The Mobster’s Playbook 101: Legal Matters

If the mob’s legal tactics playbook was published as an actual book, it would be more like a pamphlet. They tended to recycle the same tactics over and over, partly because they don’t have a lot of imagination, but also because they were usually effective. Even the most illiterate, only semi-evolved gangster knew exactly how the legal system worked and that the authorities had to work within its bounds, a fact they exploited to their advantage. We know this from mob informants like Abe Reles and Jimmy Frattiano, who, once they decided to sing, couldn’t resist bragging to authorities the extent of their understanding of the law’s inner workings.

Note 1: This website relays factual information from the historical documentary record, primary sources: historical newspapers, magazines, crime reports, and court documents. It does not reply on not thrice-generation family lore. 

Note 2: A person may be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not the court of public opinion. Also, there’s a big difference from being “found innocent” and having your mouthpiece (lawyer) get you off by one or more of the mobster playbook tactics below.

Note 3: While this is directed at the mob, it may also apply to the wealthy or powerful, such as politicians. Anyone with money and/or influence can play.

The playbook  

First off, odds are you probably won’t get arrested at all. That’s what protection money is for. 

So something goes wrong, and you do get arrested. Maybe some rookie who doesn’t know who you are books you on an assault with a deadly weapons charge. Are you kidding me? Don’t you know who I am? 

Don’t blow your stack. One of your friends can probably get it knocked down to a misdemeanor. You’ll pay a little fine and be on your way.  

Say they do book you. Relax. Your mouthpiece will down at the station with the bail money to spring you in no time. In the meantime, as the reporters swarm around, throw them a bone and give them a pithy quote or two. They love that.

Remember, in a pinch, a handkerchief makes a swell disguise. They’ll never know it’s you, Jimmy!

In all likelihood, your mouthpiece will get the charges dropped on some petty technicality before there’s even a preliminary hearing.

OK, so the D.A. wants to play hardball and you are indicted. It’s not that you did anything wrong, he’s just got to make it look like he’s tough on crime once in a while. Especially since he’s got an election coming up. Campaigns are pretty expensive, you know? 

Breeze in and out of court with an “I haven’t got a care in the world…” attitude. If you’ve got a cigar, smoke it- that’ll show ‘em how unworried you are. Your mouthpiece will find some reason to get the charges quashed before this thing goes any further.

If, by some chance this fails and the the case is recommended for trial, keep cool. You’ve got lots of options. After all, – you’re…You.

First off, delay, delay, delay. Push the trial date back as far as possible, give the public pressure time to die down.


Witnesses become harder to find or they don’t remember so good. Maybe you can help with that. Intimidate them. Scare them. Threaten them. Bribe them. How much will it cost to keep quiet and leave town? Or maybe they have an accident. Like, fall out of a window, or stab themselves with an icepick 32 times, tie themselves to a slot machine and jump into a convenient lake. Happens all the time.


The bottom line is, if the witness doesn’t show up in court, for whatever reason, you move for a dismissal and you walk.

So despite your best efforts, the witnesses do show up and you have to go to trial. Big deal. Cry to the papers about what a raw deal you’re getting. You’re broke, your wife is suffering, your kids, your mother. Your health is failing. Your a broken man. Get yourself pushed into court in a wheelchair, or an iron lung.

Yell that the officer who arrested you is a crook. He tried to shake you down! You wouldn’t pay up so he’s just out to get you. If that doesn’t work, attack the prosecuter’s credibility. 



Your mouthpiece can probably think of some other reason to get the charges dismissed. “Lack of evidence” is a good one. Your pals did arranged an alibi in advance, didn’t they? That guy you know- the one who owns that restaurant- he’ll swear you were having dinner there that night. Works every time. Mostly.

Maybe they nabbed one of your crew and he’s turned squealer. Who cares? You know the testimony of a co-conspirator isn’t enough to convict you. They’ve got to have someone who can corroborate his story. You can’t even spell corroborate, but this you know.

And anyway, your mouthpiece gets to cross-examine the witnesses. He can bring up all kinds of dirt about them. It goes without saying, he’s made sure none of the bad stuff you’ve ever done is admissible.

Laugh it off. Who are they going to believe, a crook like that, or you- a guy in a custom tailored suit?


Say- by some strange chance- you are convicted. Don’t worry! You’ve got the money to get free on bond pending appeal. And there’s no question you’re going to appeal. Find some little technicality to hang it on. And if it gets denied, you just appeal to a higher court, and on up the line. Prison is for ax murderers or laid-off truck drivers who get caught passing a $7 rubber check to the grocer, not important people with handmade shoes like you.

Not to rain on your parade, there’s always the remote possibility that things won’t shake out the way you figured and your appeals will fail. In that case, you could go to the electric chair, or, in all likelihood, die in prison.

 Smile to the reporters on your way to the pen and maybe they’ll crop the guy you’re handcuffed to out of the picture when they print it in the papers.

As long as you didn’t ever lie on your income tax returns. Then none of the above can help you, brother. You are screwed.