The great majority of these early Italian and Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans were, as elsewhere, hardworking and law-abiding people who were looking only for a better life for themselves. However, the same social and historical background that made New Orleans an early magnet for immigrants also offered opportunities for those who chose to live on the wrong side of the law. The city's unofficial motto, "let the good times roll," reflected a lax attitude toward vice (Jones 2). Gambling, protection rackets, prostitution, and the drug trade all thrived. The city's Storyville district became famed for prostitution, while jazz, which originated in New Orleans, was associated from the beginning with casual use of marijuana. In addition, the heritage of French colonial rule gave rise to a culture in which political corruption was a tradition. Officials from the cop on the beat to the Governor of Louisiana were easily induced to turn a blind eye to lawbreaking in turn for bribes.
Thus, by 1890 the Mafia was already well-established in New Orleans. In that year, the assassination of the police chief led to a series of trials and acquittals, followed by the jailhouse lynching of a number of Italian immigrants (Jones 3). Some had Mafia ties; others were innocent. Claims that the Mafia had been eradicated by this vigilante action, however, proved unfounded. By the 1920s and 1930s, the Mafia's tentacles extended to the statehouse, with convicted Mafia ringleaders like Carlos Marcello receiving pardons after serving only a small portion of their sentences (Jones 4). The New Orleans Mafia appears in this era to have been more loosely organized than the hierarchical "families" that controlled other large cities (Jones 4). However, after longtime leader Sylvestro ˘Silver Dollar Sam÷ was deported to Italy in 1947 -- he had neglected to obtain American