The New York Criminal Law Blog

How Are Mob Bosses Charged?

The recent arrest of five alleged mobsters said to have inspired the movie "Goodfellas" has given some insight into how mob bosses are charged with crimes.

Five reported members of the Bonanno crime family were arrested and charged with racketeering, murder, and the 1978 Lufthansa storage facility heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Reuters reported. The Lufthansa heist inspired the film "Goodfellas" and involved the theft of more than $5 million in cash and jewelry.

While it's a difficult and lengthy process to arrest and charge known mob families, the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as the RICO Act, helps prosecutors charge the mobsters.


Under the RICO Act, prosecutors now have a much easier time convicting organized crime families. Prior to the Act, prosecutors could only bust the lower level members for the actual crimes they committed. This allowed the top mob bosses evade arrest because it was rare that these bosses carried out the dirty work of organized crime.

After Congress enacted RICO, the top mob bosses could be charged with the crimes of their henchmen by proving that the organization as whole regularly performs specific illegal activity and that the mob boss ran the whole organization. The Act allows prosecutors to convict the guys in charge of the criminal organization for all the crimes their henchmen carried out under the bosses' directions.

Beyond nabbing mob bosses, the RICO Act has been used against the Catholic Church for allegedly allowing priests to molest children and against anti-abortion protestors for blocking access to abortion clinics.

A Long Time Coming

While the RICO Act may have made it easier for the government to convict mob bosses, it still takes a very long time to gather all the necessary evidence for a RICO case and capture the criminals.

For example, it took police 16 years to capture and arrest notorious mobster James "Whitey" Bulger for 11 murders that occurred in the 70s. Similarly, the Lufthansa Heist took place in 1978 and it took law enforcement officials 36 years to arrest and charge members of the Bonanno crime family with the theft and its related crimes.

Although mob bosses are known for evading arrest, the charging of five mobsters tied to the Lufthansa Heist will help bring closure to a decades-long open case.

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