While it’s not unusual to find criminals operating alone, the most powerful and influential ones in history have come in families. Together, they formed formidable groups, usually bonded by love and loyalty, which facilitated their illegal dealings and quest to become rich quickly.

Although their operations are against the rule of law in all parts of the world and they have significantly contributed to the loss of lives, these crime families are still very popular – the media and TV shows such as “The Godfather” have played a massive role in ensuring that. So, even though some of them were stopped by law enforcement, their negative legacy will never be forgotten. Here are the 10 most popular crime families in the world.

1. The Sicilian Mafia

The Sicilian crime family gave birth to the name “mafia,” often used to describe organized crime groups. Also known as Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia originated from Sicily, Italy, hence the name. At the peak of its success, the Sicilian Mafia had around 5,000 members who followed a hierarchical structure.

They made most of their money through gambling, money laundering, and distribution of drugs. Members of this crime family were so loyal that they would never reveal anything about the organization, even when threatened with death.

Since its founding in the mid-19th century, the Sicilian Mafia has had several leaders, one of the most influential being Matteo Messina Denaro, nicknamed the last godfather. On September 25, 2003, Matteo died in a prison cell after falling into an irreversible coma.

2. The Gambino Family

Those who lived in New York City in the 50s or 60s can testify that the Gambino Family was feared by many and dared by a few if not none. Founded by Carlo Gambino, these criminals laundered and extorted money from businesses while trafficking drugs and leaving a trail of bodies all over NYC.

To keep their influence and power, members had to take an oath of silence known as “omerta.” However, since everyone in the group was a criminal, no one, including other family members, was safe. If anything, associates of the criminal gang murdered their previous boss, Paul Castellano, and John Gotti was declared the new boss before eventually ending up in prison.

3. The Lucchese Family

Nearly every decade of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a family dominating organized crime in New York City. Before the Gambino Family, the Lucchese Family ruled the streets of NYC during the 1930s and 1940s.

Named after Gaetano Lucchese, aka Tommy, the gang engaged in every illegal and dangerous activity you can think of. From drug trafficking to gambling and extortion, they did it all. Like the Gambino crime family, the Lucchese also adhered to the “omerta” code of silence. One of the most popular crimes associated with this family was the Lufthansa heist in 1978.

4. The Chicago Mafia

New York City wasn’t the only region in the United States crippled by organized crime. In Chicago, there was the Chicago Mafia, which later changed its name to the Chicago Outfit. It was once led by familiar names such as Johnny Torrio and the infamous Al Capone. Its last known leader was Salvatore DeLaurentis, also known as Solly D.

Like its counterparts, the Chicago Mafia participated in money laundering and extortion. However, they took things a notch higher by engaging in other illegal activities, such as bootlegging and prostitution. It was one of the crime families that survived the longest, with records showing they were around for over a century.

5. The DeCavalcante Crime Family

Popularly known as the Jersey Mob, the DeCavalcante was an illegal group based in New Jersey. It was founded in the early 1900s by Giovanni DeCavalcante, and their primary source of income was gambling, extorting, and labor racketeering.

Unlike most mafias in the United States, the DeCavalcante knew how to lay low. They didn’t engage in many high-profile crimes that would draw attention to their organization. This Mafia has had several leaders throughout its time. Examples include John Riggi, Sam the Plumber, Nick Delmore, and Stefano Badami.

6. Cali Cartel

Focused on expanding the drug trade empire, the Cali Cartel, started by the Orejuela brothers and Jose Londono, is one of the most lethal families in Colombia. The three co-founders were later joined by Helmer Herrer, popularly known as Pacho, after breaking away from Pablo Escobar.

Unlike Pablo Escobar, who had turned into a terrorist, the four Cali Gentlemen perfected the art of production and distribution of cocaine. Not only did they avoid law enforcement, but they also kept away from rival cartels. As of the mid-90s, the Cali Cartel was raking in at least $8 billion in annual income from the drug trade.

7. Yakuza

Westerners aren’t the only ones experienced in organized crime. In the Far East, there is the Yakuza, one of the oldest Japanese crime families. This group was started around 1612, and they are still active to date.

The Yakuza have engaged in serious crimes such as smuggling, prostitution, kidnapping, gambling, and racketeering. They are famous for the murders of Ryoichi Sugiura and the Dojin-Seido war that lasted for a whopping seven years. Like most crime families, the Yakuza have had six bosses throughout their lifetime, and the current one is Kenichi Shinoda.

8. Triads

Still, in the east, China has its own organized crime family called the Triads. This secret crime family is believed to have been started in the 17th century during the Qing Dynasty. Over the years, they have participated in crimes such as healthcare fraud, counterfeiting, and drug trafficking. The Chinese government has attempted to track down and end the Triads for years, but they have been unsuccessful.

9. Albanian Mafia

The Albanian Mafia boasts of a brotherhood bonded by more than just blood. The members have sworn an oath of secrecy, further explaining why very little is known about them. Over the years, they have mostly relied on illegal businesses like weapon smuggling and cocaine trafficking.

Another factor that has allowed the Albanian Mafia to thrive is their close ties with politicians in the country. Arresting and prosecuting them is, therefore, not easy. They have become so influential that they have infiltrated parts of Italy.

10. The Gonzalez Sisters

From 1945 to 1964, the four Gonzalez sisters ran a family business that revolved around prostitution and kidnapping in Guanajuato, Mexico. They owned a brothel called Racho El Angel and would advertise housemaid jobs. Those who showed up would be forced into involuntary prostitution. Most of the girls were put on heroin, and those who declined were killed.

It is believed the group was so inhumane that they would bury some of their workers alive. The Gonzalez sisters would also kill and steal from wealthy clients. After their arrest, more than 50 women were found in the brothel and several fetuses. The ladies were handed four years in jail.

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Crime, Society,

Last Update: May 29, 2024