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Gangster is the frequently misused term for a career criminal who is, or at some point almost invariably becomes, a member of a persistent violent crime organization, such as a gang. As an adjective it can be used as an unflattering depiction of the violent and devious methods commonly used by mobsters, and the derived form gangsterism it implies such methods as practice or habit. The term gangster is most commonly used in reference to members of the criminal organizations associated with the American offshoot of the Cosa Nostra and the American prohibition, such as the Chicago Outfit and the Five Families, and individuals such as Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel.
In the WWII era, the word "gangster" became a popular term to describe an individual who was a part of a "mafia" or "organized crime group". In current times, gangsters are most commonly viewed as malicious individuals. The media has had a substantial influence on the modern view of the gangster.
Gangsters are typically organized criminals who are actively engaged in crime as a group activity or enterprise for pleasure and profit. The visibility of activities of gangsters can range from the low-level such as drug-trafficking or protectionism, which are prone to be 'under the radar', to the in-your-face spectacular, such as the UK's multi-million Brinks Mat robbery. Gangsters often run their operations as businesses insofar as they offer a "product" or "service", albeit an illegal one, or, as is sometimes the case, a legitimate business operating as a front for criminal activity.
Some gangsters engage in extortion, intimidation, and/or bribery to wield influence over labor unions. They are also known for attempting to manipulate the decisions of civil institutions, such as court cases and political elections.
Organized crime or criminal organizations are groups or operations run by criminals, most commonly for the purpose of generating a monetary profit. The Organized Crime Control Act (U.S., 1970) defines organized crime as "The unlawful activities of ... a highly organized, disciplined association...".
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". 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 States as racketeering. In the U.S., organized crime is often prosecuted federally under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Statute (18 U.S.C. Part I Chapter 96 §§ 1961-1968).
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.
Criminal organizations keep illegal actions secret, and members communicate by word of mouth, telephone, or Internet. Many organized crime operations have legal fronts, such as licensed gambling, building construction, and trash hauling, or which operate in parallel with and provide cover for 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 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, threats, or a combination.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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. The Irish Mob boss of the Winter Hill Gang (in the 1980s) turned informant for the FBI. He used this position to eliminate competition and consolidate power within the city of Boston 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 Irish Mob Wars of the 1960s and 70s.
Today criminal organizations are increasingly working together, realising 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. 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 are increasingly having to work together. The FBI operates an organized crime section from its headquarters in Washington and is known to work with other national (e.g. Polizia di Stato and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), federal (e.g. Drug Enforcement Administration 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 Police Department Organized Crime Unit and the Los Angeles Police Department Special Operations Division) law enforcement agencies.
Notable criminal organizations
They include the Italian Mafia (or Cosa Nostra), The Irish Mob, the Colombian drug cartels, the Japanese Yakuza, the Chinese Triads, the Russian Mafia,the Bulgarian 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 criminal activity such as trafficking and money laundering as well as terrorism.
World leaders throughout history who have been accused of running their country like a criminal organization include Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Augusto Pinochet, Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Nicolae Ceauşescu, Francisco Franco, Hugo Banzer, Chiang Kai-shek, Slobodan Milošević and various other dictators and military juntas.
In 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.
The concept of the criminal organization came into being during the Nuremberg Trials. Several public sector organizations of Nazi Germany such as the SS and Gestapo were judged to be criminal organizations, while other organizations such as the German Army High Command [dubious — see talk page] 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.
Non-traditional organized crime
In addition to what is considered traditional organized crime involving direct crimes of fraud swindles, scams, racketeering and other 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.
Typical organized crime activities
Organized crime theft and fraud activities often victimize businesses, by 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), burglary, credit card fraud, and stock 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 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.
The Mafia (also known as Cosa Nostra), is an Italian criminal secret society which first developed in the mid-19th century in Sicily. An offshoot emerged on the East Coast of the United States and in Australia during the late 19th century following waves of Sicilian and Southern Italian emigration (see also Italian diaspora). In America, the Mafia often refers to Italian American organized crime in general, rather than just Sicilian American organized crime. According to historian Paolo Pezzino: "The Mafia is a kind of organized crime being active not only in several illegal fields, but also tending to exercise sovereignty functions – normally belonging to public authorities – over a specific territory..."
Some observers have seen "mafia" as a set of attributes deeply rooted in popular culture, as a "way of being", as illustrated in the definition by the Sicilian ethnographer, Giuseppe Pitrè, at the end of the 19th century: "Mafia is the consciousness of one's own worth, the exaggerated concept of individual force as the sole arbiter of every conflict, of every clash of interests or ideas."
Many Sicilians did not regard these men as criminals but as role models and protectors, given that the state appeared to offer no protection for the poor and weak. As late as the 1950s, the funeral epitaph of the legendary boss of Villalba, Calogero Vizzini, stated that "his 'mafia' was not criminal, but stood for respect of the law, defense of all rights, greatness of character. It was love." Here, "mafia" means something like pride, honor, or even social responsibility: an attitude, not an organization. Likewise, in 1925, the former Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando stated in the Italian senate that he was proud of being mafioso, because that word meant honorable, noble, generous.
The word "mafia" is taken from the old Sicilian adjective mafiusu, which has its roots in the Arabic mahyas, meaning "aggressive boasting, bragging" or marfud meaning "rejected". In some Sicilian dialects of Italian it means honour or man of honour. Roughly translated, it means "swagger", but can also be translated as "boldness, bravado". In reference to a man, mafiusu in 19th-century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.
According to the Sicilian ethnographer Giuseppe Pitre, the association of the word with the criminal secret society was made by the 1863 play I mafiusi di la Vicaria (The Beautiful (people) of Vicaria) by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca, which is about criminal gangs in the Palermo prison. The words Mafia and mafiusi (plural of mafiusu) are never mentioned in the play, and were probably put in the title because it would add local flair.
The association between mafiusi and criminal gangs was made by the association the play's title made with the criminal gangs that were new to Sicilian and Italian society at the time. Consequently, the word "mafia" was generated from a fictional source loosely inspired by the real thing and was used by outsiders to describe it. The use of the term "mafia" was subsequently taken over in the Italian state's early reports on the phenomenon. The word "mafia" made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo, Filippo Antonio Gualterio.
Leopoldo Franchetti, an Italian deputy who travelled to Sicily and who wrote one of the first authoritative reports on the mafia in 1876, described the designation of the term "Mafia": "the term mafia found a class of violent criminals ready and waiting for a name to define them, and, given their special character and importance in Sicilian society, they had the right to a different name from that defining vulgar criminals in other countries".
The real name: Cosa Nostra
According to some mafiosi, the real name of the Mafia is Cosa Nostra (literally, "Our Thing"). Many have claimed, as did the Mafia turncoat Tommaso Buscetta, that the word "mafia" was a literary creation. Other Mafia defectors, such as Antonio Calderone and Salvatore Contorno, said the same thing. According to them, the real thing was "cosa nostra". To men of honour belonging to the organization, there is no need to name it. Mafiosi introduce known members to other known members as belonging to "cosa nostra" (our thing) or la stessa cosa (the same thing), meaning "he is the same thing, a mafioso, as you". Only the outside world needs a name to describe it, hence the capitalized form "Cosa Nostra".
Cosa Nostra was first used, in the early 1960s, in the United States by Joseph Valachi, a mafioso turned state witness, during the hearings of the McClellan Commission. At the time, it was understood as a proper name, fostered by the FBI and disseminated by the media. The designation gained wide popularity and almost replaced the term Mafia. The FBI even added an article to the term, calling it 'La Cosa Nostra'. In Italy the article 'la' is never used when the term refers to the Mafia.
Rituals of Sicilian Cosa Nostra
The orientation ritual in most families happens when a man becomes an associate, and then, a soldier. As described by Tommaso Buscetta to judge Giovanni Falcone, the neophyte is brought together with at least three "men of honour" of the family and the oldest member present warns him that "this House" is meant to protect the weak against the abuse of the powerful; he then pricks the finger of the initiate and spills his blood onto a sacred image, usually of a saint. The image is placed in the hand of the initiate and lit on fire. The neophyte must withstand the pain of the burning, passing the image from hand to hand, until the image has been consumed, while swearing to keep faith with the principles of "Cosa Nostra," solemnly swearing "may my flesh burn like this saint if I fail to keep my oath." Joseph Valachi was the first person to mention that in court. The Sicilians also have a law of silence, called omertà; it forbids the common man, woman or child to cooperate at all with the police or the government, upon pain of death.
It has long been debated as to whether or not the mafia has medieval origins. Deceased pentito Tommaso Buscetta thought so, whilst modern scholars now believe otherwise. It is possible that the 'original' mafia formed as a secret society sworn to protect the Sicilian population from the threat of Spanish marauders in the fifteenth century. However, there is very little historical evidence to suggest this. It is also feasible that the "Robin Hood" myth was perpetuated by the earliest known mafiosi as a means of gaining goodwill and trust from the Sicilian people.
After the Revolution of 1848 and the revolution of 1860, Sicily had fallen to complete disorder. The earliest mafiosi, then separate, small bands of outlaws, offered their guns in the revolt. Author John Dickie claims that the main reasons for this were the chance to burn police records and evidence, and to kill off police and pentiti in the chaos. However, once a new government was established in Rome and it became clear that the mafia would be unable to execute these actions, they began refining their methods and techniques over the later half of the nineteenth century. Protecting the large lemon groves and estates of local nobility became a lucrative but dangerous business. Palermo was initially the main area of these activities, but the Sicilian mafia's dominance soon spread over all of western Sicily. In order to strengthen the bond between the disparate gangs and so ensure greater profits and a safer working environment, it is possible that the mafia as such was formed at this time in about the mid-19th century.
Mafia after the unification of Italy
From 1860, the year when the new unified Italian state first took over both Sicily and the Papal states, the Popes were hostile to the state. From 1870, the Pope declared himself besieged by the Italian state and strongly encouraged Catholics to refuse to cooperate with the state. Broadly speaking, in mainland Italy, this took a peaceful character. Sicily was strongly Catholic, but in a strongly tribal sense rather than in an intellectual and theological sense, and had a tradition of suspicion of outsiders. The friction between the Church and the state gave a great advantage to violent criminal bands in Sicily who could claim to peasants and townspeople that cooperating with the police (representing the new Italian state) was an anti-Catholic activity. It was in the two decades following the 1860 unification that the term Mafia came to the attention of the general public, although it was considered to be more of an attitude and value system than an organization.
The first mention in official law documentation of the 'mafia' came in the late 1800s, when a Dr. Galati was subject to threats of violence from a local mafioso, who was attempting to oust Galati from his own lemon grove in order to move himself in. Protection rackets, cattle rustling and bribery of state officials were the main sources of income and protection for the early mafia. Cosa Nostra also borrowed heavily from masonic oaths and rituals, such as the now famous initiation ceremony.
During the Fascist period in Italy, Cesare Mori, prefect of Palermo, used special powers granted to him to prosecute the Mafia, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad or risk being jailed. Many of the Mafiosi who escaped fled to the United States, among them Joseph Bonanno, nicknamed Joe Bananas, who came to dominate the U.S. branch of the Mafia. However, when Mori started to persecute the Mafiosi involved in the Fascist hierarchy, he was removed, and the Fascist authorities proclaimed that the Mafia had been defeated. However, although weakened the mafia was not defeated as claimed. Despite his assault on their brethren, Mussolini had his admirers in the New York Mafia, notably Vito Genovese (who was from Naples and not from Sicily, though).
The post-war revival
After Fascism, the Mafia did not become powerful in Italy again until after the country's surrender in World War II and the U.S. occupation. The United States used Italian connections of American Mafiosi during the invasion of Italy and Sicily in 1943. Lucky Luciano and other Mafiosi, who had been imprisoned during this time in the U.S., provided information for U.S. military intelligence and used Luciano's influence to ease the way for advancing troops. Furthermore, Luciano's control of the ports prevented sabotage by agents of the Axis powers.
Some say that the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, deliberately allowed the mafia to recover its social and economic position as the "anti-State" in Sicily, and with the U.S.-mafia alliance forged in 1943, this became the true turning point of mafia history and the new foundation for its subsequent 60-year career. Others, such as the Palermitan historian Francesco Renda, have argued that there was no such alliance. Rather, the mafia exploited the chaos of post-fascist Sicily to reconquer its social base. The OSS indeed, in its 1944 "Report on the Problem of Mafia" by the agent W. E. Scotten, pointed to the signs of mafia resurgence and warned of its perils for social order and economic progress.
An alleged additional benefit (from the American perspective) was that many of the Sicilian-Italian Mafiosi were hard-line anti-communists. They were therefore seen as valuable allies by the anti-communist Americans, who allegedly used them to root out socialist and communist elements in the American shipping industry as well as wartime resistance movements and postwar local and regional governments in areas where the Mafia held sway.
According to drug trade expert Dr. Alfred W. McCoy, Luciano was permitted to run his crime network from his jail cell in exchange for his assistance. After the war, Luciano was rewarded by being released from prison and deported to Italy, where he was able to continue his criminal career unhindered. He went to Sicily in 1946 to continue his activities and according to McCoy's landmark 1972 book The Politics of Heroin in South-East Asia, Luciano went on to forge a crucial alliance with the Corsican Mafia, leading to the development of a vast international heroin trafficking network, initially supplied from Turkey and based in Marseille — the so-called "French Connection".
Later, when Turkey began to eliminate its opium production, he used his connections with the Corsicans to open a dialogue with expatriate Corsican mafiosi in South Vietnam. In collaboration with leading American mob bosses including Santo Trafficante Jr., Luciano and his successors took advantage of the chaotic conditions in Southeast Asia arising from the Vietnam War to establish an unassailable supply and distribution base in the "Golden Triangle", which was soon funneling huge amounts of Asian heroin into the United States, Australia and other countries.
The modern Mafia in Italy
In the 1980s and 1990s, however, a series of internecine "gang wars" led to many prominent Mafia members being murdered. A new generation of mafiosi has placed more emphasis on "white-collar" criminal activity as opposed to more traditional racketeering enterprises. In reaction to these developments, the Italian press has come up with the phrase Cosa Nuova ("the new thing", a play on Cosa Nostra) to refer to the revamped organization.
The main split in the Sicilian Mafia at present is between those bosses who have been convicted and are now imprisioned, chiefly Salvatore 'Totò' Riina, and Capo di tutti capi Bernardo Provenzano, and those who are on the run, or who have not been indicted. The incarcerated bosses are currently subjected to harsh controls on their contact with the outside world, limiting their ability to run their operations from behind bars under the Italian law 41 bis. Antonino Giuffrè – a close confidant of Provenzano, turned pentito shortly after his capture in 2002 – alleges that in 1993, Cosa Nostra had direct contact with representatives of Silvio Berlusconi while he was planning the birth of Forza Italia.
The deal that he says was alleged to have been made was a repeal of 41 bis, among other anti-Mafia laws in return for electoral deliverances in Sicily. Giuffrè's declarations have not been confirmed. The Italian Parliament, with the support of Forza Italia, extended the enforcement of 41 bis, which was to expire in 2002 but has been prolonged for another four years and extended to other crimes such as terrorism. However, according to one of Italy’s leading magazines, L'Espresso, 119 mafiosi – one-fifth of those incarcerated under the 41 bis regime – have been released on an individual basis. The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern that the 41-bis regime could in some circumstances amount to "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" for prisoners.