I once interviewed a woman who had divorced her mob hitman husband, testified against him in a racketeering trial and then married an FBI agent assigned to guard her while she was living in hiding.
One of the things I asked was what was the difference between the cops and the wiseguys?
Without missing a beat, she replied, “The cops have badges.”
That was perhaps the best take I’d ever heard on the primary players in the macho world of organized crime. It also captured the essence of the woman and the people she dealt with. She was street corner smart with that South Philadelphia edge that I love.
The Philadelphia mob has been the focus of my reporting for more than twenty-five years. Its story, in microcosm, is the story of the demise of the American Mafia.
The wanton violence, the testimony of turncoat members (more per capita than any other mob family in the country) and the prosecutions that have decimated the organization have offered more drama and pathos than I could hope for.
The secretly recorded conversations – from phone taps, body wires and room bugs – have provided the dialogue to drive the narrative. And the personal tales of love and betrayal have added a back story that could have come from Puccini or Shakespeare.
As I look at this crime family, in disarray, but still functioning; as I learn of new tape recordings and hear about yet another cooperating witness, I shake my head in wonder.
You can’t make this stuff up any better than it is.
About George Anastasia
GEORGE ANASTASIA, a veteran reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is the grandson of Sicilian immigrants who settled in South Philadelphia. He is the author of five books of nonfiction, including Blood and Honor, which Jimmy Breslin called the "best gangster book ever written." He has won many awards for investigative journalism and magazine writing.