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The crime 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 crime families were publicly named in the 1963 Valachi hearings based on their bosses at the time: Tommy Lucchese, Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Profaci and the recently deposed Joseph Bonanno. 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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- 1908 - Salvatore "Don Turridru" Bonanno, Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno's father, arrives in the United States and takes control of a gang of immigrants from Castellamare del Golfo in Williamsburg.
- 1911 - Salvatore Bonanno is forced to return to Italy after noticing that his gang was facing problems with rivals back home in Castellamare del Golfo. Vito Bonventre, his cousin and underboss, becomes boss.
- 1925 - Salvatore "Caesar" Maranzano, a recent arrival from Castellamare del Golfo, becomes the boss while Vito Bonventre steps down, becoming underboss. Nicola Schiro, the nominal head of the family, is in fact a front boss to Maranzano.
- 1930 - Nicola Schiro abruptly "disappears" after paying tribute to Masseria; later that year, Bonventre is killed by Masseria's gunmen, leaving Maranzano in charge of the family.
- 1931 – Maranzano is murdered at the end of the Castellamarese War, and underboss Joseph "Don Peppino" Bonanno takes over his family.
- 1964-1968 - Joe Bonanno is allegedly kidnapped by gunmen from the Buffalo crime family in October 1964 after his plot to take over the Commission was exposed. The commission then names Gaspar DiGregorio as the new boss but he was opposed by Bonanno's son Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno, splitting the family into rival factions. Little to no action takes place until a sitdown between Bill Bonanno and DiGregorio in early 1966 turned out to be an attempted hit on Bill Bonanno. DiGregorio is replaced by Paul Sciacca after botching the attempted hit on Bill Bonanno; Joe Bonanno emerges from hiding in May 1966 and tries to regain control of his family, but the family war, known as the Bananas War in the media, goes on until a heart attack forces Bonanno to retire to Tucson, AZ in 1968. Sciacca becomes the new boss after Bonanno's retirement.
- 1971 - Natale "Joe Diamond" Evola becomes boss after Paul Sciacca is indicted on heroin charges.
- 1973-1974 - Evola dies of cancer, and underboss Philip "Rusty" Rastelli is promoted to boss but he is jailed for racketeering in 1974. Carmine "Lilo" Galante, Joe Bonanno's former underboss, seizes control of the family despite no Commission backing, becoming the de facto street boss.
- 1979 – Philip Rastelli regains control of the family after Galante was killed on Commission orders, but the family is kicked off the Commission in the 1980s due to the constant infighting since Joe Bonanno's ouster in 1968, excessive narcotics trafficking and that an FBI agent named Donnie Brasco managed to infiltrate the family. However, being kicked off from the Commission allowed the Bonannos to avoid being indicted in the Mafia Commission Trial.
- 1991 – Rastelli dies of cancer and underboss Joseph Massino becomes boss. Massino eventually changes the family's name to the Massino crime family after he became displeased at former boss Joe Bonanno's tell-all book A Man of Honor.
- 2003-2004 – Massino is arrested and convicted of racketeering and murder charges in 2003. Facing the death penalty, Massino became a federal witness, testifying against 60 fellow mobsters, so capos Anthony "Tony Green" Urso and Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso, both of whom were themselves jailed, controlled the family briefly. Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano is becomes the new acting boss.
- 2004–2009 – Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano moves up from acting boss to become boss. Basciano is currently serving two life sentences in Colorado for a 2006 murder and a 2011 murder.
- 2009–2013 – Vincent "Vinny TV" Badalamenti, a Bonanno capo, becomes the new acting boss. Badalamenti is indicted in January 2012 along with other members. He was released on May 16, 2013.
- 2013–present – Imprisoned capo Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso becomes boss and Thomas DiFiore becomes his acting boss.
- 1931 – Joseph Profaci has his Brooklyn-based gang formally recognized as a family. Earlier in 1928, his gang gained portions of Frankie Yale's and Salvatore D'Aquila's territory in Brooklyn.
- 1962 – Profaci dies of cancer, and underboss Joseph Magliocco succeeds him.
- 1963 – Magliocco is forced to retire after taking part in Bonanno's plot to take over the Commission and dies shortly after retiring. 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. His activism drew unwanted publicity and attention towards the Mafia, and this made other Mafia leaders such as Carlo Gambino, uneasy. The first rally Colombo organized attracted over 50,000 people with Gambino's support, but 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 is sentenced to life imprisonment.
- 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.
- 1911 - Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila, a capo in the Morello family's Manhattan faction, breaks off to form his own gang. He also absorbs Alfred "Al Mineo" Manfredi's Brooklyn-based crew and makes him his underboss; D'Aquila also absorbs the remnants of the Brooklyn Camorra into his own family.
- 1928 - Alfred Manfredi, underboss to D'Aquila, becomes boss after D'Aquila is killed on orders of Joe Masseria.
- 1930 - Manfredi is gunned down on orders of Salvatore Maranzano; Frank Scalice, a Maranzano supporter, becomes boss.
- 1931 – Frank Scalice is ordered to step down by Lucky Luciano, and 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 becomes 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 gangs 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; before his death, Gambino names his brother-in-law & cousin "Big" Paul Castellano as his successor.
- 1985 – Castellano is gunned down outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan and John Gotti, the man responsible for planning Castellano's assassination, becomes boss.
- 1992 - Gotti is imprisoned for life on RICO charges. The family appoints a ruling panel of capos to handle daily affairs, with Gotti's son, John "Junior" Gotti becoming the acting boss.
- 1999 - John "Junior" Gotti is jailed on extortion charges; Peter Gotti, "Junior" Gotti's uncle, is promoted to acting 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–present – Peter Gotti steps down and Sicilian mobster Domenico Cefalù is appointed boss in a return to tradition.
- 1890s - Giuseppe Morello, a recent arrival from Corleone, Sicily, establishes the 107th Street gang, a forerunner to the modern-day Genovese crime family.
- 1909 - Morello is jailed for counterfeiting charges, and Nicholas "Nick" Terranova, his half-brother, is made boss.
- 1916 - Nick Terranova is killed by members of the Neapolitan Camorra, and his brother, Vincenzo Terranova becomes the boss.
- 1920 - Giuseppe Morello is released from prison, and Vicenzo Terranova steps down to becomes his underboss.
- 1922 - Vincent Terranova is gunned down by rivals linked to Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila; Giuseppe Morello steps down to become underboss to Joe "The Boss" Masseria.
- 1931 – 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; Frank "the Prime Minister" Costello, his consigliere, is named as acting boss.
- 1946 - Luciano is deported to Italy and is succeeded by Frank 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 in 1937, making him an unsuitable candidate for the title of boss, which left Luciano no choice but to bestow the title on Costello.
- 1959 - Genovese is convicted of narcotics trafficking, and gives day-to-day control of the family to Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo while ruling the family from prison.
- 1962 - Strollo disappears, presumably murdered on orders of Genovese after Genovese suspected that Strollo may have supported a plot to set up Genovese in a drug trafficking operation. Day-to-day operations of the family is passed on to a ruling panel/committee of capos, including Philip "Benny Squint" Lombardo and Thomas Eboli, who becomes the street boss.
- 1969 – Genovese dies in prison still as boss after being convicted of narcotics trafficking charges in 1959, and Philip Lombardo becomes the new Genovese boss. Lombardo uses a series of front bosses in the 1970s in an effort to divert law enforcement attention from him. Thomas Eboli, street boss for Vito Genovese since 1962, becomes the front boss.
- 1972 - Frank "Funzi" Tieri replaces Eboli as front boss after Eboli is killed on the Commission's order. Eboli had borrowed money from Carlo Gambino for a new drug racket but failed to repay Gambino back after the drug racket was busted by law enforcement. As a result, Gambino, with the backing of the Genovese family, ordered Eboli's death; it is also likely that Eboli was gunned down by his own family for this errant blunder.
- 1981 – Lombardo retires and is replaced by Vincent "Chin" Gigante, the man who attempted to assassinate Frank Costello in 1957. Gigante continues to use the front boss ruse used by Lombardo until 1987 while simultaneously pretending to be insane. Tieri dies while under RICO indictment in 1981 and is replaced by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno as front boss.
- 1987 - Gigante drops the front boss position after Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno is indicted in the Mafia Commission Trial.
- 1997 – Gigante is convicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges. While Gigante was imprisoned, a ruling committee/panel of capos handled the day-to-day affairs of the family.
- 2005/2008–2013 – Gigante dies in prison after being convicted of obstruction of justice in 2003. Loyal Genovese capo Daniel Leo leads the family as Acting Boss until his imprisonment.
- 1922 – Gaetano "Tommy" Reina, a capo in the Morello gang's East Harlem-Bronx faction, splits off to form his own crime family.
- 1930 – Bonaventura "Joseph" Pinzolo takes over as boss after Reina is murdered on February 26, only to be murdered by Tommy Gagliano on September 5. Joe Masseria bypassed Gagliano and installed Pinzolo as boss but Gagliano, feeling betrayed, secretly defected to Salvatore Maranzano and ordered Pinzolo's murder.
- 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.
- 1994 – Casso is sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering and murder charges; he then becomes a federal witness, testifying against Amuso but was thrown out of the witness protection program in 1998 for numerous infractions. 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 group.
- 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. Amuso continues to run the family while serving a life sentence; Steven Crea is promoted to acting boss.
- Bonanno: boss – Michael Mancuso  (Acting Boss - Thomas DiFiore)
- Colombo: boss – Carmine Persico, (Acting Boss – Andrew Russo)
- Gambino: boss - Domenico Cefalù 
- Genovese: boss – unknown, (Acting Boss: Daniel Leo)
- Lucchese: boss – Victor Amuso, (Acting Boss: Steven Crea)
The crime families operate throughout the New York Metropolitan area, but mainly within New York City's boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. In the state of New York the gangs have increased their criminal rackets in Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk) and the counties of Westchester, Rockland and Albany. They also maintain a strong presence in the state of New Jersey. The Five 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, Grand Rapids Michigan, 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.
In popular culture
Factual and fictional details of the history of the crime families have been used in a vast array of media, specifically;
- In the 1972 film The Godfather, the Five Families are represented by the Corleones, the Tattaglias, the Barzinis, the Cuneos and the Straccis.
- In the Nicholas Pileggi book Wiseguy and the 1990 film adaptation Goodfellas, the rise and fall of the Lucchese family is depicted over a twenty-five year period, told from the perspective of mobster Henry Hill.
- 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 crime families in New York.
- In the video game series Grand Theft Auto, the Five Families are represented by the Leone, Sindacco and Forelli criminal organizations. In Grand Theft Auto IV, the families are represented by the Gambetti, Ancelotti, Messina, Pavano and Lupisella.
- The HBO series Boardwalk Empire portrays the rise of Charles Luciano to power and his betrayal of both Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano which is the rise of the American Mafia.
- Harold Ramis' crime comedy Analyze This begins with a flashback to the 1957 "Big Meeting" of the Five Families in the wake of the assassination of Albert Anastasia.
- 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). criminal organized crime groups: 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 group 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.
- Marzulli, John (2011-07-29). "Wiseguy Sicilian Domenico Cefalu takes reins of Gambino crime family, once ruled by Gottis". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2012-02-25.
- The Changing Face of Organized in New Jersey A Status Report. May 2004. (pg 105–114)
- "New Charges for Mob group as U.S. Indictment Names 20", New York Times April 20, 2001
- Raab, Selwyn. 'Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York, N.Y.: St. Martins Press, 2006.