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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
NYC mafia families hold recruitment drive
file picture of Bonanno from 1985
Mafia family head Bonanno died earlier this month
Deaths, defections and interference from the law have taken their toll on New York's mafia in recent years, forcing the families to take a drastic new step - and launch a recruitment drive.

According to FBI reports the members of New York's biggest organised-crime families fell from 634 to 570 between January 2000 and January 2001.

You have to inject blood into the family

Mafia insider
The drop was largely thanks to a series of undercover operations and gangsters ratting on their employers.

This combined with the death or arrest of a number of long-time leaders has meant that the Italian crime families, who still run many of New York's drugs, extortion and gambling rackets, have been throwing the doors open to new members.

Foot soldiers

The Genovese and Lucchese families have both "opened the books" to initiate new members, sources told the New York Post.

Godfather Vincent "The Chin" Gigante was indicted
The Genoveses are the largest of the five families in New York and they recruited nine new foot soldiers, bring their total to 152.

The Gambinos, had a terrible year from 2000-2001, losing 33 members, but they still managed to retain 130, making them the second largest in terms of manpower.

Meanwhile the Luccheses have initiated three more gangsters, lifting them to third place with a total of 113 hoods on the streets, according to FBI reports.

The Colombo family lost more than 26 of their mobsters and the Bonannos lost five, said the FBI.

Sopranos fame

In order to recover from the losses there are suggestions that the families may even be recruiting from outside the Italian-American community.

"You have to inject blood into the family," one insider told the Post.

New York's big five
Genovese family - 152 members
Gambino family - 130 members
Lucchese family - 113 members
Colombo family - 90 members
Bonanno family - 85 members

Although a much smaller outfit with just 36 mobsters the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family have been cashing on new found fame to lure recruits. The family, believed to be the inspiration for the television series "The Sopranos", took on eight new members.

In order to be initiated into the underworld clans the recruits take part in a traditional ceremony that includes burning a picture of a saint in the bleeding palm of the hand.

As the ritual takes place the inductee recites the "omerta" vow of secrecy, in which they promise to never divulge detail's of the family's business.

Broken vows

But over recent years many have been breaking that vow.

FBI suspicions that a recruitment drive was underway was confirmed by Michael "Cookie" Dursi, a gangster who turned informant on the Genovese family.

John Gotti
John Gotti is battling cancer

Dursi secretly recorded senior members of the family talking about the drive. Dursi's testimony later led to 15 Genovese clan members being convicted for extortion and robbery and helped to indict Genovese godfather Vincent "The Chin" Gigante.

Last February the Lucchese's own boss, Joseph "Little Joe" Defede turned rat and began revealing details of the family's extortion rackets and murders.

Meanwhile Gambino family boss John Gotti is battling cancer from a jail cell and even the godfathers who have managed to evade the long arm of the law are not faring much better - Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno died on 12 May.

With the bosses sick, dead or behind bars, getting approval for any new mobsters is a difficult task. Usually a boss has to circulate the name of any potential recruits amongst the heads of the other families before the initiation can go ahead.

See also:

12 May 02 | Americas
30 May 01 | Americas
06 Dec 01 | Americas
10 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
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