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In the American Mafia, a made man is a fully initiated member of the Mafia. To become "made", an associate first has to be sponsored by another made man. An inductee will be required to take the oath of Omertà, the mafia code of silence. After the induction ceremony the associate becomes a "made man", and holds the rank of soldier (Italian: soldato) in the Mafia hierarchy.
Other common names for members include man of honor (Italian: uomo d'onore), one of us, friend of ours, good fella, and wiseguy; although the last two can also apply to non-initiated Mafia associates who work closely with the Mafia, rather than just official "made men". Earning or making one's "bones" or "button" or becoming a "button man" for the Mafia is usually synonymous with becoming a "made man".
Other street terms for being initiated into the Mafia include being "straightened out" or "baptized," and earning one's "badge." Soldato (Italian for "soldier") is also usually synonymous with made man, as one must generally be officially "made", to move from the rank of "associate" to the rank of soldato. "The books are open" is a phrase used in the Mafia to indicate that a particular Mafia family is ready to accept new members; conversely, if a family is unwilling or unable to accept new members, the "books are closed." In Sicily, the proper term for a member of the Sicilian Mafia is in Italian uomo d'onore, or in Sicilian omu d'onuri. Mafioso is a common term used colloquially and by the press and academics, but it is generally not used by members of the Italian-American and Sicilian Mafia themselves.
Traditionally, in the Italian-American Mafia, to become a true made man, the inductee had to be a male of full Italian descent. For example, famous Lucchese family associate Henry Hill, portrayed in the 1990 film Goodfellas, was unable to become a made man despite his extensive Mafia career and even his mother being of Sicilian descent, because Hill's father was of Irish descent. Today, it is believed that the Italian-American Mafia has loosened this requirement so that males of half-Italian descent through their father's line can also be inducted. According to Salvatore Vitale, it was decided during a Commission meeting in 2000 to restore the rule requiring both parents to be Italian; however, this rule was explicitly for the Five Families in New York City, and in practice the rule may be overlooked even in New York City in certain cases. Because an increased number of third- and fourth-generation Italian Americans have some non-Italian ancestry (due to the mixing of ethnic groups in the United States), having an Italian surname seems to have become the prerequisite for Mafia membership. Examples of made members who are not of full Italian descent include the son of Italian-American mobster John Gotti, John A. Gotti, whose maternal grandmother was a Russian Jew; and Frank Salemme of the New England Patriarca crime family, whose mother was of Irish descent while his father was of Italian descent. In other cases, partially Italian-American associates have hidden their non-Italian heritage to become made men, as in the case of Scarfo crime family soldier and made man Andrew Thomas DelGiorno, who was of Polish and Italian descent but managed to conceal his Polish heritage on his mother's side and was therefore inducted into the Philadelphia Mafia. Some half-Italian associates of John Gotti that rose to a status close to that of a made man include Wilfred Johnson, half-Native American and half-Italian, though he was killed and consequently never inducted into the Mafia.
An associate of a crime family who has been in the police force or even attended a police academy usually cannot become a made member of the Mafia. For example, DeMeo crew member Henry Borelli could never become a made man in the Gambino family, since he had taken the New York City Police Department entrance exam in the early 1970s. Bonanno underboss Salvatore Vitale was only "made" because his brother-in-law and future boss Joseph Massino managed to cover up Vitale's previous work as a corrections officer. However, one exception to this rule includes Scarfo crime family soldier Ron Previte, who was a former (albeit corrupt) member of the Philadelphia police force. Another exception was Richard Cain who was both a made man in the Chicago Outfit and an officer in the Chicago Police Department. In addition, though never becoming officially made members of the Mafia, corrupt NYPD police detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa performed duties for the Lucchese crime family equivalent to those of a soldier or made man.
Before being inducted, a potential made man is often required to carry out a contract killing. Traditionally, this rule was applied to prove a hopeful made man's loyalty to the Mafia; in modern times, it also serves to show that one is not an undercover law enforcement agent. According to traditional rules, any murders committed for personal reasons "do not count". Committing one's first contract killing is referred to as "making one's bones". Performing a contract killing to become a made man is also known as getting or earning one's "button" or becoming a so-called "button man" or hitman for the Mafia. However, earning one's "button" does not always involve killing; "heavy earners", or experienced associates who have not necessarily murdered for the Mafia but instead make significant profit for the Mafia through illegal activities, have in the past earned their "button" or become made men due to their other valuable contributions beyond contract killing. Though valued by higher ranking members for their economic contributions, "heavy earner" made men who have not committed a murder for the Mafia are sometimes looked down on or derided by those made men that have committed murder to be initiated; made men who have carried out killings may mock or accuse those made men initiated due to their economic contributions as having "bought their button" (as opposed to "earning one's button" or "making one's button" through murder). Until the 1980s, one only had to be involved in a murder (such as driving the getaway car) or be a major "earner" for the family to fulfill the requirements. It was not until the Donnie Brasco trials, which revealed that undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone was on the verge of being made into the Bonanno crime family, that a rule was made that potential inductees must actually perform a killing.
When introducing one made man to another, the phrase "a friend of ours" is used, indicating that he is a member and business can be discussed openly with him. If the person being introduced is an associate or civilian to whom business should not be mentioned, the phrase "a friend of mine" is used instead. Made men are the only ones who can rise through the ranks of the Mafia, from soldier to caporegime, consigliere, underboss, and boss.
To become made, an associate would first have to be sponsored by a made man. According to Pistone's accounts in his books The Way of the Wiseguy and Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business, the associate must now have at least two sponsors, one of whom must have known him for at least 10 to 15 years. The sponsor knows the associate and vouches for his reliability and abilities. Although a capo or other senior members will determine the prospective member's credibility, ultimately the decision lies with the boss of the family into which he will be inducted.
When the crime family "opens the books" (accepts new members), an associate will get a call telling him to get ready and dressed. He will then be picked up and taken to the room where the ceremony will take place, alone or with other accepted candidates. An inductee will be required to take the oath of Omertà, the mafia code of silence. Though the ceremony varies from family to family, it usually involves the pricking of the trigger finger of the inductee, then dripping blood onto a picture of a saint, typically St. Francis of Assisi or the Virgin Mary, which is then set alight in his hand and kept burning until the inductee has sworn the oath of loyalty to his new "family," e.g., "As this card burns, may my soul burn in Hell if I betray the oath of Omertà," or "As burns this saint, so will burn my soul. I enter alive and I will have to get out dead."
After the induction ceremony the associate becomes a made man and holds the rank of soldier (Italian: soldato) in the Mafia hierarchy. He is given responsibilities and receives benefits. A made man enjoys the full protection and backing of the Mafia establishment as long as he remains in favor and earns enough money, a percentage of which must be passed up the hierarchy. A made man is traditionally seen as "untouchable" by fellow criminals; he is to be respected and feared. To strike, let alone kill, a made man for any reason without the permission of the Mafia family leadership is a cardinal sin which is punished by death, regardless of whether the perpetrator had a legitimate grievance. An example of this type of retribution was discussed in the non-fiction book Wiseguy, which chronicles the life of Henry Hill who was a Lucchese crime family associate turned FBI informant. It involved the circumstances of the disappearance of Tommy DeSimone, an associate in the Lucchese crime family. Allegedly DeSimone was killed by the Gambino crime family. His offense was that he murdered made man William "Billy Batts" Bentvena (a member of the Gambino organization) without permission. A made man can, however, be killed if a good enough reason is provided and the Mafia family leadership gives permission.
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