Mob presence in the political and business infrastructures of cities like New York and Chicago gave the Mafia the power base needed to run illicit activities, such as gambling and bootlegging. A phenomenon of the modern era of Mafia business is its infiltration into legitimate commerce, as a cover for illegal activities.
The episode looks at some of these practices and government measures to stop them. Joey Cantalupe opens this episode by basically stating that one of the keys to the success of the mafia empire is its ability to make profit from legitimate business alongside its illegal rackets. A typical example that is explored in this episode is loan sharking, one of the earliest mafia activities. The immigrant communities from which the mafia sprouted in the USA provide the ideal customers for the loan sharks. Despite the extortionate interest rates charged by these gangsters, there are always people looking for loans, because they cannot get credit through legitimate avenues.
This is explained by John Vitale, a victim of loan sharks, who was still avoiding the mob at the time of filming. Furthermore, an undercover film demonstrates the huge interest paid on the smallest of loans. Cantalupe also recounts times when payments were missed and the consequences, while Vitale reveals his personal experiences which paint a vivid picture of the lengths the mob will go to, in order to recover their money. As Cantalupe continues, the loan sharking opened further opportunities. Often when a debt could not repaid, the mafia gained a foothold in the borrower’s business.
Cantalupe’s father owned a property business and the Colombo family used this as a front but they were most heavily involved in the catering business. Cantalupe explains how such businesses could incorporate other business ventures as off-shoots. But it is not just loan sharking that gets the mafia in to legitimate business – with all their illegal activities, especially pornography and narcotics they have the money to fund their own legal enterprises. As such the mafia has its fingers in so many pies ‘it can take care of you from the cradle to the grave’. The programme reveals how the mafia also controls the garbage and the trucking.
A legitimate garment manufacturer named Conheim explains how he cannot afford not to use the transportation company and refuse collection agency that have been ‘suggested’ to him. If he refuses, things go missing, deliveries are late and so forth. The mafia have the reputation and means to scare off competition and their union problems. In Newark, drug dealing is the main industry and the programme follows a bust. Newark law enforcement are drastically under funded and overwhelmed. Paddy Carr of the Newark drug squad claims that twenty five years previously, Newark was thriving with a bright future till the mafia took a hold in alliance with local politicians.
Lt Freddie Martens of the New Jersey police explains what happened – the mafia completely controlled both legitimate and illegitimate ventures to the exclusion of all others, the frustration eventually leading to riots in which 26 people were killed. The city has never recovered as Herb Stern, a rackets prosecutor, explains. He elaborates that one of the findings of the report in to the riots was a feeling of a completely corrupt government of the city, where everything required a kickback. Stern was actually the man who prosecuted the mayor of Newark and we are left with images of a ghost town which is one big no-go area after 5pm.