The True Story Behind Netflix Docuseries ‘Fear City’

Fear City

Over the past few months, there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in TV and movies, about life in the mafia.

In May, it was announced that Scarface would be getting a reboot written by the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan. Then, in August, another announcement was made, that the writers of Goodfellas and The Soprano’s were teaming up for a brand new project.

Now, Netflix has released a brand new docuseries, Fear City: New York vs The Mafia, which highlights the real events of the 1980s Mafia.

Fear City closely tracks the FBI’s takedown of five main families which held control over organised crime in New York City.

The three-part series shows how federal agents worked to expose the Mafia and eventually lock up the mob bosses for good.

FBI agents, involved in the investigation, give voice to their side of the story and the episodes also include footage and evidence, as well as interviews with former Mafia members.

Behind the series is a true story of gangland warfare and here, we look at what unfolded.

The Five Mafia Families

“The Commission” was made up of five Mafia groups which included the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese families. They were responsible for and facilitated illegal activity across the five boroughs of New York.

The families were headed up by a “Mafia Boss”, each who were indicted in the 1985 Mafia Commission Trial under charges of extortion, labour racketeering and murder.

For two decades, they controlled by intimidating, use of threats and perpetuated organised crime across various industries.

Even though the Mafia is said to still run in the US, the trial brought down the golden era of The Commission.

To evade law enforcement, each “family” was structured in a way that only “foot soldiers” (also known as “Wise Guys”) were committing the crime. This would ensure that the mob boss (and his 2IC) would be well-protected — including knowledge of day-to-day activities that took place.

FBI agent Lin DeVecchio outlined the structure during an interview in the series.

“The lower-level guys were out there committing the criminal acts and kicking the money up to the higher-ups,” he said.

“The average ‘wiseguy.’ We knew what he was doing. We’d put him in jail for a year but it didn’t solve the problem. Whatever their money-making scheme was went right on, virtually without interruption. ‘Cause there were a lot of guys waiting in the wings to take his place.”

According to former mobsters Johnny Alite and Michael Franzese, their lives were filled with riches, unlimited drugs, multiple properties and private planes.

“Who’s gonna stop us? You felt like you had the power to do anything you want,” Alite said during his interview. “I didn’t feel New York was mine for the taking. I thought we already took it.”

How was The Commission taken down?

The FBI and local police struggled to take control of the city because they couldn’t infiltrate the families. This meant that the FBI had to utilise bugs and surveillance to gather any evidence.

Through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act of 1970, investigators were able to try leaders of crime syndicates on charges that they ordered crimes to be committed, proving links between bosses and their foot soldiers.

The series follows the FBI as they bug the homes of high-ranking members, with reenactments taking place. One instance shows how they tampered with a cable in Castellano’s house and then pretended to be a repairman while bugging his house.

According to the series, this was a significant step in the charge against the mob — as they discovered the existence of The Commission.

The five families were then able to be tried under the RICO Act.

In 1985, everything came to a head when 11 organised crime associates were indicted — including the mob bosses from the different families.

Of the nearly dozen men that were tried, eight were sentenced to prison, with most receiving a sentence of no less than 100 years.

Watch Fear City: New York vs The Mafia streaming on Netflix now.

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