With the three-part Fear City documentary series now available on Netflix, we take a look at the first episode.
This first instalment introduces the viewer to the main players on both sides of the law and establishes the position of the mob during the late 1970’s. Predominantly told from the perspective of law enforcement, the focus is less on how the mob operated and more on how the FBI and prosecutors adapted to the challenge of bringing down the New York mafia.
The story of how the FBI focused and streamlined its investigations is both fascinating and enlightening. Separate task forces were established for each of the Five Families with the aim of gathering information mainly through wire taps and bugs rather than informants. One particular agent posed as both a cable and telephone repair man to install bugs in the houses of different high-ranking mobsters. One was Paul Castellano, the boss of the Gambino Family.
This was a real eye opener for investigators who began to learn just how far the tentacles of the mafia reached. At this point the extent to which the mob controlled and skimmed off construction unions, the garment industry, transportation, waste management and many others was largely unknown.
This first episode also shows how the FBI was introduced to the RICO Act, an obscure law that had been designed to target organised crime.
This instalment does a good job of setting the stage for the next two chapters. Both investigators and the mob are well represented, giving their opinions and anecdotes from the time. Michael Franzese’s story of a fuel scam he ran is a great example of the outside-the-box thinking that helped make the mafia millions and made them so hard to prosecute.
By the time the credits roll you’ll be ready to dive straight into episode two. I know I was.
Have you watched Fear City yet? Let us know what you thought in the comments below.