The word “mafia” commands an extraordinary aura. Also known as La Cosa Nostra or the Mob, there are about 5 recognized mafia families in New York alone. They include Lucchese, Genovese, Bonnano, Colombo, and Gambino, most involving Italian Americans.

However, what is a mafia? What does it do? When did it start? Do you have more questions with little answers? Addressing all these concerns in detail might be impossible in this piece. Instead, we will give you a detailed mafia hierarchy structure to get you started.

What is a Mafia?

Mafia refers to criminal gangs with similar traits, codes, and behavior. Its size can be anywhere between only a few members and a hundred, depending on the region they control. These people are not afraid to bribe, torture, or kill anyone that gets in their way. They are a headache even to the authorities.

The Structure of the Mafia

Note: Even though mafia families are famous in the USA, they spread to other parts such as Russia, China, and Mexico over time. With that in mind, there is a possibility that there may be slight differences in structure, roles, and names depending on the mafia group.

1. The Associates

Associates are “normal” people who want (or are forced) to join the criminal world. They may include lawyers, drug dealers, assassins, restaurant owners, politicians, burglars, or anybody the mob considers valuable.

The associates’ involvement with the mafia is skin-deep. They are subject to torture, beating, and even death­– the “hands-off” status isn’t for them.

2. Soldiers

Even though they are bottom of the tree, soldiers form a part of the mafia family. They directly report to the caporegime. The soldiers are slightly better trained and are just a level above the criminals you see. Some earn enough, others don’t. Most of their collections belong to the higher-ranked members.

As their name suggests, soldiers will put their necks on the line for their bosses. True to the thousands of movies and TV series available, they are not always ready to give up information. Many come and go, except for a few like Robert DiBernado, who did exceptionally well.

Soldiers do most of the “dirty work.” They bribe law enforcement officers here, kill a juror there, and intimidate a politician on the other end. Their work is to do anything that needs doing; it doesn’t matter what it takes.

3. Caporegime

Also referred to as a capo, a caporegime is the direct head of the soldiers, who can be as many as 1,500. Caporegime is or should be aware of every “necessary” duty carried out by a soldier. Capo’s role is similar to that of a military captain. That said, they earn and handle more money than the soldiers.

4. Underboss

Every boss in the mafia families has a boss – it’s how it works. Caporegimes’ leader is the underboss, who gives the instructions delivered to the soldiers. When the people on the ground gather information, they report to the capos, who then relay it to the underboss for further directions.

The underboss is very powerful; they report directly to the head of the mafia family. In most cases, close relatives such as siblings or children of the overall leader assume this position. Being the second in command, the underboss usually succeeds and oversees the mafia’s businesses after the don leaves.

If the boss gives an order and a soldier doesn’t execute it as expected, the underboss answers, sometimes with their lives. On the other hand, a very powerful and influential underboss can threaten the boss’ position. This is where most wrangles in mafia families occur.

5. Consigliere

The consigliere is an Italian word that translates to “counselor.” Like the associate, the person holding this position has no ties with the mafia family but is more powerful. Their role is mainly to give advice; they are usually top politicians, lawyers, or businesspeople.

Another role of the consigliere is to mediate disputes within the organization. For instance, the counselor will intervene if the underboss wants to overthrow the boss. If push comes to shove, the consigliere will warn the boss of impending dangers and advice accordingly.

6. Boss

The don/boss is the overall head of a mafia organization. They command respect from within and without. Their word is final, and their policies are non-negotiable. Most bosses are reserved and calm even when things are thick. However, they can be very aggressive when the rubber meets the road.

Even though they run huge organizations, bosses like to keep their identities hidden from the police, media, and possible threats. Camouflages, codes, and fake ids are some of their primary weapons. Usually, even when raids happen, bosses go unscathed. Some of the lower members of the mafia don’t know who their boss is.

A perfect example is when the Genovese crime family appointed Tony Selerno to pose as the boss, but the actual leader was Vincent Gigante.

7. The Godfather

This is the boss of bosses. When you hear the word “godfather” in public, law enforcement, or the media, it usually has no other name attached to it. This title often belongs to the boss of the most powerful mafia family. The role of the godfather is to maintain order among the criminals. Ironical, right?

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Last Update: July 25, 2023