A mafia family has a very intricate structure of power. Often it varies based on the particular family, but most have the same general configuration. At the top of the family is the boss. The boss is followed by an underboss that controls the capos underneath him. Each capo is over a certain number of soldiers. The soldiers control the business done with the associates. Another key player is the consigliere. This person serves as an ‘unbiased’ and ‘elected’ advisor to the family boss.
The boss of the family controls all of the business of the family. All financial revenue, legal and illegal, is paid to him and he distributes pay to his capos that then pay the soldiers and associates. He also decides if a person can enter the family and become a soldier. Anything done by the family goes through the boss and is approved by him. Ultimately, the boss decides who lives and who dies.
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He is supposed to be elected by the members of the family. Technically he is not a member of the family hierarchy. More often than not the consigliere is someone who the boss approves of and not always impartial to vendettas and personal opinions of the boss and family.
There is a direct connection running from the underboss to the caporegimes. These men are usually referred to as capos. They are in charge of a section of the family, particular territory, or operation. They are the ones who make the money directly. The more money a capo makes, the more successful and likely to move up the ladder he is. These are the men who frequently go to jail for the crimes because they are directly involved with them.
At the bottom of the mafia ladder are soldiers. They have minimum influence and make little money. These people do the dirty work of the family. They are the ones who commit the murders and thefts claimed by the family. A certain number of soldiers is under a capo and reports to them. The number of soldiers per capo varies with each family.
An additional indirect connection to the family is the associates. These are the ones who are not members of the family, but assist the family in operations and dealings. They consist of anyone from a small business owner to a police officer. The public usually knows associates’ identities, but they stay just out of the illegal operations to not be arrested.
The hierarchy of the mafia is very direct. Each person has someone they report to except the boss. Over the years the mafia has become very good at hiding from the law and masking their illegal businesses with legal ones. At any point in time if the boss thinks someone is against him or attempting to unseat him, he can say the word and that person could be dead by the morning. Truly the only people with any authority are the boss and sometimes the underboss. The capos have to follow all orders of the boss, and all money they make goes to the boss. The boss can choose to pay them or not and they still have to keep working to keep their life. In actuality the hierarchy of the mafia is a masked dictatorship controlled by the boss.