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Understanding Organized Crime Networks: Evidence Based on Federal Bureau of Narcotics Secret Files on American Mafia

  • Giovanni Mastrobuoni
  • Eleonora Patacchini

Using unique data on criminal profiles of 800 US Mafia members active in the 50s and 60s and on their connections within the Cosa Nostra network we analyze how the geometry of criminal ties between mobsters depends on family ties, community roots and ties, legal and illegal activities. We contrast our evidence with historical and sociological views about the functioning of the Mafia. Much of our findings are remarkably in line with these views, with interesting qualifications. We interpret some of our results in light of a model of optimal vertical and horizontal connections where more connections mean more profits but also a higher risk of defection. We find that variables that lower the risk of defection, among others, kinship, violence, and mafia culture increase the number of connections. Moreover, there is evidence of strategic endogamy: female children are as valuable as male ones, and being married to a "connected" wife is a strong predictor of leadership within the Mafia ranks. A very parsimonious regression model explains one third of the variability in the criminal ranking of the "men of honor," suggesting that these variables could be used to detect criminal leaders. An additional prediction of our simple model is a right-skewed distribution of the number of connections, which is remarkably in line with the evidence of an extremely hierarchical organization.

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Paper provided by Collegio Carlo Alberto in its series Carlo Alberto Notebooks with number 152.

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Length: 58 pages
Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cca:wpaper:152
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  1. Nuno Garoupa, 1999. "Optimal law enforcement and criminal organization," Economics Working Papers 366, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  2. Dominik H. Enste & Friedrich Schneider, 2000. "Shadow Economies: Size, Causes, and Consequences," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 77-114, March.
  3. Vimal Kumar & Stergios Skaperdas, 2008. "On The Economics oF Organized Crime," Working Papers 070815, University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics.
  4. Mariagiovanna Baccara & Heski Bar-Isaac, 2008. "How to Organize Crime -super-1," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 1039-1067.
  5. Yann Bramoullé & Bernard Fortin, 2009. "The Econometrics of Social Networks," Cahiers de recherche 0913, CIRPEE.
  6. Patacchini, Eleonora & Zenou, Yves, 2008. "The strength of weak ties in crime," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 52(2), pages 209-236, February.
  7. Heski Bar-Isaac & Mariagiovanna Baccara, 2006. "How to Organize Crime," Working Papers 06-07, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
  8. Oriana Bandiera, 2003. "Land Reform, the Market for Protection, and the Origins of the Sicilian Mafia: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(1), pages 218-244, April.
  9. Alexander, Barbara J, 1997. "The Rational Racketeer: Pasta Protection in Depression Era Chicago," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(1), pages 175-202, April.
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