American Mafia (La Cosa Nostra) Structure

Boss – The head of the family, usually reigning as a dictator, sometimes called the don or “godfather”. The Boss receives a cut of every operation taken on by every member of his family. Depending on the Family, the Boss may be chosen by a vote from the Caporegimes of the family. In the event of a tie, the Underboss must vote. In the past, all the members of a Family voted on the Boss, but by the late 1950s, any gathering such as that attracted too much attention.

Underboss – The Underboss, usually appointed by the Boss, is the second in command of the family. The Underboss is in charge of all of the Capos, who is controlled by the Boss. The Underboss is usually first in line to become Acting Boss if the Boss is imprisoned or dies.

Consigliere – Consigliere is an advisor to the family. They are often low profile gangsters that can be trusted. They are used as a mediator of disputes or representatives or aids in meetings with other Families. They often keep the Family looking as legitimate as possible, and are, themselves, legitimate apart from some minor gambling or loan sharking. Often Consiglieres are lawyers or stock brokers, are trusted and have a close friendship or relationship with the Don. They usually do not have crew of their own, but still wield great power in the Family. They are also often the liaison between the Don and important ‘bought’ figures, such as politicians or Judges.

Caporegime (or Capo) – A Capo (sometimes called a Captain) is in charge of a crew. There are usually four to six crews in each family, possibly even seven to nine crews, each one consisting of up to ten Soldiers. Capos run their own small family, but must follow the limitations and guidelines created by the Boss, as well as pay him his cut of their profits. Capos are nominated by the Underboss, but typically chosen by the Boss himself.

Soldier – Soldiers are members of the family, and can only be of Italian background. Soldiers start as Associates that have proven themselves. When the books are open, meaning that there is an open spot in the family, a Capo (or several Capos) may recommend an up-and-coming Associate to be a new member. In the case that there is only one slot and multiple recommendations, the Boss will decide. The new member usually becomes part of the Capo’s crew that recommended him.

Associate – An Associate is not a member of the mob, and an Associate’s role is more similar to that of an errand boy. They are usually a go-between or sometimes deal in drugs to keep the heat off the actual members. In other cases, an associate might be a corrupt labor union delegate or businessman.[19] Non-Italians will never go any further than this.

Most recently there have been two new positions in the family leadership, the family messenger and Street Boss. These positions were created by former Genovese leader Vincent Gigante.

Italian/Sicilian Mafia Structure

Capofamiglia – (Don)
Consigliere – (Counselor/Advisor)
Sotto Capo(Underboss)
Capodecina – (Group Boss/Capo)
Uomini D’onore – (“Men of Honor”)



Old-time term for illicit profits. Also sometimes used to refer to the potential for racket income


A gambling racket ordinarily focused on sporting events. The racket is run by a “bookmaker.”


Family. The basic structural unit of the Mafia society. The Borgata has an established hierarchy, a body of members or soldiers, and many associates


A soldier in a Mafia family. A member who can be called upon by a family boss to perform an execution.


The act of ordering – without explanation – a made man to report to his superiors. Mafiosi might be called in so they can be disciplined (murdered). Once the order is received, the made man must report as ordered. So, mafiosi in trouble with superiors will sometimes drop out of touch to avoid receiving the call


The leader of all leaders or boss of bosses. The most powerful Mafia boss to whom all others defer. Some know this as the Capo di capi


Kill. Also to harm in some way.


A ruling representative body serving as the national legislature and supreme court of the Mafia network. Commission members are the leaders of the more powerful Mafia families. Each is also assigned to represent minor family.


A description of a Mafia “associate.”


A body of soldiers assigned to a capo. The crew typically meets on a regular basis at the capo’s headquarters.


A traditional term of respect for a male in Romance languages, which has been corrupted


One who generates income for a Mafia family. Higher levels of income are generated by “big-earners.


The basic unit of the Mafia society. See “Borgata.”


Federal law enforcement agents. In pre-Prohibition days, Mafia-feared Feds were agents of the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Postal Inspection Service. During Prohibition, they were agents of the Treasury Department. After Prohibition, the FBI gradually – and reluctantly – turned its attention toward the Mafia


One who trades in stolen goods. To sell off swag


To abandon the principle of “omerta” and begin to cooperate with law enforcement


An introduction in which one Mafia member informs another that a new acquaintance is also a member. It is a means of vouching for the underworld credentials of another person. As opposed to “friend of mine,” which, in introduction, means simply what it says.


Term of affection and respect


An assigned murder


Engage in an underworld feud. Key members of a family quickly move to inconspicuous safe houses. The phrase probably refers to sleeping on a mattress thrown on the floor


In an effort to make cosa nostra sound more like a proper name, federal agents seem to have been responsible for the addition of the “La.” The phrase, literally translated “the our thing,” has been interpreted as “this thing of ours.”


Striving for credibility after denying the existence of a nationwide Mafia for decades, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI “discovered” La Cosa Nostra around 1960 and began referring to it with the meaningless abbreviation “LCN.”


Formally inducted into the Mafia through a ceremony. Prospective members are called to a meeting without being given a reason. Through an elaborate ritual, they are then invited to join the Mafia. They are typically told the rules of the society, its history and hierarchy, and the general disciplinary measure for disobedience – death


An older term referring to Sicilian Mafiosi. The term emphasizes a link between the Mafia and Sicily’s displaced old aristocracy


A relatively recent addition to the Mafia family hierarchy. The job of the messenger is to function as liaison between specific families. Effective messengers can reduce the need for sit-downs and limit the exposure of bosses to law enforcement. New York’s Genovese Family was credited with inventing the post in order to coordinate activity with counterparts in Chicago


A lottery game that has been a money-maker for American Mafiosi since the U.S. Civil War


When a mobster retains all profits from an illicit business venture, without kicking up a share to his superiors.


A uniquely Sicilian attitude calling for non-cooperation with government authority and the settlement of disputes through personal means. Omerta typically refers to the Mafia’s strict code of silence with regard to underworld affairs


Moving secretly. Indicted mobsters, in an effort to avoid arrest, might go “on the lam,” changing their address, moving secretly from place to place


Chicago slang name for the local Mafia family


A percentage of profit from illicit business ventures. Also a handgun


An assigned murder




Interest paid on a shylock loan. Also known as “vig” or “shy”


An extortion racket in which business owners are assessed a tax by a local Mafia group in exchange for assurances that no harm will come to them. Also the money paid by organized criminal groups in bribes to law enforcement


To provide information to law enforcement about criminal activities of underworld associates. One who provides such information or who appears likely to give in to law enforcement pressure. See “stool pigeon.”




Obtain money or other concessions from businesses or individuals by using intimidation or extortion.


A financial racketeer who loans money at usurious interest rates. Often shylocks arrange payment terms that never reduce the loan principal. Those who fail to make regular payments to a skylock are disciplined with violence


A meeting, perhaps called to settle a “beef.”


The act of siphoning funds from a legitimate business enterprise to an underworld organization. Also, the money withdrawn from a venture – such as casino gambling – before income is calculated for tax purposes


Another reference for capo or boss


An individual who observes the principles of omerta even when it brings harm to himself


Resolve a dispute. Formally induct a Mafia member


Stolen goods


An underworld jurisdiction. While this is generally understood to refer to a geographic area, it actually refers to rackets officially designated as belonging to a family


A pledge of personal vengeance on an enemy. The vendetta is a solemn and secret vow.


Or “vigorish.” Percentage of each bet that is retained as income for a bookmaker. The usurious interest charged by a shylock




An electronic surveillance device secretly worn inside the clothing of an agent or a cooperating mobster. Also the name of a gambling racket involving the transmission of horse race results or other sporting results


A “made” member of a Mafia organization


Derogatory term for immigrant Sicilian Mafiosi operating within the United States. The Bonanno Family in New York is known to have maintained a working relationship with a crew of Zips