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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family was one of the earliest criminal organizations created by Italian immigrants in the US. In fact, it is possible to estimate that such organizations as Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family was one of the major contributors to the spread of the organized crime in the US and to the creation of Mafia, also known as La Cosa Nostra. In such a situation, it is extremely important to analyze and research in depth the origin and development of this criminal organization, its structure and functioning in order to better understand the essence of the organization and functioning of the criminal underworld of the early 20th century. This will also give a valuable insight to the modern organized crime since it is impossible to struggle with Mafia, which is often used as a synonym of the organized crime, without profound understanding of the process of its formation and basic principles of its functioning. In stark contrast, the analysis of the history and formation of such organizations as Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family will create ample opportunities not simply to understand what it actually is and how it functions but it will also help develop really effective law enforcement strategies targeting the establishment of the total control over such criminal groups by state and, therefore, elimination of organized crime at large.

History of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family

Speaking about Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family, it is primarily necessary to dwell upon its origin and history of its formation since the first decades of the existence of this criminal group created the basis for its further progress and penetration not only in the US underworld but also in different spheres which, at first glance, do not have anything in common with the criminal world, such as business or politics, for instance.

First of all, it should be said that the creation of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family was, to a significant extent, determined by the socio-economic situation in the US at the early 20th century. To put it more precisely, in the epoch of the progressing industrialization of the country and development of various industries, the US, namely its North-Western part was traditionally a desirable destination for thousands and millions of immigrants. No wonder that as the need in labor force grew the flow of immigrants turned to this region where the criminal group discussed was actually created. However, as immigrants arrived, the abundance of the cheap labor force limited their job opportunities threatening to their current economic and social position and their future at large.

As a result, the pauperization of many immigrants contributed considerably to the growth of crime rates while the presence of charismatic and intelligent leaders, such as Angelo Pameri, and strict ethnic grouping of immigrants within their communities resulted in the springing of organized crime and appearance of first crime families. In such a way, the poor socio-economic position of many Italian immigrants in Buffalo/Niagara Falls region contributed considerably to the creation of an organized criminal group, which was later defined as Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family, though it should be said that such a definition of the crime group as family perfectly reflects its origin, its Italian roots and the strong influence of Italian traditions on its structure and functioning.

As the causes and basis of the creation of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family is known, it would be logical to focus on its formation and development. In this respect, it is hardly possible to ignore the role of Angelo Palmeri whose contribution to the creation of the organized criminal group in Buffalo/Niagara Falls region can hardly be underestimated. First of all, it should be said that Angelo Palmeri was an Italian immigrant, as thousands others, who arrived in New York in 1908-1909 (Griffen, 2002, p.137). However, unlike many of his compatriots who emigrated to the US, he was not poor. In stark contrast, he was quite wealthy and, what was probably even more important, he had a criminal background. To put it more precisely, he arrived in New York from Sicily where he was a well-known Mafiosi. Naturally, as he left his motherland and moved to the US he did not change his lifestyle and his “occupation”¯. In spite of his stable financial position, he needed to maintain his status and earn money. Having the experience of criminal activities in Sicily and being “respected”¯ by his compatriots because of his notoriety, he gained authority in the criminal world of Buffalo where he settled. It should be said that he basically focused his activities on Italian immigrants and Buffalo’s Little Italy that quite a natural choice since he developed his criminal business in the familiar socio-cultural environment. At the same time, he was a kind of alternative authority to Italian immigrants due to his criminal power in the region.

Soon, in early 1910s he established himself as the boss of Buffalo’s criminal world. His criminal group started to racket and extort money from legal businesses, such as Italian food vendors, pushcart vendors, food markets, etc. but also other criminal elements were not left aside and local pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers were under his control. In such a way, Angelo Palmeri established his criminal group in Buffalo. However, the early 20th century was the epoch when the criminal underworld grew rapidly, especially in the mid- and late 1910th ”“ 1920th when the US was flooded with immigrants that left Europe which suffered from the destructive impact of World War I. As they arrived in the US in search of stable and better life they often could not find their place in the new society and, in such a situation, criminal families were the real alternative to the life in poverty.

No wonder Buffalo criminal group was not the only criminal group in the region and, as the matter of fact, there were other criminal groups or crime families organized by Italians who operated in the US, including New York. In this respect, it is worthy of mention another powerful criminal group headed by Joseph Peter DiCarlo, Sr., which basically focused on the Niagara Falls region. Gradually, they united their forces and became the solid criminal group in 1910. It should be said that such unification improved the position of the crime family in New York consistently.

However, in 1920s, Buffal/Niagara Falls crime family made even more substantial progress.

Obviously, this progress was the result of the Prohibition which contributed to enrichment of Palmeri’s crime group by means of bootlegging mainly, though other “businesses”¯, such as gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, were also under control of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family. At the same time, the end of the Prohibition era also marked the end of Palmeri’s era who died in 1932, though his “creation”¯ survived and progressed to the extent that this criminal group persists even nowadays.

The structure of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family under Angelo Palmeri

As Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family was an organized criminal group, the crime family naturally had its own structure. First of all, it should be said that the territory of the crime family initially consisted of Buffalo’s Little Italy, but, as DiCarlo and his group joined the family, its territory was expanded to Niagara Falls region. In fact, in the course of time, this crime family established control over North-Western New York.

At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the basis of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family was Italian ethnic group living in this region. As it has been already mentioned above, many Italian immigrants were in quite a difficult economic position, while Palmeri as well as DiCarlo, who joined him later, were a well-known Mafiosi. On the other hand, it should be said that some specialists (Dubro, 1985, p.242) argue that Palmeri was not a boss of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family in the classical sense of this word. To put it more precisely, at the beginning the relationships within the criminal group and structure of the crime family was different from that of other crime families in the US.

In this respect, it should be said that there was no underboss in Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family, though there were other elements of the crime family’s structure which make it possible to speak about this criminal group as about a crime family. Namely, the group had clearly defined sectors within its territory, which appointed caporegimes were responsible for. The latter had soldiers in their disposition and could use them in criminal activities of the crime family. As for the leader of the crime family, Angelo Palmeri, it is necessary to underline that, when DiCarlo joined the family, these two leaders actually shared their power and, therefore, were equal. However, after the death of DiCarlo, in 1922, he was substituted by Stefano Magaddino.

It is worthy of mention that during the Prohibition Stefano Magaddino started to play the leading role in the crime family, while Angelo Palmery was officially named his senior assistant. In such a way, in the result of such changes within Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family, it is possible to speak about the accomplishment of the formation of the classical crime family with the traditional structure.

Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family and the drug trade

Even though the sphere of interests of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family was very large, the drug trade was always very important for the family, its authority and financial prosperity. However, it is necessary to agree that during the Prohibition era, bootlegging was the most profitable part of the crime family “business”¯. Nevertheless, since the foundation of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family, this criminal group attempted to establish a total control over the drug trade within its territory.

To meet this goal, Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family started to “tax”¯ drug dealers. In practice this means that the drug trade was not allowed in the territory under the control of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family without its permission. In such a way, this crime family provided drug dealers with a sort of protection and, instead, the drug dealers should pay the crime family for its “services”¯, otherwise, they could be simply terminated, if they violated the rules established by Palmeri’s mob.

As a result, Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family established a total control over the drug trade within its territory. It is worthy of mention that this “business”¯ constituted an important source of income of the crime family long before the Prohibition era had started and dated back to the first years of the existence of Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family.

Conclusion: law enforcement strategies for controlling Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family in the future

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family was one of the first organized crime groups in New York. This crime family controlled practically all the underworld within its territory that extended throughout North-Western New York. Moreover, Buffalo/Niagara Falls crime family still persists that makes the law enforcement targeting the establishment of the total state control over this crime family and its elimination one of the main goals in the field of the struggle against the organized crime. In this respect, it is possible to recommend implementing more effective strategies for controlling the crime family, including the prevention of mutual penetration of legal and illegal businesses as well as legal and illegal capital because it is one of the major factors that makes the current struggle with this crime family ineffective. To put it more precisely, it is necessary to thoroughly control the origin of the capital the crime family or company dependent or affiliated to this family invests in legal businesses. In such a way, the crime family will have fewer opportunities to legalize its illegal capitals while the ongoing struggle on the criminal level will gradually eliminate this criminal group.

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