What Does the Mafia Look Like Today?


The Mafia, often called the Mob or the Cosa Nostra among other names has featured prominently in our culture from The Godfather to The Sopranos, as well as in our politics and courts.

But does the Mafia still exist today? How does it operate in the age of technology and superior investigative techniques by law enforcement?

We asked trial lawyer Joel Hoelscher and law professor Nora Demleitner to explain.


Joe Hoelscher:

As the Managing Attorney of a criminal defense and family law firm, we handle organized crime cases, everything from white-collar crimes to capital murder.

Most of the cases are related to cartels but a quick search of federal criminal court filings shows that the mafia still continues to engage in organized criminal activity.

How the Mafia Evolved

The term Mafia has generally been applied to Italian organized crime that arose from the limited opportunities Italian immigrants had upon arrival in the U.S. and connections to organized crime in Italy.

Historically, the Mafia generated most of its income from smuggling alcohol during prohibition, although prostitution and other rackets were significant as well. Despite the portrayal in popular media, most Mafia families were only too happy to move into the drug trade and establish connections with cartels.

These relationships continue today, although they have modernized. Over the decades the structures have become more formal and the Mafia has moved into different areas of crime, such as the narcotics trade, and infiltrated legal areas with illegal means such as unions.

The traditional Italian Mafia was involved in ongoing criminal activity internationally, particularly in North America and Italy. Their focus now is fraud, typically in government contracting, money laundering and customs violations, often through union-controlled ports. The Mafia is a highly modern business focusing on providing services to other criminal enterprises, still engaging in racketeering to a lesser degree.

For instance, the Mafia in the U.S. and Canada are actively engaged in laundering Chinese money by helping Chinese nationals circumvent their government’s currency control while covering up Chinese ownership of American and Canadian businesses and real estate.

Joe Hoelscher is a Managing Attorney at Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC. Joe is an award-winning criminal and family law trial lawyer whose dedication to vigorously defending his clients has earned him national recognition.

Nora Demleitner:

In recent decades the Mafia has had to worry about criminal prosecutions with the federal government using the RICO statute to put some mobsters behind bars forever and the breakdown of the traditional mandate against “family” members cooperation.

Another concern is a lack of a large and vibrant pool from which to recruit successors as discrimination against Italian-Americans in the legal workforce has receded.

Also, other groups are gaining a foothold in areas of crime, such as narcotics, that had been largely dominated by the Mob.

Where That Leads Us

The Mafia still exists but in a much less public way than during some decades past. Organized family structures are still in place but are much smaller and probably much more geographically restricted.

It’s likely that the mafia will continue its hold  on the public, however, with recent public prosecutions, such as El Chapo’s high profile trial, indicate other structures have replaced the mafia which seems to be struggling to keep its foothold in some of its traditional areas like unions and expand into newer technologically-driven areas of crime that require different skills and perhaps a different business structure.

As the U.S Mafia structure was disrupted so was the Italian Mafia. The interruption of that crucial connection contributed to the weakening of the U.S. Mafia, though the U.S. Mafia has built a connection with other crime groups around the world.

Nora Demleitner is a Roy L. Steinheimer, Jr. Professor of Law experienced in Collateral Sentencing, Immigration Law and Legal Education. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute and the International Society of Comparative Law as well as a Fellow of the American Bar Association.