Millenial mafiosos in New York have been accused by veteran mobsters of going soft, becoming obsessed with their phones and using text messages rather than fists to intimidate victims.
rowing up in wealthy suburbs as social media exploded, the new generation is said to have become less brutal, and less versed in face-to-face tactics like pistol-whipping.
According to court documents relating to a recent extortion plot in the city, one alleged gangster involved sent his victim, a union official, a message saying: “Hey, this is the 2nd text, there isn’t going to be a 3rd.”
The situation has left ageing crime family bosses concerned over their succession, and has also meant they have had to be more personally involved in the minutiae of criminal operations, leading to their more frequent arrests.
Using text messages to make threats also leaves potentially damning evidence for the FBI to find.
“Everything is on the phones with them,” one former senior member of New York’s Colombo crime family complained to The Wall Street Journal.
Richard Frankel, a former FBI agent, said text messages would be “frowned upon” by older mobsters.
The issue emerged after the arrest last month of Andrew “Mush” Russo (87) the Colombo family boss, along with most of the rest of its senior leadership.
They were held over an alleged 20-year plot to seize control of a New York City construction union, and its lucrative employee health insurance programme.
Prosecutors compared it to shakedowns like those in films such as Goodfellas and television shows such as The Sopranos. The veterans showed no guilt in their methods.
One was secretly recorded by the FBI saying about a potential victim: “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids.” Experts said their involvement in the alleged plot showed a lack of confidence in lower-ranking members.
According to court records Mr Russo was clandestinely taped by the FBI saying of his leadership role: “I can’t walk away. I can’t rest.” He denied charges including racketeering while lying in a hospital bed with an FBI agent standing guard after his arrest.
The five families that have controlled New York’s Italian-American mafia for decades have become “shadows of their former selves”, according to the leading racketeering expert in the US.
In a 2019 research paper, Professor James Jacobs, of New York University School of Law, said that there was a lack of tough youngsters coming up through the ranks.
“The world in which the crime families became powerful is largely gone. Fifty years ago most big US cities had well-recognised working class Italian neighbourhoods. They hired teenage boys, some of them Italian immigrants, for odd jobs and recruited the most promising into their operations,” Prof Jacobs wrote.
“These neighbourhoods have dramatically shrunken as Italian-Americans have steadily assimilated into mainstream society, thereby radically diminishing the pool of tough teenagers with Cosa Nostra potential.”
Prof Jacobs, who died last year, concluded that there had been a “breakdown of omerta” – the mafia code of silence – and that “the current generation of members and associates may have less loyalty”. The crime families have been affected by the legalisation of gambling, falling local political corruption, the decline of unions and new technological tools used by the FBI.
The extent to which social media has now infiltrated the crime world was evident in the recent case of a fugitive mafia suspect who was wanted in New York. His son took a photograph of him in a swimming pool in Florida and taunted the FBI by posting it on Twitter, along with a rat emoji.
For nearly a century the Italian-American mafia in New York has been run by five families.
Each is ruled by a boss, sometimes called a “godfather”. They also have an underboss, a consiglieri, and several capos who each control a crew. Members of the crew have been variously called soldiers, wise guys and goodfellas. “Associates” are not members but work with them.
Experts have compared the families to franchises and they rely on new blood coming through.
Their influence peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, and since then a concerted effort by the FBI has cut them back.
They have also faced competition from other crime groups. According to experts, they are “down though not out” but a resurgence should not be written off.
Telegraph Media Group Limited