Based on a true story, the new Martin Scorsese movie The Irishman raises a lot of questions that could send viewers down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. (Potentially, during the film. Its release on Netflix means many of us are watching from the comfort of our own homes.) One of those queries has to do with the Bufalino crime family, which is shown in the film as working with Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro) and setting up his involvement with Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The film takes place in the second half of the 20th century, which leaves unclear whether the Bufalino crime family still operates today.
The Bufalino crime family was named after Russell Bufalino, who is played in The Irishman by Joe Pesci. According to The Citizens’ Voice, Bufalino was born in Sicily in 1903 and came to the U.S. in 1914. FBI documents obtained by the publication state that by 1959, Bufalino was the leader of the crime syndicate in northeast Pennsylvania. As reported by The Citizens’ Voice, Bufalino was considered a suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance. (The movie shows a story in which Sheeran claims Bufalino told him to kill Hoffa.) According to the Times Leader, Bufalino is thought to have remained the leader of the crime family until his death in 1994, including during his time in prison.
Following Bufalino’s death, William “Big Billy” D’Elia is said to have taken over, but he was then imprisoned from 2008 to 2013, as reported by Penn Live. His original sentence was shortened, because he cooperated in other investigations.
After this, things aren’t as clear. There’s no publicly known leader of the Bufalino crime family and it’s also unknown whether the organization still exists, and, if so, to what extent. James Kanavy, a former investigator for the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, told The Citizens’ Voice, “I don’t think there’s a standalone family here any more. Any remnants here would be aligned with the New York families.” He explained that part of the reason could have to do with the lack of money in northeast Pennsylvania compared to during Bufalino’s time in power, due to the decline of the garment and coal industries in the area.
In addition, Charles Brandt, who wrote the book The Irishman is based on, I Heard You Paint Houses, told The Citizens’ Voice that changes in how crimes are prosecuted and the Witness Protection Program made mob activity harder to maintain. Plus, back in Bufalino’s day, people didn’t talk. “Russell was so good at keeping his mouth shut,” Brandt said. “He was really old school. It was a waste of time bugging his rooms. There was no careless talk, no careless chatter.”
Of course, it’s still possible that people aren’t talking about what (if anything) is going on today... But that might be a case for another movie.