Cosa Nostra’s System of Taxation and The Transnational Criminal Integrated System

Cosa Nostra has developed its own system of direct and indirect taxation. In the territories where Cosa Nostra is active, direct taxes are levied on workers, forced to pay several forms of extortion money, while indirect taxes are levied on the entire population resident in the territory by artificially increasing the prices of products through the imposition of fees or altering normal business relations (speculation).

However; this applied until some decades ago. In recent years, the control of the territory, including the associated system of taxation, has seen a substantial loss in Cosa Nostra’s power and authority. Other international mafias organizations have gained control of the local licit and illicit businesses. Sicilian Cosa Nostra is now mostly involved in levying taxes for the passage of goods, but also supervising with little authority international sponsored businesses. The ‘integrated criminal system’ (see Scarpinato 2016) created by Sicilian Cosa Nostra with local, regional and national authorities has now a transnational character. Other ‘integrated criminal systems’ include the Chinese, Eastern European, Russian, Commonwealth of Independent States and USA confraternities (see discussion MassoMafia herehere and here)..

The importance of the system of taxation should, in this context, not be underestimated since it represents one of the most regular revenues that Cosa Nostra had for the maintenance of its institutional system (DNA 2008). In 2008, the members of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra were estimated to be an army of 5,500 individuals subdivided in 55 mandamenti. This means an average of 1 member of Cosa Nostra for every 903 inhabitants in the island (SOS Impresa 2008, Annex 2, p. 91), but also important sums of money that need to be raised on a regular basis for the maintenance of the system (see discussion below).

More into details, the direct taxes of Cosa Nostra primarily include extortion money. In 2008, almost 80 percent of shops in the cities of Palermo and Catania was thought to be subjected to extortion, with 755 persons denounced in 2006 against 904 in 2005 (SOS Impresa 2008, p. 38). Direct taxes can be subdivided in three main different categories: (a) ‘pizzo’ (the most classical form of extortion money); (b) ‘contributo’ all’organizzazione (contribute to the organization); c) dazioni in natura (duties in nature). The ‘pizzo’ consists either in the payment of a lump-sum negotiated with a member or affiliate of Cosa Nostra when opening a commercial activity or on monthly payments that depend on the volume of business or the square meters of the activity. In the sector of public works, the amount of ‘pizzo’ has usually varied between 2 percent and 3 percent of the total price, even though attempts of establishing a ‘flate-rate tax’ have been tried. The ‘Contributo all’Organizazzione’ takes place occasionally during events of particular importance for the city (for example, at Christmas or during the Festa of St. Rosalia in Palermo, the Festa of St. Agata in Catania or other patronal festivals in other cities).

In these occasions, the representatives of the clans ‘visit’ the shop-keepers and ask for money claiming that these ‘contributions’ are necessary to sustain the families of the members in prison. Direct taxes also include ‘dazioni in natura’ (duties in nature). These consist in services provided to the members of Cosa Nostra (such as the organization of wedding ceremonies, etc.) which, beyond the short-term material gain, help to improve the prestige of the clan in the eyes of the spectators (SOS Impresa 2008, pp. 10-13). In addition to these, other forms of direct taxation exist. These involve the money asked to the proprietor for the return of a stolen car, bike or truck, or the obligation of installing remunerative video poker machines in the shops (racket of video poker). Even though usually not seen as belonging to this category, direct taxes levied on citizens also include the profits from usury. These represent an extremely important portion of total tax revenues, which is also doomed to increase in the future due to the negative repercussions of the global financial crisis.

Indirect taxes are, by contrast, more difficult to calculate since they include all additional fees that influence the final price of a product. The simplest example can, perhaps, be given by the fruit and vegetables boxes used in the Sicilian markets that can have an additional cost of 7-15 $ cents per unit (DNA 2008, p. 269). Another example of indirect taxes paid to Cosa Nostra is represented by the products sold in the shops owned or controlled by Cosa Nostra. The supermarket chain DESPAR was here a notable case, believed to be administered by Cosa Nostra for several years. During their period of ‘business administrators’, the members of Cosa Nostra (apparently under the supervision of Bernardo Provenzano) decided almost the totality of the business’ decisions of the DESPAR. These ranged from the acquisition of products and the setting of prices to the hiring of workers (SOS Impresa 2008). Needless to say, the role of Cosa Nostra as ‘formal employer’ in a region characterized by high unemployment rates raises several important questions. It played, in fact, not only self-legitimizing functions for its members, but also the de-legitimizing functions for the national state. What happens if other criminal international actors or, even legal national actors, get involved in the illicit businesses, becoming new ‘formal’ employers?

The entrance of other international ‚integrated ciminal systems‘ has changed the power relations within the Sicilian territory (see also this other blog post). The prices of products, once in the hands of the members of Cosa Nostra, is always more often set by other international mafias with associated international institutional ties. This implies not only a loss of authority for the members of Cosa Nostra, but also an increase in authority for international mafias. The latter can influence, in a dramatic way, the future business trade-offs of locals, making more difficult for ‚honest‘ local and national authorities to win the battle against these new transnational illicit business organizations.

In this context, it is important to note the establishment of new ‘epistemic communities and advocacy coalitions’ (Sabatier and Smith Jenkins 1993) , as well as of new ad hoc  ‘social networks’ (Granovetter 1985; March and Olsen 1989) in the creation of illicit business trade-offs. Restaurants, hotel lobbies, masonic lodges, bedrooms and municipal halls become the new ‘policy fields’ for business and other interest bargainings. For Bourdieu (1981), a policy field is an institutional space where social and political actions take place. These are characterized by a specific habitus (Bourdieu 1977) understood in terms of a set of acquired patterns of thoughts, behaviours, and tastes which, subsequently, structure the perceptions and responses of agents to external challenges. So even a luxury hotel bedroom becomes, in this way, an institutional space for these illicit political-economic bargainings. They are also ‘policy’ and ‘shopping’ venues where communicative actions (see Habermas 1981) and policy instruments (Lascoumes and Le Galès 2007) are employed.

The concept of ‘policy venue’, firstly developed by Baumgartner and Jones (1993, p.32), refers to ‘institutional locations where authoritative decisions are made concerning a given issue’, ‘venue shopping’ used by Guiraudon (2000, 2003) emphasizes the actors’ strategies, also taking into account the rule-bound context to which actors respond to ‘buy’ (shopping) a particular policy. The policy venues, once located in institutional environments, are now dislocated (see above).


  1. Cosa Nostra (‘Our Thing’): An Introduction
  2. Historical Legacies of Cosa Nostra 
  3. Cosa Nostra’s Political and Governance Mechanisms: National and Transnational Ties 
  4. Cosa Nostra: System of Values and Norms
  5. Cosa Nostra’s System of Taxation and The Transnational Criminal Integrated System
  6. The Political Regime of Cosa Nostra: Between Independentist and Consociational Pressures
  7. The Transnational-Based Criminal Market Economy
  8. Cosa Nostra’s Criminal-Fare Regime 
  9. Cosa Nostra’s Systemic Problems 
  10. The ‘Anti-Mafia’ Organization: A Historical-Institutionalist Approach
  11.  List of Sicilian ‘Noblesse’ (Noble Families) A-Z
  12. Reference List


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