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Zips (also Siggies or Geeps) is a slang term often used as a derogatory slur by Italian American and Sicilian American mobsters in reference to newer immigrant Sicilian and Italian mafiosi. The name is said to have originated from mobsters' inability to understand the faster-speaking Sicilian dialects, which appeared to "zip" by. Other theories include pejorative uses such as Sicilians' preference for silent, homemade zip guns. According to still another theory, the term is a contraction of the Sicilian slang term for "hicks" or "primitives." The older Sicilian mafiosi of pre-Prohibition known as "Mustache Petes" (who eventually were deposed by American-born mobsters during the Castellammarese War) were also referred to as zips.
With increasing violence and government presence in Italy, Sicilians and Neapolitans alike found positions in the growing drug trafficking market of New York City's Five Families. The Pizza Connection, a heroin drug trafficking operation involving Bonanno crime family capo Salvatore Catalano and Sicilian mafioso Gaetano Badalamenti, was largely organized by Zips. The Zips were effective because they were unknown in the country and had no police records. They hung out mainly by themselves in the Knickerbocker Avenue area.
However, the younger Sicilian mafiosi, became known for their reckless and undisciplined behavior which caused unwanted attention to New York's crime families. The Zips had no qualms about murdering people considered off-limits by the American Mafia, such as police officers, judges, women and children. They were also known for blowing up their targets with bombs; although bombings are common in the Sicilian Mafia, American mafiosi have usually shied away from bombs out of concern that they could put innocent people at risk. Zips have also been known to kill victims even when they are terminally ill; in the Sicilian Mafia, when someone is marked for death, that person cannot be allowed to die of natural causes.
Despite their penchant for recklessness, the group was tolerated as they were able to earn millions for the families, specifically the Bonanno and Gambino families, as both Carmine Galante and Carlo Gambino used zips for narcotics and murder. Galante's two personal bodyguards Cesare Bonventre and Baldo Amato, were Zips.
Many Italian-American mobsters distrusted the Zips, as Bonanno soldier Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero explained in a conversation to undercover FBI agent Joseph "Donnie Brasco" Pistone: "Lots of people hate him [Galante]... There's only a few people he's close to. And that's mainly the Zips... Those guys are always with him. He brought them over from Sicily, and he uses them for different pieces of work and for dealing all that junk [drugs]. They're as mean as he is. You can't trust those bastard Zips. Nobody can. Except the Old Man." On another occasion, Ruggiero told Pistone, "They hate the American people. They hate the American wiseguys." Bonanno soldier Anthony Mirra said to Pistone, "The Zips are clannish and secretive. They are the meanest killers in the business".
With Galante's cooperation, as well as support from Sicilian mafiosi, the Zips' influence and power in New York's underworld grew. Eventually they were able to arrange a working relationship between American and Sicilian mafiosi to begin large-scale drug trafficking operations to distribute heroin into the United States; Sicilian mafiosi would purchase the morphine base in the Middle East, where it would be processed into heroin, before being shipped to New York for distribution.
Supplying support services and specific areas for distribution, New York's crime families collected a percentage of income from drug dealers while keeping themselves distanced from federal prosecution. By the late 1970s, Galante had been bringing in large numbers of Zips for the rapidly growing heroin distribution market (which had been peaking at $10 million a year). Ironically, Galante's Zip bodyguards were party to his murder. Galante was murdered for keeping all the heroin trafficking profits for himself.