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Organized crime or criminal organizations is a transnational grouping of highly centralized enterprises run by criminal for the purpose of engaging in illegal activity, most commonly for the purpose of generating a monetary profit. The Organized Crime Control Act (U.S.marker, 1970) defines organized crime as "The unlawful activities of [...] a highly organized, disciplined association [...]".

Mafia is a term used to describe a number of criminal organizations around the world. The first organization to bear the label was the Sicilian Mafia based in Italymarker, known to its members as Cosa Nostra. In the United Statesmarker, "the Mafia" generally refers to the American Mafia. Other powerful organizations described as mafias include the Russian Mafia, the Chinese Triads, the Albanian Mafia, the Irish Mob, the Japanese Yakuza, the Neapolitan Camorra, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, the Indian Mafia, the Unione Corse, Serbian Mafia, and the Bulgarian mafia. There are also a number of localized mafia organizations around the world bearing no link to any specific racial background.

Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist organization, are politically motivated (see VNSA). Gangs that become "disciplined" enough to be considered "organized". An organized gang or criminal set can also be referred to as a mob. The act of engaging in criminal activity as a structured group is referred to in the United Statesmarker as racketeering.

Origins and conceptual background

Today, crime is thought of as an urban phenomenon, but for most of human history it was the rural world that was crime-ridden. Pirates, highwaymen and bandits attacked trade routes and roads, at times severely disrupting commerce, raising costs, insurance rates and prices to the consumer. According to criminologist Paul Lunde, "Piracy and banditry were to the pre-industrial world what organized crime is to modern society."

Organized crime is deeply linked to the moral problem of integrating subcivilized energy into civilized state building. The early Christian world was dubious about an unqualified legitimacy of nation-states. St. Augustine famously defined them as what would now be called kleptocracies, states founded on theft:

A later North African writer, Ibn Khaldun, observing the predatorial conquests of the Mongol leader Tamerlane in the 14th century, developed a theory of state formation based on the periodic conquest of civilized states by barbarians, who are quickly acculturated by urban life, lose their warlike qualities and succumb in turn to conquest by yet another wave of barbarians. As Lunde states, "Barbarian conquerors, whether Vandals, Goths, Norsemen, Turks or Mongols are not normally thought of as organized crime groups, yet they share many features associated with successful criminal organizations. They were for the most part non-ideological, predominantly ethnically based, used violence and intimidation, and adhered to their own codes of law."

Although medieval feudal lords were not usually engaged in what moderns would consider "criminal activities" (except for irregular robber barons, self-enthroned Viking adventurers, and mercenary "free company" leaders), their hierarchical courts, monopoly of violence, extension of protection to their serfs in exchange for labor and a percentage of harvests and durability are structurally similar to classic organized crime groups like the Mafia. In the modern world, it is difficult to distinguish some corrupt and lawless governments from organized crime gangs. These regimes, characteristic of some of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, use the state apparatus to control organized crime for their own ends.

Organized crime dynamics

In order for a criminal organization to prosper, some degree of support is required from the society in which it lives. 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. Judicial and police officers and legislators are especially targeted for control by organized crime via bribes.

Organized crime most typically flourishes when a central government and civil society is disorganized, weak, absent or untrusted. This may occur in a society facing periods of political, economic or social turmoil or transition, such as a change of government or a period of rapid economic development, particularly if the society lacks strong and established institutions and the rule of law. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe that saw the downfall of the Communist Bloc and establishment of new systems of democracy and free market capitalism in the region created a breeding ground for organized criminal organizations. Most of the countries fell upon economic turmoil with their markets being flooded with western products that had previously been barred by the communists regimes at exceptionally high prices and a lack of interest in importing from Eastern Europe. This led to many turning to illegitimate means of making a profit, most of the time these efforts were backed by former secret service and police force who were now out of the job.

Under these circumstances, criminal organizations can operate with less fear of interference from law enforcement and may serve to provide their "customers" with a semblance of order and predictability that would otherwise be unavailable. For similar reasons, organized crime also often takes root in many countries among ethnic minority communities or other socially marginalized groups whose members may not trust local governments or their agents. This lack of trust serves both to insulate the criminal organization from the risk that law enforcement will find cooperative witnesses, as well as to encourage community members to trust the criminal organizations rather than the police to handle disputes and protect the community. The existence of a black market, either due to market failure or to legal impediments, also tends to promote the formation of criminal organizations as well. An example of this would be the rise in organized crime under Prohibition in the United Statesmarker during the 1920s (see American gangsters during the 1920s).

Lacking much of the paperwork that is common to legitimate organizations, criminal organizations can usually evolve and reorganize much more 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 .

This is especially true of organized groups that engage in human trafficking .

The newest growth sectors for organized crime are identity theft and online extortion. These activities are troubling because they discourage consumers from using the Internet for e-commerce. E-commerce was supposed to level the playing ground between small and large businesses, but the growth of online organized crime is leading to the opposite effect; large businesses are able to afford more bandwidth (to resist denial-of-service attacks) and superior security . Furthermore, organized crime using the Internet is much harder to trace down for the police (even though they increasingly deploy cybercops) since most police forces and law enforcement agencies operate within a local or national jurisdiction while the Internet makes it easier for criminal organizations to operate across such boundaries without detection.

In the past criminal organizations have naturally limited themselves by their need to expand. This has put them in competition with each other. This competition, often leading to violence, uses valuable resources such as manpower (either killed or sent to prison), equipment and finances. In the United States, the Irish Mob boss of the Winter Hill Gang (in the 1980s) turned informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker (FBI). He used this position to eliminate competition and consolidate power within the city of Bostonmarker which led to the imprisonment of several senior organized crime figures including Gennaro "Jerry" Anguilo underboss of the Patriarca crime family. Infighting sometimes occurs within an organization, such as the Castellamarese war of 1930–31 and the Boston Irish Mob Wars of the 1960s and 1970s.

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, the Rancitelli and 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. The FBI estimates that global organized crime makes $1 trillion per year.

This rise in cooperation between criminal organizations has meant that law enforcement agencies are increasingly having to work together. The FBI operates an organized crime section from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.marker and is known to work with other national (e.g., Polizia di Stato, Russian Federal Security Service , and the Royal Canadian Mounted Policemarker), federal (e.g., Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Marshals Service, and the United States Coast Guard), state (e.g., Massachusetts State Police Special Investigation Unit and the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation) and city (e.g., New York City Police Department Organized Crime Unit and the Los Angeles Police Department Special Operations Division) law enforcement agencies.

Notable criminal organizations

Perhaps the best known criminal organizations are the Sicilian and American Cosa Nostra, most commonly known as the Mafia. The Neopolitan Camorra, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita are similar Italianmarker organized crime groups. Other organized criminal enterprises include the Russian Mafia, the Serbian mafia, the Israeli Mafia, the Albanian Mafia, Mexican and Colombian Drug Cartels, the Indian Mafia, the Chinese Triads, Irish Mob, the Corsican Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, the Jamaican-British Yardies, the Turkish Mafia and other crime syndicates. On a lower level in the criminal food chain are many street gangs, such as the Surenos, Nortenos, Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Bloods and Crips.

Criminal organizations may function both inside and outside of prison, such as the Mexican Mafia, Folk Nation, and the Brazilian PCC. Biker gangs such as the Hells Angels are also involved in organized crime.

Human rights law

Another use of the term "criminal organization" exists in human rights law and refers to an organization which 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.

This concept of the criminal organization came into being during the Nuremberg Trialsmarker. Several public sector organizations of Nazi Germany such as the SSmarker and Gestapomarker were judged to be criminal organizations, while other organizations such as the German Army High Command were indicted but acquitted of charges.

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.

Ideological crime

In addition to what is considered traditional organized crime involving direct crimes of fraud swindles, scams, racketeering and other Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) predicate acts motivated for 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 are often labeled terrorist organizations and include such groups as Al-Qaeda, Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front, Hamas, Hezbollah, Irish Republican Army, Lashkar e Toiba, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Symbionese Liberation Army, Taliban, and Weatherman Underground.

Typical activities

Organized crime often victimize businesses through the use of extortion or theft and fraud activities like hijacking cargo trucks, robbing goods, committing bankruptcy fraud (also known as "bust-out"), insurance fraud or stock fraud (inside trading). Organized crime groups also victimize individuals by car theft (either for dismantling at "Chop shops" or for export), Art theft, bank robbery, burglary, Jewelry theft, Computer hacking, credit card fraud, Economic Espionage Act of 1996, Embezzlement, Identity theft, and Securities fraud ("pump and dump" scam). 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 (buttlegging), and providing immigrant workers to avoid taxes.

Organized crime groups seek out corrupt public officials in executive, law enforcement, and judicial roles so that their activities can avoid, or at least receive early warnings about, investigation and prosecution.

Organized crime groups also provide a range of illegal services and goods, such as loansharking of money at very high interest rates, assassination, Blackmailing, Bombings, bookmaking and illegal gambling, Confidence tricks, Copyright infringement, Counterfeiting of Intellectual property, Kidnapping, prostitution, drug trafficking, Arms trafficking, Oil smuggling, Organ trafficking, Contract killing, Identity document forgery, illegal dumping of toxic waste, illegal trading of nuclear materials, Kidnapping, Military equipment smuggling, Nuclear weapons smuggling, Passport fraud, providing illegal immigration and cheap labor, people smuggling, trading in endangered species, and trafficking in human beings. Organized crime groups also do a range of business and labor racketeering activities, such as skimming casinos, insider trading, setting up monopolies in industries such as garbage collecting, construction and cement pouring, bid rigging, getting "no-show" and "no-work" jobs, money laundering, political corruption, bullying and ideological clamping.

See also


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