The origins of the Mafia in New Orleans date to before the Civil War. But it was mainly in the late 19th century that the Mafia exerted influence over the thousands of Italians who came to New Orleans to work on the docks and plantations. Two families, the rival Matrangas and Provenzanos controlled the fruit unloading operations on New Orleans’ docks.
The gangs began to battle on the streets, leading to an effort by then Police Chief David Hennessey to crack down on the families. Hennessey was assassinated, but before he died Hennessey said he was attacked by “the dagoes.” Police arrested 19 Italians including Charles Matranga. Matranga escaped an attack and lynching of the defendants and went on to lead the “Black Hand” gang as they were known in the city until the 1920s. Mantranga was succeeded by Sam Carole. Carollo worked closely with the Luciano crime family in New York and with the Sen. Huey Long to bring illegal slot machines to Louisiana. When Carollo was deported in 1947, Carlos Marcello took over the family and grew the illegal gambling enterprise to new proportions.
After being called to testify in front of a congressional committee on organized crime in 1959, in which he repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment, Marcello let it be known that he had a grievance with President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy. His complaints led to numerous theories that Marcello had a hand in Kennedy’s assassination. Marcello was convicted on racketeering charges in 1981 and served six years before the court overturned the decision. The conviction marked a diminished Mafia presence in the city, though criminal activity is sometimes still attributed to the mafia.