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According to Wikipedia, Hoover denied or ignored the existence of the Mafia as a criminal organization until the Apalachin Meeting in late 1957, when it became impossible to ignore.

What good did this do him? I realize the FBI had (and still has) only so many resources, but if Hoover had spoken up about the Mafia earlier, it's likely he would have gotten the additional resources he needed to combat them.

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    I have no idea why you guys are so hot to close this question. Three votes right now.
    – Mike
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 3:02
  • Interesting. I don't see any close votes. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 4:31
  • I clarified the question a bit. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 14:32
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    Given his obsessions, one possibility is that he saw the Mafia as an anticommunist tool. During WWII the government make an agreement with the Mafia to control possible German saboteurs in docks; after WWII Italian Mafia fought the Italian Communist Party and became involved in the Gladio schema, so there were clear precedents. Of course, it is just a guess.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 19:18
  • Additionally, even if acknowledging the Mafia existence would have granted the FBI more resources, it is more than likely that it would have had to divert some other resources; probably most people would not understand why investigating Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin Martin Luther King, Jr. would take precedence over investigating the activities of actual criminals.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 21:22

2 Answers 2

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J. Edgar Hoover knew perfectly well that organized crime existed before 1957. In the 1940's he had been known to sit at the same table in upscale clubs with known underworld figures like Meyer Lansky (source: J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, by Curt Gentry).

He preferred to not acknowledge the mafia's existence so he would not be obliged to assign FBI agents to build cases against them. He chose to assign his agents to cases like unorganized interstate crime ("Pretty Boy" Floyd, John Dillinger, "Baby Face" Nelson), infiltrating the Communist party, and spying on and harassing civil rights leaders. It was only the blatant publicity of the Apalachin Meeting, after it was raided by state and local police, that forced the FBI director to admit that the mafia was an actual organization.

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    Right, I'm aware he knew of its existence. (Though I didn't know he sat at the same table as people like Lansky. Fascinating!) My question is not about whether he knew it—we know he did—but rather about why he didn't do anything about it earlier than 1957, when his hand was forced. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 4:27
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    I guess the question here is more "why then, he preferred not to fight them?".
    – o0'.
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 9:27
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    @o0'. Check out my answer below to explain this.
    – Rozgonyi
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 23:44
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David Carter's "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution" actually discusses this. Not only did the mafia run many of the gay bars in New York and other places, but they also frequently blackmailed prominent people who frequented them. One blackmail ring was broken up and it was later discovered that they were blackmailing US generals and Senators. The book also interviewed male prostitutes that had attended mafia run events that Hoover attended while dressed as a woman. (As we know now, he also had a long-time male romantic partner.)

So it would be very likely that he was very aware of the mafia but they also had lots of blackmail material on him, which prevented he from acknowledging their existence until he absolutely had to.

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