You Need Some Protection
The Mafia's first foray into moneymaking was when it began to extort money from the very people it purported to protect. People would receive courtly and politely written letters “requesting” money for protection. The gimmick was that the money was protection from the group that sent the letter. If the recipients did not pay up, they could expect a violent response. Family members might be kidnapped and held for ransom. Their house could be set ablaze and destroyed. They might even be killed. People lived in terror that one of these notes would be slipped under their door.
The “Black Hand” was an early group of Italian criminals. It was called that for the gang's penchant for slipping a politely written note under people's doors asking them in a nice way to pay a fee to avoid being killed. The note was not signed, but instead was stamped with an inked image of the caller's hand.
The Sicilian Mafia continued to gain power, prestige, and influence in all aspects of the island's culture and political establishment. By 1876 the Mafia chieftain Don Raffaele Palizzolo was elected to the Sicilian Parliament. He arranged for his handpicked men to become prime minister and director of the National Bank. This commingling of Mafia and politics is a tradition that has never stopped. As you will see in later chapters, the American Mafia has been a behind-the-scenes player in American politics, allegedly influencing at least one presidential election.