Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mobsters Support Federal Economic Stimulus Plan

The federal economic stimulus plan might have unintended benefits for organized crime.

At least that's the assessment of experts who monitor groups like the Russian Mafia in Los Angeles County.

"They take advantage," said Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Larry Hastings. "The more money that's out there; if there's some type of scam they can get into, they'll go after it. If there's an angle they'll work it."

Hastings heads a squad specifically tasked with taking on organized crime. In recent years the men and women who work for him report a surge in Russian gangsters throughout the region.

"It used to be they were just on the Westside," Hastings said. "Now pretty much we are getting stuff all over. It's spread everywhere."

There's nothing new about gangsters profiting in an economic downturn. During the Great Depression, Al Capone ran rackets in Chicago, while Lucky Luciano ran them in New York and Mickey Cohen took care of business here in Los Angeles.

Those crime families, primarily Italian, are known in law enforcement as La Cosa Nostra or LCN. Their profits derived primarily from vice - bootlegging, prostitution, drugs, gambling and extortion. And, as they gained notoriety, made LCN members were glamorized in Hollywood, lived like celebrities and became huge targets for law enforcement, Hastings said.

A Godfather called the shots and his capos and lieutenants carried out the orders.
Advertisement But the new organized crime groups, while expert in all the old-school tricks, present a problem for law enforcement. Their structure is not well defined. They fly under the radar. There is no Godfather.

"It's really difficult to explain," Hastings said. "They are loosely organized and spread all over. They are not like street gangs or LCN."

Instead of cozying up to Hollywood types, Russian mobsters get close to politicians and successful businessmen, Hastings said. The new rackets are complicated fraud scams that target credit cards, ATM machines, and the fountains of government money intended for health care, welfare and a variety of other social needs.

As more and more money pours out of Washington, experts believe crime groups formed in Soviet prisons under Stalin are ready to put on a full-court press.

There's little doubt the Russian mob will use all the tricks at its disposal, according to Gerald Caiden, a USC professor of public policy, who is an expert in organized crime.

"These guys know how to diddle the system," Caiden said. "They'll figure out a way to get swing loans from (the government) using fake addresses and any other means they can."

Caiden believes Russian scam artists are primarily responsible for the collapse of our Social Security system. "It's awful what these guys have done," Caiden said.

Bottom line: a sagging economy, billions of new government dollars pouring into the system and a ruthless group intent on profiteering can only mean more trouble for already overburdened law enforcement agencies tracking these thugs.

"They are about making money," Hastings said. "What's happening now is not going to hurt them."

Thanks to Frank Giradot

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