Portraits in Oversight: Congress Investigates the Mafia

Discover the recently published Portrait in Oversight: Congress Investigates the Mafia, a collaborative effort between the Levin Center for Oversight and DemocracyThe Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, and the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. This portrait is the latest in the Levin Center’s series of notable congressional investigations and explores the 1963 congressional hearings featuring a member of the American Mafia, Joseph Valachi. Mr. Valachi became the first member of the American Mafia to publicly acknowledge its existence and describe its inner workings to a captivated American audience. His disclosures educated the public about organized crime and motivated Congress to enact strict new anti-racketeering laws, strengthen drug addiction recovery efforts, and establish a new witness protection program.

“Much like the Hollywood films now ubiquitous in American culture, the Valachi Hearings captured the public’s imagination as they exposed the dark underworld of Cosa Nostra,” said U.S. Capitol Historical Society President and CEO, Jane L. Campbell. “But unlike Hollywood, the real Mafia isn’t a cast of A-listers with one-liners, but a gang of criminals who corrupt, steal, and kill. Because of Joseph Valachi’s testimony, Congress finally understood how the syndicate operated, which helped lay the groundwork for future legislation—like the RICO Statute—that law enforcement used to take down leaders of the Chicago Outfit and Bonanno, Gambino, & Lucchese families. In that regard, the Valachi Hearings played a role in giving the future of the Mob the kiss of death.”

“The Valachi hearings opened the public’s eyes to the inner workings of the American Mafia, detailing the five crime families operating in New York, their recruitment of gangsters, brutal crimes, and code of silence,” said Jim Townsend, director of the Levin Center. “The hearings also inspired The Godfather and a new genre of films and novels on organized crime in America. The new Portrait in Oversight commemorates the bipartisan congressional work that exposed the criminal cartels and sparked the reforms that followed, reminding Congress and the public of what is possible.”