It used to be that the Mafia’s code of silence was sacred. Anyone who broke the law of Omerta and turned on their crime cohorts as informants or witnesses would be rewarded with certain death.
That fear of retribution, however, began fading years ago and today means little or nothing. In fact, several Mafia turncoats who once lived under the protection of the federal witness protection program have emerged from the shadows and openly thumb their noses at their one-time associates.
One example is Salvatore Gravano, the former right-hand man of John Gotti. Sammy the Bull was a notorious killer who spilled the beans. After changing his looks by plastic surgery and entering witness protection, Gravano tired of the masquerade and took back his identity, boasting about what he did and even writing a best-selling book.
Skimming casino cash
Another case in point is Angelo Lonardo, known as Big Ange when he was underboss of the Cleveland mob. Lonardo also squealed on his pals and went into witness protection after telling tales about skimming casino money in Las Vegas and about the Mafia’s ruling commission. He was a prime candidate for revenge.
He also resigned from federal protection.
Then there are those who get booted out of the witness program. That includes Henry Hill, the stool pigeon featured in the movie GoodFellas who was kicked out for drug use, and Joseph “Joe Dogs” Ianuzzi, who was dumped from the program for shamelessly promoting his Mafia Cookbook.
Numbers too large
What happened to the fear factor?
For one thing, it was probably exaggerated to begin with. Organized crime experts say the mob’s ability to track down its enemies and dish out punishment was never all that efficient or far reaching. Also, getting even with the large number of turncoats who have changed sides over the years would be next to impossible due to the sheer numbers involved.
In addition, new generations of hoodlums are less interested in enforcing antiquated concepts like Omerta than their forbears were. Then there is the fact that once someone tells what he knows, there is less of an incentive to whack him. The cat is already out of the bag.
In general, the mob lacks the clout and capabilities it once had.
Payback is alive and well mostly in the movies.