For many years, people have assumed that the Sicilian crime faction called the Mafia and the Unione Siciliana were one and the same. However, this assumption is not entirely true. At least, not at the beginning.

The Unione Siciliana, a fraternal organization of Sicilian Americans, was first created in 1893 in New York City, and almost simultaneously in Chicago, by legitimate Sicilian businessmen. The original concept of the Unione Siciliana was to provide life and health insurance to Sicilians, who had recently emigrated from Sicily. This insurance was needed because the working conditions at that time were abominable for all workers, but especially for the alien newcomers, who were desperate for work of any kind, no matter how dangerous.

For a small dues, members were able to receive this insurance, as well as other social benefits desired by strangers in a foreign land, who were, by nature, extremely clannish. These social benefits included dances, friendly card games, and a social network where Sicilian men could meet Sicilian women, with the intention of eventually getting married. Soon branches (lodges) of the Unione Siciliana sprung up all over America, in any place that had a sizable Sicilian community. By the 1920, Chicago alone had 38 lodges, and over 40,000 members.

The Unione Siciliana also had a very sizable voting block, which made it attractive to politicians, especially the corrupt political machines in Chicago, and the notoriously crooked Tammany Hall hacks in New York City. The Unione Siciliana threw frequent fund-raising activities for politicians in both cities, making these politicians, when elected, deeply indebted to the leaders of the Unione Siciliana, who were increasing morphing from honest businessmen into criminals of the highest order.

If there was a buck to be made, or a politician to be bought, the Mafia, which also originated in Sicily, knew how to take advantage of the opportunity. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Mafia moved in, both in Chicago and in New York City, to take control of the Unione Siciliana.

In the early 1900’s in New York City, the elected President of the Unione Siciliana was a beast-of-a-Mafioso named Ignazio Saietta, also known as “Lupo the Wolf.” How a man like Saietta could be elected by honest businessmen to a position of such great influence can only be attributed to Saietta and his followers exerting tremendous pressure on the voters to elect Saietta, or suffer grave consequences.

Saietta, originally from Corleone, Sicily, was also one of the leaders of a Sicilian extortion group known as the Black Hand, which operated exclusively in New York City. Saietta was so feared in the Sicilian communities, Sicilian immigrants were known to make the sign of the cross at the mere mention of his name. The leadership of the Black Hand consisted of the Morello Brothers, Joe and Nick, and Ciro Terranova, who was known as the “Artichoke King.” So at the time Saietta became the president of the Unione Siciliana, the Black Hand and the Unione Siciliana became basically one and the same.

Through the membership rolls of the Unione Siciliana, the Black Hand gang members were able to ascertain which Sicilian immigrants were generating income, thereby making these members ripe for a shakedown. Before any violence was perpetrated, the Black Hand sent threatening notes to Sicilian businessmen. On the bottom of the extortion notes, was the imprint of a “Black Hand,” which was made by a hand dipped in black ink. However, due to the inroads law enforcement was making with fingerprinting at the time, the “Black Hand” was later drawn instead. If the person who was being extorted did not pay the Black Hand’s demands, they were brutally tortured, and sometimes even murdered. If they were lucky, only their places of business was destroyed by explosives.

In 1905, a butcher named Gaetano Costa, got a Black Hand extortion letter, demanding $1,000. Costa was instructed to put the $1,000 into a loaf of bread, and to give it to a man who came into his shop to buy meat, and pulled out a red handkerchief. Costa refused, and the very next day, two men came into his butcher shop and shot Costa to death. No one was charged with the murder, but the police were sure the orders were given by Saietta.

One of the Italians being extorted by the Black Hand was the famous opera singer Enrico Caruso. Caruso was, at first, given an ultimatum to pay $2,000 for his safety. Caruso, knowing the murderous reputation of the Black Hand, agreed to pay that amount. However, before he could pay, Caruso received another letter now demanding $15,000.

The nemeses of the Black Hand was a short, barrel-chested police lieutenant named Joseph Petrosino. Knowing Petrosino was hot on the trail of the Black Hand, Caruso immediately took the second letter to Petrosino. Petrosino told Caruso to make arrangements to drop the money off at a prearranged place. When two Italian men showed up to pick up the money, Petrosino arrested them on the spot.

The magnitude of the atrocities perpetrated by the Black Hand was uncovered, when in 1901, acting on a tip from an informant, Petrosino discovered the infamous “Murder Stables” located at 304, 108th Street in Harlem. Petrosino directed his men to dig up the grounds of the entire stables. He was horrified to discover that 60 bodies were buried there. The landlord of record of the stables was none other than Ignazio Saietta, president of the supposedly respectable Unione Siciliana. When Petrosino questioned Saietta as to the slight problem of so many dead bodies being buried on his property, Saietta played dumb, saying he was only the landlord, and not responsible for the work of his tenants. Saietta provided Petrosino with a bogus list of the tenant’s names, all of Italian decent, but Petrosino was not able to locate any of these tenants, if indeed they existed at all.

While investigating the Black Hand’s roots in Sicily, on March 12, 1909, Police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino was shot to death in the piazza of the Garibaldi Garden in Palermo. Petrosino’s murder was ordered by the Black Hand members in America, and orchestrated by the head of the Mafia in Sicily – Don Vito Cascio Ferro.

By yanam49

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