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In the American Mafia, a made man is a fully initiated member of the Mafia. Other common names for members include man of honor (Italian: uomo d'onore), goodfella, and wiseguy, though the last two can also apply to non-initiated associates who work closely with the Mafia. Earning or making one's "button," or become a "button man" for the Mafia, is usually synonymous for becoming a "made man." In Sicily, the proper term for a member of the Sicilian Mafia is in Italian uomo d'onore, or in Sicilian omu d'onuri. Mafioso is a common term used by the press and academics, but is not used by members themselves.
Traditionally, in the Italian-American Mafia, in order to become a true made man, the inductee had to be a male of full Italian (preferably Sicilian) descent. For example, famous Lucchese family associate Henry Hill, portrayed in the 1990 film Goodfellas, was unable to become a made man even though his mother was of Sicilian descent, as Hill's father was of Irish descent. Today, it is believed that the Italian-American Mafia has loosened this requirement so that males of half-Italian descent through their father's line can also be inducted. According to Salvatore Vitale, it was decided during a Commission meeting in 2000 to restore the rule requiring both parents to be Italian. However this rule was explicitly for the five families in New York. Because many third- and fourth-generation Italian Americans have non-Italian ancestry (due to the mixing of ethnic groups in the United States), having an Italian surname seems to have become the prerequisite for Mafia membership. Examples of made members who are not of full Italian descent include the son of Italian-American mobster John Gotti, John A. Gotti, whose maternal grandmother was of Russian descent; and Frank Salemme of the New England Patriarca crime family, whose mother was of Irish descent while his father was of Italian descent. In other cases, partially Italian-American associates have hidden their non-Italian heritage in order to become made men, such as Scarfo crime family soldier or made man Andrew Thomas DelGiorno, who managed to conceal his Polish heritage on his mother's side and was inducted into the Philadelphia Mafia. Some half-Italian associates of John Gotti that rose to a status close to that of a made man include Wilfred Johnson, half-Native American and half-Italian, and Ronald Jerothe, half-Italian on his mother's side, though both of these men were killed and subsequently never inducted into the Mafia.
An associate of a crime family who was in the police force or attended a police academy cannot become a made member of the Mafia. For example, DeMeo crew member Henry Borelli could never become a made man in the Gambino family, since he had taken the New York City Police Department entrance exam in the early 1970s, and Bonanno underboss Salvatore Vitale was only made because his brother-in-law and future boss Joseph Massino covered up his previous work as a corrections officer. However, an exception to this rule includes Scarfo crime family soldier Ron Previte, who was a former (corrupt) member of the Philadelphia police force. In addition, though never officially made members of the Mafia, corrupt NYPD police detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa performed duties for the Lucchese crime family equivalent to those of a soldier.
Traditionally, before being inducted, a potential made man is required to carry out a contract killing to prove loyalty to the Mafia and, later (after the Donnie Brasco fiasco), to show that he is not an undercover law enforcement agent; according to traditional rules, any murders committed for personal reasons "do not count". Committing one's first contracted killing is referred to as "making your bones." Performing a contract killing to become a made man is also known as getting or earning "your button," or becoming a so-called "button man" or hitman for the Mafia. However, earning one's "button" does not always involve killing, and heavy "earners" or experienced associates who have not necessarily murdered for the Mafia have in the past earned their "button," or become made men, due to their other valuable contributions. Until the 1980s, one only had to be involved in a murder (such as driving the getaway car) or be a major "earner" for the family in order to fulfill the requirements. It was not until the Donnie Brasco trials, which revealed that undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone was on the verge of being made into the Bonanno crime family, that a rule was made that potential inductees must actually perform a killing.
When introducing one made man to another, the phrase "a friend of ours" is used, indicating that he is a member and business can be discussed openly with him. If the person being introduced is an associate or civilian to whom business should not be mentioned, the phrase "a friend of mine" is used instead. Made men are the only ones who can rise through the ranks of the Mafia, from soldier to caporegime, consigliere, underboss, and boss.
To become made, an associate would first have to be sponsored by a made man. According to Pistone's accounts in his books The Way of the Wiseguy and Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business, the associate must now have at least two sponsors, one of whom must have known him for at least 10 to 15 years. The sponsor knows the associate and vouches for his reliability and abilities. Although a capo or other senior member(s) will determine the prospective member's credibility, ultimately the decision lies with the boss of the family into which he will be inducted.
When the crime family "opens the books" (accepts new members), an associate will get a call telling him to get ready and dressed. He will then be picked up and taken to the room where the ceremony will take place, alone or with other accepted candidates. An inductee will be required to take the oath of Omertà, the mafia code of silence. Though the ceremony varies from family to family, it usually involves the pricking of the trigger finger of the inductee, then dripping blood onto a picture of a saint, typically St. Francis of Assisi or the Virgin Mary, which is then set alight in his hand and kept burning until the inductee has sworn the oath of loyalty to his new "family," e.g., "As this card burns, may my soul burn in Hell if I betray the oath of Omertà," or "As burns this saint, so will burn my soul. I enter alive and I will have to get out dead."
After the ceremony the inductee is a made man and a full member of the Mafia hierarchy. Inducted as a soldier (Italian: soldato), he is given certain responsibilities and privileges. The made man now enjoys the full protection and backing of the Mafia establishment as long as he remains in favor and earns enough money, of which a percentage is passed up the hierarchy. A made man is traditionally seen as "untouchable" by fellow criminals, a man to be respected and feared. To attack, let alone kill, a made man for any reason without the permission of mafiosi higher up in the organization is a cardinal sin normally met with severe retaliation (usually death), often regardless of whether the perpetrator had a legitimate grievance. A made man can, however, be killed if a good enough reason is provided and the Mafia bosses give permission. For example, in Wiseguy, a book about Mafia mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill, the book details the disappearance of Thomas DeSimone, an associate of the Lucchese crime family who was most likely killed by the Gambino crime family for murdering, without permission, one of their made men.
- Raab, Selwyn "Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of Americas Most Powerful Mafia Empires". St. Martin Press. 2005 (pg 704)
- Raab, Selwyn (2005). Five Families : the Rise,Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 635. ISBN 0-312-30094-8.
- "United States Versus James V. Delaurentis" 
- The Underboss by Peter Maas.
- The American Mafia - Underworld slang
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- The FBI's 'made' man. Michael Heaton, Plain Dealer 08/31/03
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- Bone, James. “‘Last Godfather’ breaks code of omertà as Mafia crumbles”, The Times (London), February 25, 2006.
- Pistone, Joe. "Way of the Wiseguy". (2004).
- Mallory, Stephen L. "Understanding Organized Crime" (2007). (pg. 106-107)
- FBI tapes reveal secrets of Mafia initiation rites (July 5, 1991)
- "Former Capo: "I was underpaid" 60 minutes interview by Steve Kroft with Previte http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/11/60minutes/main605432.shtml