Mafiosi, when arrested or facing investigative committees or court appearances, develop a gamut of medical maladies ranging from heart trouble to common colds.
It is common for FBI agents derisively to diagnose such ploys as "Sicilian flu," a term coined when the late Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino promptly took to bed when agents came to arrest him. He claimed to have the flu and was much too ill to be fingerprinted. As Special Agent Neil Welch put it, "It won't hurt. We just want to hold his hand."
Subjected to a bedside arraignment, Don Stefano sucked on an oxygen tube and gasped, "Take-a the gun. Take-a the gun and shoot me, that's what you want!" At the time, Don Stefano was 77, and some five years from his final reward.
Claims of ill health do seem to have some validity however, in the cases of the older dons. Ascribing heart conditions to "Sicilian flu" may in fact be a bit uncharitable. Carlo Gambino claimed his heart condition kept him abed most of the time in his tightly guarded home on Long Island.
More likely he stayed in bed because, stripped of his citizenship, his "bum ticker" protected him from deportation. He still schemed, issued orders and, indeed, seemed to have little trouble venturing forth when crime family business beckoned. Yet in the end it was a heart attack that put him down for good.
Scientific study is elusive on the subject, but it is obvious to any reporter on the Mafia beat that members of organized crime suffer more from heart attacks and heart disease than the population as a whole. Perhaps the high incidence of stress-related diseases is an indication of the pressures on Mafia Dons. Is a heart disease a condition that goes with the territory?