Organized crime has played a fabled part in 20th century American history. Television and movies have done much to bring the story of organized crime into the nation’s consciousness. Those who remember the dawn of the television era may recall Senator Estes Kefauver and his “Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce” heatedly questioning notorious mobsters who appeared before the committee in the early 50’s.

 

An estimated 30 million Americans, an amazing number for the time, tuned in dim black-and-white televisions to watch the proceedings broadcast live in March 1951, which brought to life criminals previously only known through newspaper headlines. It became the most widely-viewed congressional investigation at the time. Criminals, as suave and well-mannered as their investigators according to one journalist, like Frank Costello and Bugsy Siegel appeared before a national audience, and did much to form the image Americans still have today of the face of organized crime.

Kefauver sought to expose what he called “the life blood of organized crime”: interstate gambling. It was only one element of organized crime, which had become so widespread in the country that it presented a serious threat to the nation’s economy. Our nation is still dealing with that threat almost seventy years later. The Irish – Italian elements in organized crime of the 50’s has faded making room for a new face of organized crime, one that reflects the complex racial and ethnic diversity in America today.

A casual glance will reveal this most startling aspect of organized crime; it’s become highly diverse with a decidedly multi-cultural aspect. Active today in the American crime scene are Armenian, Russian, Chinese and other Asian gangs, as well as the infamous Mexican drug cartels that have become closely allied with American prison gangs of wide racial diversity. Mostly white biker gangs, the traditional party boys of the 40’s and 50’s, have evolved into criminal enterprises that rival any of the most sophisticated criminal organizations and have become the subject of federal indictments under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

For those of us whose everyday lives are far removed from the activities of organized criminals, it is very much an eye opening experience to realize the far ranging racial and ethnic diversity of criminal organizations today with their globe spanning associations with other criminal elements. Organized crime has achieved racial and ethnic co-operation unseen in other parts of our society.

Armenian Power

 

The Los-Angeles-based group Armenian Power may not have the highest national profile, due in part to the fact that, of recent, it has gotten little media attention outside of California. This modest reputation got a boost in February 2014, when the Justice Department announced that Andranik Aloyan, of Los Angeles, had been convicted for his role in one of the largest racketeering conspiracies in the country’s history. His conviction stemmed from a massive crackdown on the gang, which had grown over the past decades from a street gang of recent immigrants to an international crime ring with an estimated 200 members.

From its humble beginnings in East Hollywood in the 80’s, it formed a crucial alliance with the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls much of California prisons’ drug trade. The Mexican Mafia provided “protection and status” to Armenian Power members in jail, and Armenian Power provided the muscle when the Mafia collected dues. This alignment proved to be a springboard for expansion into many other types of crime including drugs, bank fraud, and even high-rolling gambling tournaments in secret locations in the San Fernando Valley.

With such extensive activities, AP soon came under law enforcement scrutiny. In 2011, after years of surveillance, wiretaps and the testimony of a kidnapping and extortion victim who put his own life at risk, 90 Armenian Power members and associates were federally indicted, and dozens more were arrested.

In April 2014, after many of the 90 indicted men and women were convicted in plea deals that avoided trial, an AP kingpin took his chances with a federal jury. Mher Darbinyan, also known as Capone, along with two associates, appeared at the U.S. District Court House downtown, where the jury heard weeks of testimony and was presented with copious evidence. The jury convicted Mr. Darbinyan of 57 criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy, extortion, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.

At the time of these convictions, the FBI had stated, “With the arrests and convictions of nearly all senior leadership of Armenian Power, we dealt a serious blow to their ability to continue to operate in the manner they were accustomed.” Indeed, there currently is a dearth of Armenian Power stories in the media. Only time will tell if Armenian Power will be relegated to the history books.

Prison Gangs

Prison gangs normally operate within the confines of the federal and state prison systems or sometimes county jails. Active gang members return to local communities when they are released from prison. Often, released members return to familiar surroundings and resume their former street gang affiliations, acting as representatives of their prison gang to recruit street gang members who perform criminal acts on behalf of the prison gang.

In recent years, prison gangs have come to pose a serious domestic threat, because they have become affiliated with the drug cartels known in law enforcement circles as Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs). These prison gangs then become able to maintain substantial influence over street gangs in the communities in which they operate.

 

 

In Los Angeles, an example of this arrangement is a multi-generational gang based in the East Los Angeles area known as Big Hazard. According to a recent criminal indictment of the gang, Big Hazard is part of a network of Latino gangs controlled by the prison based gang The Mexican Mafia, aka La Eme.

The Mexican Mafia runs their empire from various state and federal prisons to the streets of LA. They utilize gangs like Big Hazard to maintain control of the drug trade. They act as suppliers and wholesalers, with a direct line to the Mexican drug cartels. Though The Mexican Mafia is known to be heavily involved in methamphetamine trafficking, it is a highly secretive organization and not many details of their operations are known. What little that has been revealed emerged from indictments brought against 38 members of the Big Hazard gang under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes, in December 2014.

Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs)

 

 

Historically, motorcycle gangs were loose associations of predominately military veterans with a shared interest in American motorcycles and partying. Today, some high profile gangs like the Outlaws and the Pagans are still actively recruiting from the military for new members. Some gangs have evolved into organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises. Known in FBI parlance as outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), there are more than 300 active clubs in the United States, ranging in size from single chapters with five or six members to hundreds of chapters with thousands of members worldwide. The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, the Bandidos Motorcycle Club (Bandidos) and the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (Outlaws) conduct the majority of criminal activity linked to OMGs, especially activity relating to drug-trafficking, and, more specifically, to cross-border drug smuggling.

According to the FBI, some OMGs also collaborate with African, Asian, Caribbean, Eurasian, Italian, and Russian crime syndicates. Because these associations are of a transnational nature, these OMGs function as major international drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) with an ability to coordinate drug smuggling operations across borders. In addition to such international partnerships, some gangs team with U.S. based organized crime groups in the commission of domestic street crimes like extortion, enforcement, debt collection, and money laundering.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has designated four groups as OMGs; the Hells Angels, the Pagans, the Outlaws, and the Bandidos (collectively known as the “Big Four”) and has pursued prosecution of these gangs under the federal RICO statutes. In California, the Attorney General recognizes the Mongols and the Vagos Motorcycle Clubs as outlaw motorcycle gangs and considers them to be criminal organizations.

The Government’s Response

The task of dealing with these new and increasingly diverse sources of crime has required an increased government response, on both the state and federal levels, that goes beyond the abilities of traditional law enforcement agencies. Although all these traditional agencies remain highly active in combating the new threats, they have been augmented with highly specialized organizations created within existing state and federal organizations. These organizations are little known to the public, but are instrumental in many law enforcement successes that have made the headlines.

Because in recent years domestic organized crime has demonstrated an increased ability to operate worldwide in concert with a highly diverse group of international criminal organizations and in an extremely effective manner, it now threatens many aspects of how Americans live, work and do business. On the federal level, the Department of Justice has formed the Organized Crime and Gang Section (OCGS), a specialized group of prosecutors charged with developing and implementing strategies to disrupt and dismantle the most significant regional, national and international gangs and organized crime groups. Its principle enforcement efforts are currently directed against transnational organized crime groups, which pose serious threats to the well-being of Americans and the stability of our economy.

In California, the State Threat Assessment Center (STAC) is the state’s clearing house for gathering of tailored all-source strategic intelligence designed to alert and inform California’s policy makers and other public safety personnel on the numerous threats facing the state every day. Among other duties, they perform analysis on transnational crime (including countering illicit narcotics trafficking, and human trafficking) and criminal gangs.

The STAS (State Threat Assessment System) assists in the detection, prevention, investigation and response to criminal and terrorist activity, disseminates intelligence and facilitates communications between state, local, federal, tribal agencies and private sector partners, to help them take action on threats and public safety issues.

Daniel R. Perlman, Esq.

Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman