Underboss (also capo bastone or sotto capo) is a position within the leadership structure of Sicilian and American Mafia crime families. The underboss is second in command to the boss. The underboss is sometimes a family member, such as a son, who will take over the family if the boss is sick, killed, or imprisoned.
The power of an underboss greatly varies; some are marginal figures, while others are the most powerful individuals in the family. Traditionally they run day-to-day affairs of the family. In some crime families, the appointment is for life. If a new boss takes over a family with an existing underboss, that boss may marginalize or even murder him. On the other hand, if a boss receives a prison term, the underboss may become acting boss. As bosses often serve large periods of time in prison, an acting boss will often become the effective boss. Even with the boss free, sometimes the underboss will gain enough power to become the effective head of the organization, and the boss will become a figurehead. An underboss likely has incriminating information about the boss, and so bosses often appoint people close to them to the underboss position for protection.
In most families, the underboss arbitrates many of the disputes. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, he might consult with the boss. Some conflicts are immediately bucked up to the boss. In those cases, the underboss usually sits in and offers his opinion. In either event, the ultimate authority rests with the boss. This sometimes chafes the ego of an ambitious underboss and can lead to problems.
An underboss receives monetary compensation in various ways. For example, he may be a partner in several rackets and thus get a cut. In addition, several capos may pass their envelopes through the underboss, who takes a percentage and passes the remainder to the boss. However he makes his illegal earnings, it is a significant enough amount to make his position one of envy, especially when prestige and the possibility of additional advancement are weighed. Sometimes an underboss will have his own crew.
Just like the boss of a family, an underboss may also have a right-hand man. This right-hand man may speak in place of an underboss or carry out additional tasks for the underboss.
American Cosa Nostra
- Aniello Dellacroce, longtime underboss of the Gambino crime family. He served under Carlo Gambino from 1957 to 1976 and, from 1976 to 1985 under Paul Castellano. He gained enormous power and the respect of most members of the family. Future Gambino boss John Gotti was closely aligned with Dellacroce.
- Sammy Gravano, John Gotti's underboss after the murder of Frank DeCicco. He later turned informant when he learned that Gotti had insulted him behind his back and may have wanted to use him as a scapegoat.
- Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, underboss of the Lucchese crime family. When captured in 1994, he became an informant.
- Vito Genovese, appointed underboss by Lucky Luciano to serve under Frank Costello. Genovese eventually plotted to murder Costello in 1957. The assassin was Vincent Gigante, the future longtime boss of the Genovese Crime Family. The attempt failed, but Genovese still became the boss when Costello, shaken by the attempt, fled the mob.
- In fiction, Paulie Gualtieri serves as underboss of the DiMeo crime family under Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.
- In The Godfather is the underboss under his father Vito Corleone. In The Godfather 2, the F.B.I. believes that Fredo Corleone has become underboss of the Corleone crime family under his younger brother Michael.
- Maas, Peter, Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia. NY: Harper Collins, 1997. ISBN 0-06-093096-9
- Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002. ISBN 0-02-864225-2