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The Hawaiian Islands might seem an unlikely place for the mafia to put down roots, with their laid-back reputation and distance from major cities on the U.S. mainland. But in fact, organized crime played a significant role in certain aspects of life in Hawaii during the 20th century.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The mafia, especially the Honolulu crime family, had a strong presence in Hawaii from the 1930s through the 1980s, dominating gambling, infiltrating labor unions, and engaging in other criminal activities before being severely weakened by a series of high-profile convictions.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will explore the origins and growth of mafia activity in Hawaii, some of the major figures involved, the criminal rackets they profited from, and their eventual decline and fall from power due to increased law enforcement crackdowns.

The Arrival of the Mafia in Hawaii


The history of the Mafia in Hawaii dates back to the 1930s when the first organized crime syndicates began to establish a presence on the islands.

Attracted by the thriving tourism and lucrative agricultural industries, the Mafia saw Hawaii as a new frontier for their illegal activities.

Planting roots in the 1930s

The 1930s marked a significant turning point for the Mafia in Hawaii. During this time, several influential mobsters from mainland America made their way to the islands to set up their operations.

One of the key figures was Joseph Bonanno, who established a strong presence and became known as the “boss of bosses” in Hawaii.

The Mafia’s expansion was facilitated by the growing pineapple and sugar cane industries, which provided a perfect cover for their illicit activities.

The mobsters infiltrated labor unions, extorted local businesses, and controlled gambling operations, using their influence to maintain a stranglehold on the economy.

The Mafia’s presence in Hawaii also led to a rise in organized crime-related violence. Rival gangs engaged in turf wars, resulting in numerous shootings and assassinations.

The authorities struggled to combat the increasing influence of the Mafia, as they were often met with intimidation and corruption.

Vito Ciancimino’s influence

One of the most influential figures in the history of the Mafia in Hawaii was Vito Ciancimino.

Born in Palermo, Sicily, Ciancimino immigrated to Hawaii in the 1950s and quickly rose through the ranks of the local Mafia. He became known for his shrewd business acumen and ability to forge alliances with influential individuals.

Ciancimino’s influence extended beyond the criminal underworld. He established connections with politicians, law enforcement officials, and even high-ranking members of the military.

Through his network of contacts, Ciancimino was able to protect the interests of the Mafia and ensure their continued dominance in Hawaii.

Despite the efforts of law enforcement agencies, the Mafia’s influence in Hawaii persisted well into the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that significant crackdowns on organized crime began to dismantle their operations.

Today, the legacy of the Mafia in Hawaii serves as a reminder of the complex history of the islands and the impact of organized crime.

Criminal Activities and Rackets

The Mafia in Hawaii has been involved in a wide range of criminal activities and rackets, allowing them to amass significant wealth and power.

These illegal operations have had a profound impact on the local community and economy, leaving a lasting legacy.

Gambling operations

One of the primary criminal activities of the Mafia in Hawaii has been running illegal gambling operations. They have established a network of underground casinos, bookmaking operations, and illegal poker rooms across the islands.

These gambling dens attract locals and tourists alike, contributing to a thriving underground gambling scene in Hawaii.

The Mafia’s gambling operations are known for their sophistication and organization. They employ advanced surveillance systems to detect potential cheaters and ensure the flow of money remains uninterrupted.

Additionally, they often collaborate with corrupt law enforcement officials to avoid detection and maintain their illicit activities.

Also read: Why Is Gambling Illegal In Hawaii?

Infiltrating unions

The Mafia in Hawaii has also infiltrated various labor unions, using them as a front for their criminal enterprises. They exert influence over union leaders, who then help facilitate illegal activities such as extortion, racketeering, and embezzlement.

This allows the Mafia to exert control over the local labor market and exploit workers for their financial gain.

Through their infiltration of unions, the Mafia has been able to manipulate the political landscape in Hawaii.

They have used their influence to secure favorable legislation and contracts, further solidifying their grip on power and ensuring the continuation of their criminal operations.

Other rackets

In addition to gambling and union infiltration, the Mafia in Hawaii has been involved in various other rackets. These include drug trafficking, prostitution, loan sharking, and money laundering.

Their involvement in these illicit activities has had far-reaching consequences for the local community, contributing to increased crime rates, addiction problems, and a general erosion of societal values.

The Mafia’s ability to diversify their criminal enterprises has allowed them to adapt to changing circumstances and evade law enforcement efforts.

Their extensive network and connections enable them to operate with relative impunity, making it challenging for authorities to dismantle their criminal empires.

According to the FBI, the Mafia’s criminal activities in Hawaii have had a significant impact on the local economy, with an estimated annual revenue of millions of dollars. This revenue is often funneled back into their criminal enterprises or used to finance legitimate businesses, further blurring the line between their illicit and legal activities.

It is crucial for law enforcement agencies and the community to remain vigilant in their efforts to combat the influence of the Mafia in Hawaii.

By understanding their criminal activities and the impact they have on society, we can work together to dismantle their operations and ensure a safer and more prosperous future for the islands.

Read also: Gangs in Hawaii: An In-Depth Look

Major Figures and Families

Mafia figures in Hawaii

Honolulu crime family

The Honolulu crime family is one of the most notorious and influential mafia families in Hawaii’s history. Established in the early 20th century, this family has played a significant role in organized crime activities on the island.

Led by charismatic and ruthless leaders, the Honolulu crime family has been involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including extortion, drug trafficking, and gambling operations.

Their influence has extended beyond Hawaii, with connections to other organized crime families in the United States.

For more information on the history and activities of the Honolulu crime family, you can visit FBI’s official website.

John C. Liu

John C. Liu is a prominent figure in the history of the mafia in Hawaii. Born in Honolulu in 1927, Liu rose through the ranks of the underworld to become one of the most powerful crime bosses in the state.

Known for his shrewd business acumen and ruthless tactics, Liu controlled a vast criminal empire that included illegal gambling operations, prostitution rings, and drug trafficking.

Liu’s reign of power came to an end in 1982 when he was finally arrested and convicted on multiple charges, including racketeering and murder. His conviction marked a significant blow to the mafia’s influence in Hawaii.

Wilfred Ching

Wilfred Ching, also known as “Uncle Willy,” was a key figure in the mafia landscape of Hawaii.

Born in Honolulu in 1910, Ching was involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including loan sharking, extortion, and illegal gambling. He was known for his connections to both local and mainland organized crime families.

Ching’s influence extended beyond the criminal underworld. He was involved in various legitimate businesses, including restaurants and nightclubs, which served as fronts for his illegal operations.

Ching’s ability to maintain a dual identity allowed him to evade law enforcement for many years.

In 1975, Ching was finally convicted on charges of tax evasion and money laundering. His arrest marked a significant blow to the mafia’s operations in Hawaii, as it exposed the extent of their criminal activities.

The Decline of the Hawaiian Mafia

The history of the Hawaiian Mafia is an intriguing and complex one, with its roots stretching back to the early 20th century.

However, in recent years, the influence of the Mafia in Hawaii has experienced a significant decline.

This can be attributed to a combination of factors, including increased law enforcement pressure, high-profile convictions, and changing economic and social conditions.

Increased law enforcement pressure

One of the primary reasons for the decline of the Hawaiian Mafia is the increased pressure from law enforcement agencies.

Over the years, there has been a concerted effort to crack down on organized crime activities in Hawaii. Local and federal law enforcement agencies have worked together to dismantle Mafia operations and target key individuals involved in illegal activities.

The use of advanced surveillance techniques, undercover operations, and intelligence gathering has allowed law enforcement to gather the necessary evidence to bring down Mafia members.

This has made it increasingly difficult for the Mafia to operate covertly and carry out their illegal activities without detection.

Furthermore, the collaboration between law enforcement agencies and community organizations has played a crucial role in addressing the issue.

By working together, they have been able to create awareness about the negative impact of organized crime and encourage residents to report any suspicious activities.

High-profile convictions

In recent years, there have been several high-profile convictions of key Mafia figures in Hawaii. These convictions have sent a strong message that organized crime will not be tolerated in the state.

Such high-profile cases have not only resulted in significant prison sentences for those involved but have also led to the dismantling of entire Mafia networks.

These convictions have played a vital role in disrupting the leadership and operations of the Mafia in Hawaii.

With key figures behind bars, it becomes increasingly challenging for the Mafia to maintain their influence and control over illicit activities in the state.

Changing economic and social conditions

Another factor contributing to the decline of the Hawaiian Mafia is the changing economic and social conditions in the state.

Hawaii has experienced significant economic growth and diversification in recent years, leading to new opportunities for legitimate businesses and employment.

As the economy has improved, the allure of engaging in illegal activities has diminished for many individuals.

With more legitimate and lucrative options available, the appeal of joining the Mafia and participating in criminal enterprises has decreased.

Additionally, the changing social landscape in Hawaii has also played a role in the decline of the Mafia.

The state has become more diverse and multicultural, fostering a sense of inclusivity and community. This has made it harder for the Mafia to establish a stronghold and recruit new members.

Read also: Yakuza In Hawaii: A Brief History


While the mafia may seem like a remnant of the past, its legacy still lingers in certain ways in Hawaii today.

Understanding this surprising chapter in the state’s history provides perspective on how mob influence was able to spread so far from its traditional centers of power.

The once-strong grip of organized crime has weakened considerably in the islands due to shifting social norms and increased vigilance, but glimpses of its impact can still be seen in lingering corruption and memories of its dramatic rise and fall.

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