Depending on your mob media consumption, you might think of mafiosos as vicious sociopaths (The Sopranos), tragic personalities (The Godfather), tough but ultimately loveable goofballs (Analyze This), or just poorly written (The Many Saints of Newark). As it turns out, some of them are also Gen Xers or millennials or whatever, and the older ones probably like to gripe about them just as much as headline writers.
It’s common knowledge that New York’s infamous Five Families aren’t quite what they used to be, worn down by the feds, upstart competitors, and a changing world, in general. According to the Wall Street Journal, though, they have another problem—the goddamn youngs and their cell phones.
In a recent piece about the September 2021 arrest of alleged Colombo crime family chief Andrew Russo, who is facing nine federal charges ranging from racketeering to money laundering, the Journal highlighted sloppy texting habits as a boon for the feds and one of the family’s many woes. The paper wrote that today’s new roster of gangsters isn’t exactly impressing the old guard, especially because some lack the sense to not leave incriminating text message logs behind:
A new generation of wiseguys didn’t properly learn the business, according to former government investigators. Older members complain that the millennials—who grew up in the suburbs instead of city streets—are softer, dumber and not as loyal as mobsters of the past. Plus, they’re always texting.
“Everything is on the phones with them,” said a former made member of the Colombo family who knows some of the men accused in the case.
According to the Journal, one Colombo associate (someone who works with a gang, but is not an initiated member of it) stands accused of extorting a union official in a text message. Court records show that the associate, identified by a previous Associated Press article as “Vinny’s cousin,” penned the very unsubtle threat, “Hey this is the 2nd text, there isnt going to be a 3rd.”
Richard Frankel, a former FBI agent, told the Journal, “I am sure that is frowned upon in mob circles.”
Of course, take all this with a grain of salt. Mob gossip, really. But you know, maybe use Signal with disappearing messages turned on next time.
Former FBI agent Scott Curtis, who investigated the Colombos, told the Journal that Russo has himself to blame for being too hands-on with the scheming and refusing to retire, even though he’s 87. Some 13 other individuals, including what the Department of Justice claims is the “entire administration of the Colombo organized crime family,” are facing charges alongside Russo. Prosecutors have introduced numerous recordings of Russo doing his own blabbing, including one of him saying “I can’t walk away. I can’t rest.” In another FBI recording, another member of the family explained that “The problem is, that old man, he wanted to be boss his whole life.”
Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Russo’s lawyers, told the paper the recordings are over a decade old and his client is too elderly to be dangerous.
Russo isn’t the only criminal the FBI nabbed in part on the basis of bad texting conventions lately. The agency, which has disingenuously fearmongered about the potential for encrypted communications to help criminals and terrorists evade prosecution since the 1990s, is moving forward with a new strategy of spreading the message that encryption won’t protect them in the first place. The Department of Justice announced over 800 worldwide arrests of organized crime members in June, which the agency credited to a long-running honeypot operation called ANOM that entailed using a high-level informant to set up a fake encrypted communications platform.