based Sicilian Mafia groups.[5] At the trials, some criminals involved depicted the Navy Street and Coney Island gangs as "Camorra" and used "Mafia" to identify the groups from East Harlem.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Critchley, The Origin of Organized Crime in America, p. 105
  2. ^ a b c d Nelli, The Business of Crime, pp. 129-31
  3. ^ a b c d Abadinsky, Organized Crime, pp. 81-82
  4. ^ Romano, Italian Americans in Law Enforcement, p. 45
  5. ^ a b c The Struggle for Control,
  6. ^ Father and Son Shot, The New York Times, May 18, 1915
  7. ^ Confession May Clear 23 Feud Murders, The New York Times, November 28, 1917
  8. ^ a b Nelli, The Business of Crime, pp. 133-134
  9. ^ Indict Twelve In Murder Conspiracy, The New York Times, December 1, 1917