ORGANIZED CRIME: THE MYTH OF AN UNDERWORLD EMPIRE
1951 marked the beginning of the media fixation over “mafias”
Definition of organized crime according to President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the
Administration of Justice, 1967.
Organized crime is a society that seeks to operate outside the control of the American
people and their governments. It involves thousands of criminals, working within
structures as complex as those of any large corporation, subject to laws more rigidly
enforced than those of legitimate governments. Its actions are not impulsive but rather
the result of intricate conspiracies carried on over many years and aimed at gaining
control over whole fields of activity in order to amass huge profits...
In 1967, the mafia paradigm was given more form as policy makers identified mafia groups as
“24 groups operating criminal cartels in large cities across the nation. Their membership
exclusively Italian...in frequent communication with each other...their smooth functioning
insured by a national body of overseers. (115-116)
By the 1970’s and 1980’s more races began involvement in organized crimes, such as Cubans,
Colombians, Chinese, Russians, Japanese, Irish, African Americans, Canadians
These new groups were added to the mafia theory which was:
- These new groups were racially, ethically, or culturally homogenous.
- They were described in terms of some type of culturally defined “family” structure
that resembled a corporate bureaucracy, but which was rooted in the foreign
customs of their homelands.
- They were rabidly expansionist in their marketing strategies and were “more
violent,” ”more secretive,” and “more closely knit” than the traditional mafia.
Primary reason used to explain the decline in Mafia power was that younger Italians were more
“Americanized” thus making them less violent, secretive, or closely knit.
In the 1990’s after the demise of the Cold War, organized crime made reappearance. Amid the
beginning of the new millennium, organized crime had become “an international conspiracy of
tightly organized foreigners destined to destroy both the United States and the New World
Alien Conspiracy Myth: the belief that organized crime in the United States is a conspiracy of
outsiders, “...a group of men motivated by criminality and a sense of loyalty foreign to an open
democratic society” (pg 118)
It was thmmonly thlieved that organized crime was imported to the United States during the
later 19 and 20 centuries in the waves of Italian immigration. With these immigrants came
secret, illicit, feudal societies such as the Mafia and the Camorra, which began the up rise of the
Mafia. Research on the Mafia in Sicily indicates that it was never a highly structured criminal
conspiracy; rather, it was a fragmented force of mercenaries providing local control of the
peasantry for the absentee landlords (Block, 1974) This myth of “important mafia members”
derives from a combination of press sensationalism and nativist sentiments in the United States
(Smith, 1976) It was also popularly believed that in 1931, the immigrated secret, feudal societies underwent a
catharsis, the Castellamarese War, which successfull wiped out the last vestiges of feudal Sicilian
rule in the mob, removing illiterates from power, and placing business-oriented Italian gangsters
in charge. Contemporary knowledge goes to prove that the Castellamarese War never even
The alien conspiracy myth is supported by the testimonies of a few government-sponsored
informants and heavily edited and carefully selected police files and surveillance transcripts
released to the public. All of which has been speculated by officials.
Studies have demonstrated that rather than being a tightly structured, clearly defined, stable
entity, organized crime operates in a loosely structured, informal, open system. Organized crime
is made up of a series of highly adaptive, flexible networks that readily take into account
changes in the law and regulatory practices, the growth of decline of market demand for a
particular good or service, and the availability of new sources of supply and new opportunities
Rather than a clearly defined hierarchy, organized crime usually conceived itself as a partnership
arrangement. In such cases like the Capone gang, there was a usually several senior “partners”
and many junior partners who sometimes conducted business in concert with one another and
often conducted business separately.
It was also widely believed that organized crime was a “sleek, modern, bureaucratized Italian
crime corporation made up of 24 families based on Italian lineage and extended family
relationships.” However empirical research has proven that organized crime is made up of small,
fragmented and ephemeral enterprises. The small sizes of these conglomerates reduce the
chances of getting caught and prosecuted.
Finally, another common myth is that organized crime is a threat to national security as they are
“governed by a national commission.” In reality however, individuals involved in organized crime
limit the geographic areas they serve since the larger the geographic area the more inefficient it
is to manage the business (requires long trips to pass information, possibility of electronic
There is also a common myth that organized criminals corrupt public officials; studies have
come to show, that in some cases those who occupy positions of public trust are the organizers
The myth that organized crime is comprised of individuals of a homogeneous ethnicity is also
debunked when ample research depicts many organized crime groups of varied ethnic
backgrounds. As a study done by Haller (1992) has shown, organized criminals who wish to
survive and prosper quickly learn the limits of kinship, ethnicity and violence and proceed to
build business partnerships based by rational business decisions and common needs.
With the turn of the 21 century, organized crime somehow mutated in a vast transnational
organized crime conspiracy. The truth of the matter is that organized crime still maintains the
characteristics it had in previous years; as being informal, loosely structured, open, flexible
organizations that are highly reactive to changes in the political and economic environment.
These characteristics have made it easier for them to deal with technological advancements in
communications and transportation; market adaptations resulting from the internationalization of investment capital, financial services and banking, the internationalization of manufacturing
and increased segmentation and fragmentation of production across international border and
the increased emphasis on international and unrestricted trade across borders.
According to Willams (1994) five areas regarding globalization have profoundly impacted
criminal organizations: 1) ease of international transport; 2) the growth of international trade; 3)
new computer and communication technology 4) the growth of global financial networks; and 5)
the creation of and opening of new markets. Criminal and noncriminal entrepreneurs have
recognized the potential presented for global markets through these forces of globalization and
have tried to exploit them.
Newest and most profitable form of organized crime is arms trafficking. Clients of this form of
crime to a large degree are nation states; those whom are supposedly controlling organized
crime. In order to smuggle large arms such as tanks and aircraft organized criminals often define
themselves as “employees” of legitimate corporations of as those corporations themselves.
These illicit transfers are done through “gray market” transactions; the gray market in arms is
dominated and controlled by large corporations who provide the means to make the transfers
and the covers to aid in the process. A transfer in the grey market involves one of four
techniques: 1) fraudulent documents, issued by the company, may be used to disguise the
actual customer 2) fraudulent documents may disguise the military nature of the goods 3) false
declarations by the company may hide the actual identity of the supplier and 4) the arms
transfer may be disguised as “humanitarian aid.”This arms trade essentially changes the nature
of organized crime, wherein it operates in the request of governments – usually as temporary