In the early 20th century the criminal underworld of New York City consisted mainly of East Harlem-based Sicilians and groups of Neapolitans from Brooklyn. The sizeable population of the New York Italian community offered rich economic opportunities. Some 500,000 Italians lived in New York City at the turn of the century, mostly coming from the impoverished southern regions of Italy. They had to survive in the most destitute social and economic conditions.
Italian immigration “made fortunes for speculators and landlords, but it also transformed the neighborhood into a kind of human ant heap in which suffering, crime, ignorance and filth were the dominant elements,” according to historian Arrigo Petacco. According to sociologist Humbert S. Nelli: “New York’s Italian community offered a lucrative market for illicit activities, particularly gambling and prostitution. It also provided a huge market for products from the homeland and from the West Coast, such as artichokes and olive oil, the distribution of which the criminal elements attempted to control.” 
Early crime bosses[edit | edit source]
Italian immigrants provided the cheap labour needed for the expansion of capitalism of that era. As with earlier generations of immigrants, a small number of Sicilian and Neapolitan criminals sought to succeed by bending and breaking both moral and legal codes, building on the crime traditions from their original home regions. One of the prominent crime bosses around 1910-15 was Giosue Gallucci, the undisputed King of Little Italy born in Naples, who employed Neapolitan and Sicilian street gangs as his enforcers for the Italian lottery or numbers game.
Apart from him there were different Camorra gangs in New York and they are sometimes referred to as "Brooklyn Camorra" groups. The gangs had their roots in the Neapolitan Camorra, but most members were American born. The New York based Camorra had two bases: the Neapolitan Navy Street gang headed by Leopoldo Lauritano and Alessandro Vollero, and the Neapolitan Coney Island gang headed by Pellegrino Morano from his Santa Lucia restaurant. They initially worked together fighting against the Morello crime family from Italian Harlem for control of the New York rackets. Eventually they were decimated when its own members turned against them.
Mafia-Camorra War[edit | edit source]
The fight over the control of the New York rackets is known as the Mafia–Camorra War, which started after the killing of Giosue Gallucci and his son on May 17, 1915. The violence and string of murders prompted a reaction from the authorities. After Ralph Daniello, a member of the Brooklyn Navy Street gang, decided to turn against his former brothers in crime, a Grand Jury under Judge Nott handed out twelve indictments on November 30, 1917.
The trials that followed in 1918 completely smashed the Navy Street gang, the protection that they enjoyed was demolished from the testimonies of their own men. It was the end of the Camorra in New York and the rise in power of American-based Sicilian Mafia groups. At the trial, some Brooklyn criminals used "Camorra" to describe the Navy Street and Coney Island gangs and "Mafia" to identify their rivals from East Harlem.
References[edit | edit source]
- Nelli, The Business of Crime, pp. 129-31
- Abadinsky, Organized Crime, pp. 81-82
- Critchley, The Origin of Organized Crime in America, p. 105
- The Struggle for Control, GangRule.com
- Father and Son Shot, The New York Times, May 18, 1915
- Confession May Clear 23 Feud Murders, The New York Times, November 28, 1917
- Nelli, The Business of Crime, pp. 133-134
- Indict Twelve In Murder Conspiracy, The New York Times, December 1, 1917
- Abadinsky, Howard (2010). Organized Crime (Ninth Edition), Belmont (CA): Wadsworth, ISBN 978-0-495-59966-1
- Critchley, David (2009). The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-99030-0
- Nelli, Humbert S. (1981). The Business of Crime. Italians and Syndicate Crime in the United States, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-57132-7 (Originally published in 1976)