The Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra, is an Italian criminal society that emerged in the mid 19th century. Much like the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia had no formal name and is a secret criminal society. Its members usually refer to it as Cosa Nostra or by its English translation "our thing". Another translation/meaning of the term is "this thing of ours". The press has also coined the name "National Crime Syndicate" to refer to the entirety of U.S. organized crime, including the Mafia.
The Italian-American Mafia emerged in New York and other areas of the East Coast of the United States during the late 19th century following waves of Sicilian and Italian immigration. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but has been a separate organization in the United States for many years. Neapolitan, Calabrian, and other Italian criminal groups merged with the Sicilian Mafia to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America. Today, the Italian-American Mafia cooperates in various criminal activities with the Sicilian Mafia and other Italian organized crime groups.
Reports are said to include the Italian-American Mafia as the largest organized crime group in the United States and continues to hold dominance over the National Crime Syndicate, despite the increasing numbers of street gangs and other organizations of neither Italian nor Sicilian ethnicity. Many members refer to the Italian Mafia as the "original Mafia".
Although the Italian-American Cosa Nostra is most active in the New York metropolitan area, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago, there are about 24 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots, splinter groups and associates in other cities.
The Mafia is traditionally organized into a strong hierachy, heavily influenced by the ancient Roman army.
- A family is the term for a Mafia organization, in essence, a Legion. The largest families can have between 200 and 300 made men.
- The Don or boss is the head of a family - he controls the family's business and his word is law, none may refuse to carry out his will. In Roman terms, he would be the dictator.
- The underboss is the general for the family - he organizes the family and carries out the Don's orders. He is often the one to take over the family if the Don should die, or be out of commission.
- The Consigliere or counsellor is the right hand of the Don. He acts as an advisor for the Don, giving advise on how plans should be carried out and often also have knowledge of the law, to guide the Don on how to avoid prosecution.
- The caporegime or captain leads the soldiers of the family and is often the one who carries out the Don's orders and earns money from the rackets and other sources of income that he controls and gives a certain percentage to the Don. There are often several capos in a family, each leading a group of soldiers called a regime.
- The soldato or soldier is the lowest official member of a family and can only be of Italian background.
- The associate is not a made man, but is an outsider working for the family and is mostly controlled by the capo or soldier that he is connected to.