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What Is Organized Crime? - Definition, History & Examples

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  • 0:29 Organization
  • 2:34 Activities
  • 3:38 Early Examples
  • 4:05 Rationale
  • 4:42 Legislation
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about organized crime. We will look at what these groups are, who joins them, what they represent and what they do to stay active.

Organized Crime

Organized crime is a group of individuals, either local, national or international, that engage in criminal enterprises for profit. The rationale behind why they are formed varies because they may be politically motivated, financially motivated or an organized criminal 'gang.' We will look at the makeup of these organizations in this lesson.

Organization

There are three ways in which networks are formed within organized crime. The first is within a family, what we often refer to as a mafia. This form of organized crime operates based on the hierarchies of the related families, training of family members, reliance on religion, tradition and culture.

The second way in which a network is formed is through a business. These organized crime groups are rigid, have a complex authority hierarchy and are impersonal. These tend to be particularly dangerous for the members due to the impersonal nature of the organizational members, the lack of familial or interpersonal loyalties to other members, and the importance of power relationships rather than protection of family members as in the prior network.

An example of a business that has incorporated organized crime would be to conduct illegal activities, such as insider trading, racketeering or drug trafficking. These legal corporations incorporate illegal organized crime methods in order to help them succeed and earn more money. An infamous example would be Bernard Madoff and his corporate associates who orchestrated a $65 billion Ponzi scheme, which was considered one of the biggest frauds in U.S. history, taking the life savings of over 1,000 investors.

The third way in which a network is formed is through a 'gang.' These members are often recruited through members' involvement in crime as youths and the connections made in the correctional facilities. Members often join a gang for protection or the need to belong, typically due to their lack of a support system in their homes. Some gangs have a loose hierarchy, especially when dealing with drugs, firearms or sex trafficking. Infamous criminal gangs around the United States include the Aryan Brotherhood, Latin Kings and Hells Angels.

Activities

Organizational criminals typically use extortion, which is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats to get what they want. The organization also typically victimizes companies and individuals by stealing cars (to either trade or take apart and sell the parts), robbery, fraud, counterfeiting money and rigging public projects. These criminal organizations use violence regularly as a way to obtain what they want. Bodily harm may come to victims that do not comply or to members themselves that do not take their roles seriously or complete their assigned task successfully.

One of the main ways that organized crime groups obtain money is by drug trafficking and arms, or weapons, smuggling. Because this money is illegal and unable to be placed into a bank, these organizations launder the money, or convert this money into useable assets, such as real estate, vehicles or other tangible items.

Early Examples

In the 19th century, towns were small and regulated themselves; however, pirates and criminals would attack people on rural roads or while transporting goods on bodies of water. These early bandits were what we considered, in our modern day, to be members of organized crime. These groups had their own rules, used violence as a tool and were usually related in some way to one another.

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