• How Organized Crime Affects You



    The don (leader) of a Mafia family pricks a finger of the novice. Blood drips onto the picture of a “saint.” Next, fire consumes the picture. ‘Should you divulge any of the secrets of the organization, your soul will burn like this saint,’ the don tells the young man.

    THE code of silence—in Italian, omertà—kept organized crime pretty much underground for many years. Today, however, criminal gangs are making headlines everywhere as some mobsters turn informer. The most prominent figure to be accused by these pentiti, or Mafia turncoats, was Giulio Andreotti, who was Italy’s prime minister seven times and is now being tried for his Mafia connections.

    Criminal organizations everywhere have spread their tentacles into all walks of life: the Mafia in Italy and in the United States, where it is also called the Cosa Nostra; the drug cartels in South America; the Triads of China; the yakuza in Japan. Their evil activities affect all of us and make life more expensive.

    In the United States, it is said, the Mafia divides the city of New York among five families, making billions through extortion, protection rackets, loan-sharking, gambling, drug dealing, and prostitution. It is alleged that the Mafia families have a tight grip on labor unions in garbage-hauling businesses, trucking, construction, food distribution, and textiles. With the power they have over the labor unions, they can iron out labor disputes or they can sabotage a project. On a construction site, for instance, one day a bulldozer will not move, another day the brakes on a backhoe fail, and operating engineers “slow walk” the project—these incidents and more persist until the builder agrees to bend to the mob’s demands, whether they be payoffs or work contracts. In fact, “payoffs to the Mob can assure businessmen of prompt deliveries, labor peace and the ability to use cheaper workers,” reports Time


    In Colombia two drug cartels competed with each other until Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellín cartel, was shot in 1993. After that, the Cali cartel monopolized the world’s cocaine traffic. Grossing $7 billion in 1994 in the United States alone, it became probably the biggest organized-crime syndicate in the world. But the arrest in 1995 of its mastermind, José Santacruz Londoño, struck a blow against the cartel. There is, however, always an eager successor waiting to take over as the next boss.

    With the Iron Curtain rent asunder, the Russian Mafia made its debut on the international stage. As a result, “every

    business in Russia has to deal with the mafia,” says a banker quoted in

    Newsweek. Even in Brighton Beach, New York, the Russian Mafia are reported to be raking in the profits from complicated fraud schemes involving gasoline. Car owners end up paying the tab, and the government loses taxes. The Russian gangs also run prostitution rings in Eastern Europe. They get away with most of their crimes scot-free. Who dares to face up to heavily armed former athletes and veterans from the Afghan war?

    The situation is no different in the Orient. In Japan those in show business have to expect all sorts of trouble unless they honor the local yakuza group and pay tribute to them. Here too protection money is demanded from bars and even from streetwalkers. In addition, the

    yakuza have worked their way deep into the Japanese economy by organizing their own companies, extorting money from big

    business , and linking up with crime syndicates abroad.

    Criminal organizations based in Hong Kong and Taiwan are also spreading a web over the whole world. Except for their name, Triads, little is known about how they are organized. Their history dates back to the 17th century, when Chinese monks banded together against the Manchurians who took over China. Although their members number into the tens of thousands, it is said that the Triads in Hong Kong form temporary syndicates for a specific crime or a series of crimes, making it difficult for the police to trace their identity. They make billions of dollars by trafficking in heroin and have

    turned Hong Kong into a credit-card forging center.

    In his book The New Ethnic Mobs, William Kleinknecht writes about crime in the United States: “In the new world of organized crime, no ethnic gangsters have a bigger future than the Chinese. . . . Chinese crime groups are rapidly gaining power in cities around the country. . . . They are second only to the Mafia in New York.”

    Regarding another form of illegal trafficking emanating from Hong Kong, a U.S. Justice Department official says: “Alien smuggling is a manifestation of organized crime.” Some officials estimate that 100,000 Chinese enter the United States illegally each year. The typical smuggled immigrant has to pay at least $15,000 for his ride to an affluent nation, most of which he pays off after he reaches his destination. Thus, for many immigrants life in the land of their dreams becomes a nightmare of forced labor in sweatshops and brothels.

    Because you do not get involved in criminal activities, you may feel that you are not affected by organized crime. But is that really so? Many drug addicts, living on several continents, turn to crime to pay for drugs supplied by South American drug cartels. Organized crime makes sure that contracts for public services are assigned to companies that are tied to it; as a result, citizens pay more. The President’s Commission on Organized Crime once stated that in the United States, “organized crime distorts costs through theft, extortion, bribery, price fixing and restraint of trade” and that consumers are forced to pay “what amounts to a surcharge” to the Mafia. So, no one escapes the effects of crime. All of us pay the bill.

    But why does organized crime prosper today?

    [Box on page 5]

    The Mafia—Its Origins

    “The Mafia arose in Sicily during the late Middle Ages, where it possibly began as a secret organization dedicated to overthrowing the rule of the various foreign conquerors of the island—e.g.,

    Saracens, Normans, and Spaniards. The Mafia owed its origins and drew its members from the many small private armies, or mafie, that were hired by absentee landlords to protect their landed estates from bandits in the lawless conditions that prevailed over much of Sicily through the centuries. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the energetic ruffians in these private armies organized themselves and grew so powerful that they turned against the landowners and became the sole law on many of the estates, extorting money from the landowners in return for protecting the latter’s crops.” (The New Encyclopædia Britannica) Extorting protection money became their modus operandi. They took their methods to the United States, where they moved into gambling, labor racketeering, loan-sharking, drug trafficking, and prostitution.

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