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The Five Families originated out of New York City Sicilian Mafia gangs. They were formally organized in the summer of 1931 by Salvatore Maranzano after the April 15, 1931, murder of Giuseppe Masseria, in what has become known as the Castellammarese War. Maranzano also introduced the now-familiar Mafia hierarchy: boss (capofamiglia), underboss (sotto capo), advisor (consigliere), captain (caporegime), soldier (soldato), and associate; and declared himself capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses). By declaring himself "boss of bosses," Maranzano reneged on the deal he had made with Lucky Luciano. In that deal, it was agreed that after Luciano was to help murder Masseria, the two bosses were to be equals. When Maranzano was murdered just months after Masseria on September 10, 1931, the "boss of bosses" position was eliminated in favor of The Commission, a council which demarcated territory among the previously warring factions and governs American Mafia activities in the United States and Canada.
The Five Families were publicly named in the 1963 Valachi hearings based on their bosses at the time: Tommy Lucchese, Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Bonanno and the recently deceased Joseph Profaci. For the most part the names stuck, but the "Profaci family" would be renamed the "Colombo family", as a reference to boss Joseph Colombo.
Mafia boss succession
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- 1931 – Salvatore "Caesar" Maranzano is murdered at the end of the Castellamarese War, and underboss Joseph "Don Peppino" Bonanno takes over his family.
- 1979 – After a major power struggle, which involved Joe Bonanno's forced retirement by the Commission and the assassination of acting boss Carmine "Lilo" Galante, Philip "Rusty" Rastelli becomes boss.
- 1991 – Rastelli dies of cancer and underboss Joseph Massino becomes boss. Massino eventually changes the family's name to the Massino crime family.
- 2003–2004 – Massino is arrested and convicted of racketeering and murder charges. Massino became a federal witness, testifying against 60 fellow mobsters, so acting bosses Anthony "Tony Green" Urzo and Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso, both of whom were themselves jailed, controlled the family briefly.
- 2005–present – Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano moves up from acting boss to become boss. Authorities contend that Basciano continues to lead the family from prison in Colorado, where he is serving two life sentences for murder convictions in 2006 and 2011.
- 1931 – Joseph Profaci has his Brooklyn-based gang formally recognized as a family.
- 1962 – Profaci dies of cancer, and underboss Joseph Magliocco succeeds him.
- 1964 – Magliocco is forced to retire after taking part in Bonanno's plot to take over the Commission. Joseph Colombo becomes new boss with Commission support and changes the family's name.
- 1971 – Colombo is shot and paralyzed at a civil rights rally he organized. Colombo's activism drew unwanted publicity and attention towards the Mafia, and made other Mafia leaders, such as Carlo Gambino, uneasy. The first rally Colombo organized attracted over 50,000 people with Gambino's support; the second rally barely drew 10,000 people without Gambino's blessing. It was theorized that the Commission authorized Colombo's murder to take pressure off of the Mob. The most likely candidate, though, was Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo.
- 1972 – Carmine "the Snake" Persico becomes the new boss.
- 1986 – Persico is convicted on racketeering charges and sentenced to life in prison.
- 1986–2004 – Persico tries to run the family from prison until his son, Alphonse "Little Allie Boy" Persico, can succeed him. Persico's son is convicted and put in jail.
- 1931 – Vincent Mangano becomes boss of the newly formed Mangano crime family.
- 1951 – Mangano disappears, presumably murdered by underboss Albert "the Executioner" Anastasia. With Commission support, Anastasia then assumes title of boss, and the family assumes his name. Vito Genovese, underboss of the Luciano family, believed that Anastasia had broken a cardinal Mafia rule by murdering Mangano. However, war was avoided between the two families due to the efforts of Joe Bonanno. Genovese still resented Anastasia, though, and Genovese would cultivate the sympathies of Anastasia's underboss Carlo Gambino.
- 1957 – Anastasia is assassinated by gunmen in a barber shop, with Genovese and Gambino being prime suspects for orchestrating the murder. Gambino takes over as boss, and the family assumes his name.
- 1976 – Gambino dies of a heart attack; he is succeeded as boss by his brother-in-law "Big" Paul Castellano.
- 1985 – Castellano is gunned down and John Gotti, the man responsible for planning Castellano's assassination, becomes boss.
- 2002 – Gotti dies of cancer in prison after being convicted of RICO charges in 1992. His brother, Peter, succeeds him as boss.
- 2003–2004 – Peter Gotti is convicted on racketeering charges.
- 2011 – Sicilian mobster Domenico Cefalu is appointed boss in a return to tradition.
- 1931 – Joe "The Boss" Masseria is murdered at the end of the Castellammarese War after his underboss, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, secretly betrays him. Luciano takes over the family.
- 1937 – Luciano is convicted of compulsory prostitution charges; succeeded by Frank "the Prime Minister" Costello.
- 1957 – Costello goes into retirement after a failed assassination attempt orchestrated by Vito Genovese. Genovese then replaces Costello and renames the family. Genovese's motive for removing Costello had to do with the fact that Genovese was Luciano's underboss and, in his mind, the rightful heir to Luciano's position. Genovese, however, fled to Italy to evade murder charges, making him an unsuitable candidate for the title of boss, which left Luciano no choice but to bestow the title on Costello.
- 1969 – Genovese dies in prison still as boss after being convicted of narcotics trafficking charges in 1959, and Philip "Benny Squint" Lombardo becomes new Genovese boss.
- 1980s – Lombardo retires and is replaced by Vincent "Chin" Gigante, the man who attempted to assassinate Frank Costello in 1957.
- 1997–2005 – Gigante is convicted on racketeering charges and dies in prison.
- 1922 – Gaetano "Tommy" Reina.
- 1930 – Bonaventura "Joseph" Pinzolo takes over after Reina is murdered on February 26.
- 1930 – Tommy Gagliano assumes the position as boss after the murder of Pinzolo on September 5.
- 1951 – A very ill Gagliano appoints his underboss, Tommy "Three-Finger Brown" Lucchese, as the new leader and the family adopts his name.
- 1967 – Lucchese dies of a brain tumor, temporarily leaving the family leaderless. The Commission selects Carmine Tramunti to fill in as acting boss until the leading candidate for the position of boss, Anthony Corallo, was released from prison.
- 1970 – Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo becomes the new boss. Some contend that the position was not formalized until 1973, when Tramunti was imprisoned, and that between 1970 and 1973, Tramunti remained family boss, but only in name, with Corallo actually in control.
- 1986 – Corallo implicates himself and many other mobsters in recorded conversations. He is convicted of RICO charges, along with top mobsters of the Genovese, Gambino, and Colombo families, and sentenced to life in prison. Before being incarcerated, Corallo selected Vittorio "Little Vic" Amuso and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso as the two candidates most deserving of the title of boss.
- 1987 – Amuso becomes boss after being nominated by Casso, but Casso, as underboss, is viewed as the man who makes important decisions and has control of the family.
- 1992 – Amuso is sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of racketeering charges.
- 1998 – Casso is sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering and murder charges. Louis "Louie Bagels" Daidone becomes acting boss.
- 2004 – When acting boss Daidone is convicted on murder charges and with Daidone's successor Steven "Wonderboy" Crea beginning a two-to-six year term for state charges, Amuso appoints a "Ruling Panel" of senior capos (Aniello "Neil" Migliore, Matthew "Matt" Madonna and Joseph "Joey Dee" DiNapoli) to control the family.
- 2006 – Crea is released from prison after 34 months, but is precluded by the terms of his probation from associating with the mob again until 2009.
- 2009 – Ruling Panel members Madonna and DiNapoli are indicted on labor racketeering, illegal gambling, and extortion charges, leaving Migliore reputedly the most powerful mobster in the family.
- 2012 – Amuso resigns as boss from prison and Crea is named to succeed him.
- Bonanno: boss – Michael Mancuso 
- Colombo: boss – Carmine Persico, (acting boss – Andrew Russo)
- Gambino: boss – Domenico Cefalu
- Genovese: boss – unknown, (acting boss: Daniel Leo)
- Lucchese: boss – Steven Crea
The Five Families operate throughout the New York Metropolitan area, but mainly within New York City's five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. In the state of New York the families have increased their criminal rackets in Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk) and the counties of Westchester, Rockland and Albany. The Five Families maintain a strong presence in the state of New Jersey. The crime families are also active in South Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Las Vegas.
- The Bonanno crime family operates mainly in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island. The family also maintains influence in Manhattan, The Bronx, Westchester County, New Jersey, California, Florida and have ties to the Montreal Mafia in Quebec.
- Bath Avenue Crew operated in Bensonhurst Brooklyn in New York.
- The Colombo crime family operates mainly in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. The family also maintains influence in Staten Island, Manhattan, The Bronx, New Jersey and Florida.
- The Gambino crime family operates mainly in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and Long Island. The family also maintains influence in The Bronx, New Jersey, Westchester County, Connecticut, Florida and Los Angeles.
- The Ozone Park Boys operate in Queens and Long Island
- The Genovese crime family operates mainly in Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn and New Jersey. The family also maintains influence in Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester County, Rockland County, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida.
- The Lucchese crime family operates mainly in The Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. The family also maintains influence in Queens, Long Island, Staten Island, Westchester County and Florida.
Factual and fictional details of the history of the Five Families have been used in a vast array of media, specifically;
- The 1972 film The Godfather, the Five Families are represented by the Godfather Five Families, namely the Corleones, the Tattaglias, the Barzinis, the Cuneos and the Straccis.
- In the HBO series The Sopranos, the DiMeo crime family (based on the DeCavalcante family from New Jersey) works with the Lupertazzi crime family of Brooklyn, one of the five families in New York.
- In the video game series Grand Theft Auto, the Five Families are represented by the Leone, Sindacco and Forelli families. In Grand Theft Auto IV, the Five Families are represented by the Gambetti, Ancelotti, Messina, Pavano and Lupisella.
- Capeci, Jerry (2004). The Complete Idiot's Guide To The Mafia (2nd ed.). New York: Alpha Books. pp. 48–49. ISBN 1-59257-305-3.
- Raab, p. 186
- Raab, Selwyn. (2006). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press. pp. 732–734. ISBN 978-0-312-36181-5.
- "Jerry Capeci: Mob Murder In Montreal Could Trigger Bloodshed In New York". Huffingtonpost.com. 2010-01-11. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
- COLOMBO ORGANIZED CRIME FAMILY ACTING BOSS, UNDERBOSS, AND TEN OTHER MEMBERS AND ASSOCIATES INDICTED (archived from the original[dead link] on 2010-05-27), U.S. Department of Justice, June 4, 2008.
- "Sicilian Wiseguy Domenico Cefalu becomes Boss of the Gambino crime family once ruled by Gottis." June 29, 2011, Five Families of New York City.
- The Changing Face of Organized in New Jersey A Status Report. May 2004. (pg 105–114)
- "New Charges for Mob Family as U.S. Indictment Names 20", New York Times April 20, 2001
- Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York, N.Y.: St. Martins Press, 2006.