When you hear the words “organized crime,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably the Mafia and its five major crime families in New York City. But have you ever heard of the notorious Thief-in-Law Vyacheslav Ivankov, the Solnstsevo organization, the Young Joon Yang gang, or the Black Dragons?
They’re involved in organized crime, too. Individuals associated with foreign-based criminal groups are targeting the U.S. as we speak, and they are a major focus of American law enforcement and a top priority of the FBI’s organized crime busting efforts.
These groups have much in common with their Mafia brethren, beginning with their hunger for power and profit. But what sets them apart is their reach. While traditional mobsters mostly operate domestically, Eurasian and Asian crime groups are transnational. Some report to an established leadership hierarchy in their native lands while others have fuzzier connections, but all require that we work closely with our law enforcement partners in these regions of the world.
Who they are. Eurasian criminal groups hail from dozens of countries spanning the Baltics, the Balkans, Central/Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucacus, and Central Asia. Although ethnically-based, they work with other ethnic groups when perpetrating crimes. Asian organized crime includes traditional enterprises like the Chinese Triads, Chinese Tong, and Japanese Boryokudan (a.k.a., Yakuza), as well as more loosely organized groups like the Big Boys Circle, the Asian Boyz Group, and Vietnamese and Korean criminal enterprises.
What they do. Both groups are involved in a range of illegal activities in this country, including drug trafficking, extortion, murder, kidnapping, home invasions, prostitution, illegal gambling, loan sharking, insurance/credit card fraud, stock fraud, and the theft of high-tech components. Chinese groups are also involved in human trafficking—bringing large numbers of Chinese migrants to North America and essentially enslaving them here. One of U.S. law enforcement’s chief concerns: the same criminal infrastructure that smuggles people into the U.S. could also be used to smuggle terrorists.
Investigative strategies. Over the past few decades, U.S. law enforcement has had a great deal of success against the major Mafia families using a full suite of investigative methods. Now, we’re using the same set of tools to combat Eurasian and Asian crime groups, including:
* Intelligence gathering;
* The enterprise theory of investigation, which focuses on the entire criminal group rather than on isolated members;
* The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act (both the criminal and civil provisions of this law can help dismantle criminal organizations);
* Cooperation, lots of it, with both domestic and global law enforcement partners; and
* Time-tested techniques like undercover operations, court-authorized electronic surveillance, informants and cooperating witnesses, and consensual monitoring.
Investigative accomplishments. Thief-in-Law Vyacheslav Ivankov’s conviction in New York in 1996 represented the FBI’s first major victory against the new wave of Eurasian organized crime entering America. Subsequent successes included Operation “Trojan Horses,” which dismantled a violent New York City Albanian criminal enterprise that had taken traditional racketeering activity away from the established La Cosa Nostra crime families. And undercover investigations in Newark and Los Angeles uncovered an Asian criminal organization that was smuggling, or attempting to smuggle, nearly every form of contraband imaginable—counterfeit currency, cigarettes, illegal drugs, pharmaceuticals, and weapons—into the United States.
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