Does LA even HAVE a Mafia?

The Unknown History of the Mafia in Southern California


The Mafia, also known as La Cosa Nostra, has long been associated with cities like New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas. However, the history of the Mafia in Southern California is relatively unknown compared to its counterparts in other cities. This post will aim to shed light on the unknown history of the Mafia in Southern California and explore the reasons behind its lack of fame.


The presence of organized crime in Southern California can be traced back to the early 20th century. During the Prohibition era, when the sale and production of alcohol were prohibited, the Mafia saw an opportunity to profit. While the mob in other cities focused on bootlegging and controlling speakeasies as their main bread source, the Mafia in Southern California took a different approach. They realized the potential for profit in the burgeoning film industry.


 In the 1920s and 1930s, Southern California was becoming the epicenter of the entertainment industry. Hollywood was attracting filmmakers, actors, and investors from all over the world. The Mafia recognized the power and influence that could be gained by infiltrating this industry. They began to establish connections with studio executives, producers, and even actors. One reason for the emphasis on Hollywood was due to the fact that local reformers and law enforcement had closed off other typical sources of revenue, such as horseracing.


One of the key figures in the Mafia’s presence in Southern California was Johnny Roselli. Roselli was a Chicago mobster who was sent to Los Angeles to oversee the Mafia’s interests in the film industry. Through his connections, Roselli was able to control aspects of the movie business, including unions, distribution, and even the content of films. (The infamous horse-head scene in the Godfather is loosely based upon Roselli’s advocacy that Frank Sinatra receive a coveted film role.) This influence allowed the Mafia to generate significant profits and expand its reach in Southern California.


However, unlike the Mafia in other cities, the organized crime presence in Southern California was more covert and less overtly violent. The Mafia in Southern California operated behind the scenes, using their influence and connections to control the entertainment industry. They focused on white-collar crimes such as extortion, bribery, and money laundering.


Another reason for the lack of fame of the Mafia in Southern California is the overshadowing effect of other criminal organizations. While the Mafia was present in Southern California, it was not the dominant criminal force. Other criminal groups, such as Hispanic and Asian gangs, had a stronger presence and were involved in more visible and violent criminal activities.


Moreover, the popular culture portrayal of the Mafia has largely revolved around the Italian-American mobsters in cities like New York and Chicago. Movies like “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas” have contributed to the glamorization and fame of these mobsters. In contrast, the Mafia in Southern California, which was more ethnically heterogenous and involved Jewish members like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and Mickey Cohen, did not receive the same level of attention in popular culture, leading to its relative obscurity.


Additionally, law enforcement played a significant role in limiting the power and visibility of the Mafia in Southern California. The Los Angeles Police Department, in collaboration with federal agencies, actively targeted organized crime in the region. Through successful investigations and prosecutions, law enforcement was able to dismantle Mafia operations and disrupt their control over the entertainment industry.


In conclusion, the Mafia’s presence in Southern California during the early 20th century is a lesser-known chapter in the history of organized crime. While the Mafia in other cities like New York and Chicago gained fame and notoriety, the Mafia in Southern California operated in a more covert and less violent manner. The focus on the film industry and the overshadowing effect of other criminal organizations contributed to its lack of fame. However, the efforts of law enforcement also played a significant role in limiting the Mafia’s power, visibility–and to some degree, its legacy, in Southern California.


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