The American Mafia is an Italian-American criminal society. Similar to the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia is a secret criminal society without a formal name. Its members usually refer to it as Cosa Nostra or by its English translation "our thing". The press has also coined the name "National Crime Syndicate" to refer to the entirety of U.S. organized crime, including the Mafia.
The Mafia emerged in New York's Lower East Side and other areas of the East Coast of the United States during the late 19th century following waves of Italian immigration, especially from Sicily. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but is a separate organization in the United States. Neapolitan, Calabrian, and other Italian criminal groups, as well as independent Italian-American criminals, eventually merged with the Sicilians to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America.
There have been about 24 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots, splinter groups and associates in other cities. There are five main New York City Mafia families, known as the Five Families. At its peak, the Mafia dominated organized crime in the U.S. While each crime family operates independently, nationwide coordination is provided by the Commission, which consists of the bosses of each of the strongest families.
Today most of the Mafia's activities are contained to the Northeastern United States and Chicago where they continue to dominate organized crime despite the increasing numbers of street gangs and other organizations that are not of Italian origin.
- "You were around the old timers - and meeting up on how the family should be organized. How they based them on the old Roman legions and called them regimes - the capos and the soldiers. And it worked."
"Yeah, it worked. Those were the great old days you know. And we was like the Roman Empire. The Corleone Family was like the Roman Empire."
"It was once."
- ―Tom Hagen and Frank Pentangeli[src]
The Mafia is traditionally organized into a strong hierarchy, heavily influenced by the ancient Roman army.
When a boss makes a decision, he rarely issues orders directly to workers who would carry it out, but instead passed instructions down through the chain of command. This way, the higher levels of the organization are insulated from law enforcement attention if the lower level members who actually commit the crime should be captured or investigated.
- The Don or overboss is the leader of a family — he controls the family's business and his word is law, none may refuse to carry out his will.
- The underboss is the second in command of 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 advice on how plans should be carried out and often also has 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 member, but is an outsider working for the family and is mostly controlled by the capo or soldier that he is connected to.