By Michael Dobuski
Being a hitman for the mob is just not what it used to be.
The 2014 sentencing of Bajram Lajqi, a known member of the Albanian mob, brought the world of organized crime in New York back to the forefront of popular consciousness. Lajqi was sentenced to six years in federal prison on charges of drug trafficking and firearm use in connection with an incident that took place at the Tosca Cafe in 2011 on Tremont Ave. Lajqi, with the help of a partner, allegedly shot and injured a rival narcotics trafficker, who was attempting to flee the restaurant after Lajqi punched him in the face and slashed the tires on his car.
In 1931, the infamous “Five Families” of New York organized crime were established on 187th and Washington Ave. in the Bronx. The meeting was intended to address the power vacuum left by the recently murdered “Boss of all Bosses,” Salvatore Maranzano, following the brutal Castellammarese War of 1929. There, the five major Italian-American mob families established “The Commission.” In essence, The Commission divided the city and surrounding suburbs into territories controlled by the Lucchese, Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano and Colombo crime families, all of whom operate within the Bronx in some capacity.
The move was intended to cut down on violence between gangs while allowing them all to still function. For the most part, this strategy was successful. The “Five Families” still operate today, as evidenced by the ongoing Manhattan trial of 73-year-old Nicholas Santoraan, an aging boss in the Bonanno family.
Recently, an elusive sixth family has entered the Bronx’s organized crime scene. The Rudaj Organization, or “The Corporation” as it’s known on the street, is an Albanian-run mob family that traces its origins back to the mid-eighties.
Back in the 1980s, a group of mob members attacked a rival gang at the Westchester County Fair. Through the end of the decade and into the 90s, the Rudaj Organization was associated with extreme levels of violence in relation to their involvement in the drug and firearm trade. For example, police report that they were involved in a standoff with the Gambino family at a gas station in New Jersey. They have paid off NYPD officers regularly, shot up strip clubs, possessed rocket launchers and allegedly put a hit out on former Mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani. Today they even get a shout out in “Grand Theft Auto.”
The supposed head of the Rudaj Organization, Plaurent “Lenti” Dervishaj, is not only on New York City’s most wanted list but is also the most wanted fugitive in his home country, Albania. The government in Albania is considered by many to be deeply corrupt in part due to its role in the heroin trade. Albania sits at a prime location between Afghanistan, where the vast majority of the product comes from, and Central Europe, one of the world’s biggest drug markets.
The political instability of Albania is part of the reason why the population of Albanian-Americans in New York is higher than anywhere else in the country. Albanians first began arriving in the Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s, filling in for the disappearing Jewish and Italian populations. Specifically, they settled around Pelham Parkway, Morris Park and Belmont. Lydig Avenue in Morris Park is now even referred to as “Little Albania.” They have made a name for themselves as ambitious self-starters. Through their ownership of a variety of businesses, they offer Bronx residents a taste of their native country. Tony and Tina’s, on the corner of 187th and Arthur Ave., is a prime example of Albanian business ownership. The store sells authentic Albanian cuisine such as burek and sudjuk and is owned by the same family that runs Simon’s Deli, Michelangelo’s, Howl at the Moon and Blue Goose.
The ongoing influx of Albanians in the Bronx has, to some degree, led to a strengthening of the local economy.But the lack of affordable housing in the borough has increased tensions among Albanians on both sides of the law. The Rudaj Organization was said to have disbanded in 2004 following an NYPD sting operation that ended in over 20 arrests. But recent incidents, such as the altercation at Tosca Cafe, lead many to believe that the Albanian mob is still alive and well.