30. The Early Mob Opens Shop in New Orleans
In the nineteenth century, the favored destination of southern Italian immigrants was not America, but Argentina and Brazil. Their Latin culture, Romance languages, Catholic religion, and warmer climes were easier to adapt to than America. New Orleans became a secondary destination because of its extensive traffic with those southern locales. By the 1870s, Sicilian immigrants Carlo and Alberto Matranga had established the Matranga crime family in New Orleans, operating out of a saloon and brothel.
They expanded their activities from prostitution to labor racketeering and a lucrative extortion racket known as the Black Hand. They collected “tribute” from Italian laborers, as well as from a rival Italian crime family, the Prozenzanos, who monopolized South American fruit shipments. In the 1880s, the Matrangas warred with the Prozenzanos over control of the New Orleans waterfront, with each family bringing in reinforcements from the old country. Payback begat payback, and the violence spilled over, putting pressure on the authorities to act. New Orleans’ police chief launched an investigation into the mafiosi activities, only to be assassinated for his troubles in 1890. Unable to identify his killers, he stated “the Dagoes shot me“, before expiring.