Organized crime or criminal organizations refer to centralized enterprises established in order to engage in illegal activities, most commonly for the purpose of generating substantial profit for the criminals involved. Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist organizations, are politically motivated. Mafias are criminal organizations whose primary motivation is profit. Gangs sometimes become "disciplined" enough to be considered "organized." Organized crime, however defined, is characterized by a few basic qualities including durability over time, diversified interests, hierarchical structure, capital accumulation, reinvestment, access to political protection, and the use of violence to protect interests.
Organized crime takes advantage of social conditions or laws, such as Prohibition against alcohol, illegal gambling, prostitution, or drugs, to find a substantial market in which to operate, satisfying those desires of members of society for things deemed unacceptable. Equally, they use the cooperation of law enforcement or the judicial system in turning a blind eye to their activities in exchange for financial or other reward. Organized crime, therefore, succeeds based on the corruption and weaknesses of those who are not considered criminals. Elimination of organized crime can only be accomplished when the society as a whole rejects their activities.
The Organized Crime Control Act (U.S., 1970) defines organized crime as "The unlawful activities of…a highly organized, disciplined association…." The act of engaging in criminal activity as a structured group is referred to in the United States as racketeering. In the United States, organized crime is often prosecuted federally under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) Statute.
Another use of the term "criminal organization" exists in human rights law and refers to an organization that has been found guilty of crimes against humanity. Once an organization has been determined to be a criminal organization, one must only demonstrate that an individual belonged to that organization to be punished and not that the individual actually individually committed illegal acts. The concept of the criminal organization came into being during the Nuremberg Trials, where several public sector organizations of Nazi Germany such as the SS and Gestapo were judged to be criminal organizations. This conception of criminal organizations was, and continues to be, controversial, and has not been used in human rights law since the trials at Nuremberg.
As the name implies, organized crime syndicates are often highly regimented with heavily codified roles and codes of action. These organizations often communicate through secret means to avoid police surveillance. Many organized crime operations have legal business fronts, such as licensed gambling, building construction, and trash hauling, which operate in parallel with and provide cover for the criminal activities. The illegal activities may include drug trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, extortion, murder for hire, hijacking, fraud, and insider trading. Other criminal operations engage in human trafficking, political corruption, black marketeering, political violence, racist and religiously motivated violence, terrorism, and crimes against humanity.
In order for a criminal organization to prosper, some degree of support is required from the society in which it operates. Thus, it is often necessary to corrupt some of its respected members, most commonly achieved through bribery, blackmail, and the establishment of symbiotic relationships with legitimate businesses. Judges, police officers, and legislators are especially targeted for control by organized crime via bribes, threats, or a combination thereof.
Financing is made easier by the development of a customer base inside or outside the local population, as occurs for instance in the case of drug trafficking.
In addition, criminal organizations also benefit if there is social distrust of the government or the police. As a consequence, criminal organizations sometimes arise in closely-knit immigrant groups who do not trust the local police. Conversely, as an immigrant group begins to integrate into the wider society, this generally causes the organized crime group to weaken.
Lacking much of the paperwork that is common to legitimate organizations, criminal organizations can usually evolve and reorganize quickly when the need arises. They are quick to capitalize on newly-opened markets, and quick to rebuild themselves under another guise when caught by authorities.
In the past, criminal organizations have naturally limited themselves by their need to expand. This put them in competition with each other. Such competition, often leading to violence, uses valuable resources such as manpower (either killed or sent to prison), equipment, and finances. For example, in the 1980s the Irish Mob boss of the Winter Hill Gang turned informant for the FBI, which led to the imprisonment of several senior organized crime figures including Gennaro "Jerry" Anguilo, under-boss of the Patriarca crime family. In this way he used his position to eliminate competition and consolidate power within the city of Boston. Infighting sometimes occurs within an organization, such as the Castellamarese War of 1930-1931 and the Irish Mob Wars of the 1960s and 1970s.
Globalization occurs in crime as much as it does in business. Criminal organizations easily cross boundaries between countries. This is especially true of organized groups that engage in human trafficking. Organized crime also takes advantage of developments in technology, such as using the Internet to commit cybercrime, identity theft, and online extortion. Organized crime using the Internet is much harder to trace down for the police (even though they increasingly deploy cybercops) since police forces and law enforcement agencies in general operate on a national level while the Internet makes it even more simple for criminal organizations to cross boundaries and even to operate completely remotely.
Organized crime theft and fraud activities often victimize legitimate businesses, by hijacking cargo trucks, robbing goods, committing bankruptcy fraud, insurance fraud, or stock fraud (insider trading). Organized crime groups also victimize individuals by car theft (either for dismantling at "chop shops" or for export), burglary, credit card fraud, and stock fraud. Some organized crime groups defraud national, state, or local governments by bid-rigging public projects, counterfeiting money, smuggling or manufacturing untaxed alcohol (bootlegging) or cigarettes, and providing immigrant workers to avoid taxes.
Organized crime groups also provide a range of illegal services and goods, such as loansharking of money at very high interest rates, bookmaking and gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, gunrunning, providing murder for hire, illegal dumping of toxic waste, people smuggling and trafficking in human beings. Organized crime groups also do a range of business and labor racketeering activities, such as casino skimming, insider trading, setting up monopolies in industries such as garbage collecting and cement pouring, bid rigging, getting "no-show" and "no-work" jobs, using non-union labor and pocketing the wage difference, money laundering, political corruption, and bullying.
In addition to what is considered traditional organized crime involving direct crimes of fraud swindles, scams, racketeering, and other illegal acts motivated by the accumulation of monetary gain, there is also non-traditional organized crime which is engaged in for political or ideological gain or acceptance. Such crime groups may be linked to or be part of terrorist organizations.
Notable organizations include the Italian Mafia (or Cosa Nostra), the Irish Mob, the Colombian drug cartels, the Japanese Yakuza, the Chinese Triads, the Russian Mafia, the Brazilian PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). Prisoners may also be involved in criminal organizations. Many terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Provisional IRA, and the Ulster Defence Association also engage in organized criminal activity such as trafficking and money laundering as well as terrorism.
Today, criminal organizations are increasingly working together, realizing that it is better to work in cooperation rather than in competition with each other. This has led to the rise of global criminal organizations such as Mara Salvatrucha. The Sicilian Mafia in the U.S. have had links with organized crime groups in Italy such as the Camorra, the 'Ndrangheta, and the Sacra Corona Unita. The Sicilian Mafia has also been known to work with the Irish Mob. John Gotti of the Gambino family and James Coonan of the Westies are known to have worked together, with the Westies operating as a contract hit squad for the Gambino family after they helped Coonan come to power. The Japanese Yakuza and the Russian Mafia have also worked together. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that global organized crime makes $1 trillion per year.
This rise in cooperation between criminal organizations has meant that law enforcement agencies increasingly have to work together. The FBI operates an organized crime section from its headquarters in Washington, DC and is known to work with other national, federal, state, and city law enforcement agencies.
All links retrieved January 3, 2019.
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