Photo courtesy of NASA. Clip art courtesy of openclipart. Modified by Curiousmatic.

Globalized Crime Syndicates Rule The U.S. Underworld

Organized crime is no longer restricted to the Cosa Nostra.

Extortion, murder, racketeering and illicit goods are no longer the territory of fedora-wearing figures such as Lucky Luciano or Al Capone.

As barriers for travel and trade have been lowered over the last 20 years, criminals from all over the world have seen the opportunity for rapid expansion in the U.S.

The field of international organized crime is estimated by the FBI to rake in profits of over $1 trillion a year. Here are some of the main organizations – all of which have been targeted by the Department of Treasury for financial sanctions – and what they’re infamous for.

Italian Mafia

Although the Italian-American mob has been somewhat suppressed, mafia activity is still going strong in Italy. The FBI estimates that 25,000 people worldwide belong to the Italian mafia, along with 250,000 affiliates. More than 3,000 are estimated to exist in the U.S., centered in the Greater New York area.

The Camorra is considered to be the largest of these organizations, involved in counterfeiting, drug trafficking and smuggling of counterfeit goods to the U.S., along with money laundering, extortion, kidnapping and political corruption, according to the Department of Justice and the FBI.

The Brother’s Circle

Consisting of members from many former Soviet countries in Eurasia, with a large percentage of Russians, the Brother’s Circle is a coordinating body for several national-level Eurasian criminal networks.

As opposed to the family-centered Italian organization, these groups band together on a basis of common geographical origins, as well as the ideology of “thief-in-law,” meaning that authority is deferred to respected “thieves in law” who follow a certain code.

In the U.S., Russian and Eurasian gangs have specialized in extortion, protection rackets, and large-scale fraud. One example of this is a $279 million health care fraud scheme involving staged car accidents that was exposed in 2005. Another example is Peter Berlin, a Russian immigrant who was convicted in 2000 for trying to launder $7 billion through the Bank of New York.

Yakuza, triads, and tongs

According to the FBI, Asian criminal groups have benefited particularly well from “generous immigration policies,” as their organizations are fluid and highly mobile.

The agency groups the organizations in two categories: traditional organizations that are fairly well visible in society, such as the Japanese Yakuza (estimated to total around 80,000 worldwide by the DoJ) and the Chinese triads, and non-traditional organizations such as tong secret societies, as well as street gangs.

In addition to “regular” organized crime activities such as extortion, murder, kidnapping, illegal gambling, prostitution, and loansharking, these groups also smuggle aliens, traffic heroin and methamphetamine, steal autos and computer chips and counterfeit goods.

Mexican drug cartels

Known for their brutal violence and large weapon caches, the Mexican drug cartels are highly organized and operate on a massive scale just south of the U.S. border.

Though there is no figure universally agreed on, the Drug Enforcement Administration estimates the drug cartel trade to be worth more than $19 billion.

Though they are most focused on drug trafficking, the cartels have also been involved in human smuggling and kidnapping. Violence is a key part of their operation, both against law enforcement and rival cartels. It’s estimated that more than 60,000 people were killed in cartel-related murders between 2006 and 2011.

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Ole Skaar