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"Public perceptions ... of the mafia have passed through four distinct phases: a long period of denial; then tentative recognition with the Appalachin meeting, the Valachi hearings, and The Godfather; a second period of denial and romanticization; and, since around 1980, the current level of understanding, occasioned mainly by serious federal prosecutions and the publication of gangster memoirs."
--Blood and Power
Stephen Fox
It has been called The Outfit, The Arm, The Clique, The Tradition, The Syndicate, The Honored Society, The Office, and The Combination, but to its members it is La Cosa Nostra (this thing of ours). The face of the mafia has changed from the faceless, mysterious, and impenetrable power that it was fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, no member of La Cosa Nostra would have considered breaking omerta, the code of silence which, in many ways, is responsible for the power of the mafia. To do this was to be labeled a "rat" (called that because a rat will do anything to survive) and be marked for certain death. Today, things are different. It has been blamed on drugs, and it has been blamed on youth. One thing is certain: powerful members of the mafia have broken omerta, and the entire organization has paid the price.

In 1988, Angelo Lonardo, former acting boss of the Cleveland Family, testified before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. The issue of the changing of the mafia was addressed. Senator Roth stated:

"...we are facing a new generation of the LCN [La Cosa Nostra]... They lack respect for tradition and for the family, they have succumbed to the influence of drugs, both as traffickers and as users. As a result, they have become more greedy, selfish, more violent. Many have chosen to forsake omerta, the traditional vow of silence and turn in other family members to save their own skins."

Mr.Lombardo himself stated that there were no men of honor anymore. He states:
"It has changed since I first joined in the 1940's, especially in the last few years with the growth of narcotics. Greed is causing younger members to go into narcotics without the knowledge of the families. These younger members lack the discipline and respect that made "This Thing" as strong as it once was."

It started with Joe Valachi, a soldier in the Genovese Family that turned informer and was the source of The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas in 1963. He's not the only one. The most damaging testimony of all was perhaps that of Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano (right), underboss to Gambino Family boss, John Gotti (above left). This testimony led to Gotti's life sentence in prison.

Just because La Cosa Nostra members are breaking omerta more readily does not make this practice any less dangerous. It is still considered a death sentence. In fact, it may be argued that today's mafia is more violent and quicker to use deadly force than the mafia of times past. In today's mafia, you can never be sure which end of the gun you are on.

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Read Mr.Lombardo's complete testimony at Rick Porello's AmericanMafia.com