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Consigliere (Italian consigliere "counselor", pronounced [konsiʎˈʎɛːre], roughly kohn-seel-YEHR-eh) is a position within the leadership structure of Sicilian, Calabrian and American Mafia. The word was popularized by the novel The Godfather (1969), and its film adaptation. In the novel, a consigliere is an adviser or counselor to the boss, with the additional responsibility of representing the boss in important meetings both within the boss's crime family and with other crime families. The consigliere is a close, trusted friend and confidant, the mob's version of an elder statesman. In some depictions, he is devoid of ambition and dispenses disinterested advice. This passive image of the consigliere does not correspond with what little is known of real-life consiglieri, however. In fact, by the very nature of the job, a consigliere is one of the few in the family who can argue with the boss, and is often tasked with challenging the boss when needed to ensure subsequent plans are foolproof.
A real-life Mafia consigliere is generally the number three person in a crime family, after the boss and underboss in most cases. The boss, underboss, and consigliere constitute a three-man ruling panel, or "Administration."
When a boss gives orders, he issues them in private either to the consigliere or directly to his caporegimes as part of the insulation between himself and operational acts.
In Italian, consigliere means "adviser" or "counselor" and is still a common title for example for members of city councils in Italy and Switzerland. It is derived from Latin consiliarius (advisor) and consilium (advice). The terminology of the U.S. Mafia is taken from that of the Sicilian Mafia and suggests that an analogy is intended to imitate the court of a medieval Italian principality. For example, Venice was led by a doge (duke) and a consigliere ducale (advisor to the doge). An underboss will normally move up to boss when the position becomes vacant, so his position is equivalent to that of heir to the throne. Consigliere, meanwhile, is analogous to chief minister or chancellor. (Oddly, in the novel The Godfather, the word is spelled consigliori; in the films, it is clearly pronounced consigliere.) In Joe Bonanno's book A Man of Honor he explains that a consigliere is more of the voice or rep for the soldiers of the family, and may help solve and mediate disputes for the lower echelon of the family.
Joe Valachi mentions a mysterious "Sandino" arbitrating disputes as the Genovese family consigliere in the 1940s. But in more recent times, consiglieri have tended to take a more active role in family affairs. In 1971, Colombo family Consigliere Joseph Yacovelli directed a murder campaign against renegade Colombo family soldier Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo. Two decades later, another Colombo consigliere, Carmine Sessa, led a hit team that attempted to assassinate the acting boss, Victor Orena. In 1976, Frank Bompensiero was appointed consigliere of the Los Angeles crime family, only to be murdered in a public phone booth in February 1977; Bompensiero's boss had promoted him so that it would cause him to let his guard down. Electronic surveillance in 1979 recorded New England Mafia Boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca talking about appointing his consigliere, so the position need not be chosen as a result of a consensus-seeking process. When New Jersey Consigliere Stefano "Steve the Truck Driver" Vitabile found out in 1992 that his family's underboss, John "Johnny Boy" D'Amato, was bisexual, he ordered him killed. In 1993, Paul Gulino, a drug dealer and associate of the Bonanno crime family, was murdered after he allegedly "put hands" on his family's consigliere.
James Ida, the current Genovese consigliere, has been serving a life sentence since 1996. Dominick Cirillo is the family's acting consigliere. Joseph Corozzo is the current Gambino consigliere, while Anthony Rabito is consigliere for the Bonanno crime family. As these examples illustrate, modern consiglieri are generally former soldiers and capos, not outside advisers.
In the movies The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, the consigliere to Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), and later Don Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), is Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall). (In the novel, Tom's predecessor, Genco Abbandando, is briefly featured, dying in a hospital room on the day of Connie's wedding. This scene was filmed for the first movie, and has been included in some television showings.) Hagen is the adopted son of Don Vito Corleone, and doubles as the family's lawyer. At the end of The Godfather, Don Vito's successor and son, Michael, temporarily demotes Hagen within the organization, saying that things could get rough during the family's move to Las Vegas, and he needs a "wartime consigliere." (In an earlier scene, Sonny Corleone, Michael's older brother and acting Don after Vito Corleone's attempted assassination, similarly criticizes Hagen.) Vito Corleone, Michael's father, replaces Hagen at Michael's side as de facto consigliere until his death. Tom is reinstated after Vito's death.
In The Simpsons episode "Donnie Fatso" Homer explains to an FBI agent that he was at one time Fat Tony's consigliere (see "The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer"), but has trouble pronouncing the word and just says "his Robert Duvall"; a reference to Duvall's character in The Godfather series.
In the video game Mafia II the protagonist, Vito Scaletta, forms a friendship with Leo Galante, a consigliere for Frank Vinci.
In the movie Analyze This, Billy Crystal is named consigliere to Robert De Niro's character during a meeting.