One of Italy’s most-wanted mob bosses has been arrested in Uruguay after 23 years on the run from convictions for mafia association, drug trafficking and other serious crimes, the Italian interior ministry has said.
The annual report into organized crime, presented in Berlin on Wednesday by interior minister Thomas de Maizière, showed a 7.2 percent increase last year in the number of investigations into organized crime.
Cyber crime is grabbing the headlines these days, but the largest criminal gangs are still making most of their money from drugs, sex, and extortion.
It’s tough to go even a few months without seeing the effects of organized crime on the economy and everyday life. The most salient example these days is the rash of thefts of credit card data from big-name retail chains like Home Depot and Target.
While these threats are headline-grabbing and particularly frightening because e-commerce is a relatively new phenomenon and businesses and consumers aren’t totally sure how to protect themselves from hackers, it’s still a drop in the bucket in terms of overall organized crime earnings.
A 2013 survey from Javelin Strategy and Researchestimates that the annual total loss to Americans due to identity theft was roughly $20 billion. But much of those costs comes from efforts to prevent identity theft or recover from its effects, rather than what thieves earn from their crimes.
Compare that to estimates of pure revenue from other forms of organized crime like the drug trade and human trafficking: the Organization of American States estimates that the revenue for cocaine sales in the U.S. has reached $34 billion annually.
When you add the market for other illicit drugs and revenue generators like human trafficking and extortion, it becomes clear that organized crime is still making most of its money from its legacy businesses, despite the fact that criminals are always looking for new ways to make a buck.
So, who are the biggest organized crime gangs around the world and how do they make their money? Organized crime revenues are very difficult to estimate, as criminals often spend a significant amount of time trying to hide what they make.
Also, “organized crime” is a loosely defined concept. Anything from a vast drug smuggling ring to a handful of car thieves can be classified as organized crime groups, and the cohesiveness of organized crime organizations around the world varies widely.
Some groups, like Japan’s Yakuza, are highly organized and hierarchical, allowing economists and crime fighters in Japan to attribute much higher revenue totals to Yakuza groups than others around the world. Here are the top five criminal gangs, ranked by revenue estimates:
1. Yamaguchi Gumi—Revenue: $80 billion
The largest known gang in the world is called the Yamaguchi Gumi, one of several groups collectively referred to in Japan as “Yakuza,” a term that is roughly equivalent to the American use of “mafia.”
The Yamaguchi Gumi make more money from drug trafficking than any other source, according to Hiromitsu Suganuma, Japan’s former national police chief. The next two leading sources of revenue are gambling and extortion, followed closely by “dispute resolution.”
The Yakuza date back hundreds of years, and according to Dennis McCarthy, author of An Economic History of Organized Crime, Yakuza groups are among the most centralized in the world. While other East Asian gangs like Chinese Triads, which are a loose conglomeration of criminals bonded together mostly by familial relations,
Yakuza are bound together by “elaborate hierarchies,” and members, once initiated, must subvert all other allegiances in favor of the Yakuza. Even with the Japanese government cracking down on Yakuza in recent years, this centralized structure has made it easy to attribute a massive amount of revenue to this single gang.
2. Solntsevskaya Bratva—Revenue: $8.5 billion
Russian mafia groups sit on the other side of the organizational spectrum from Yakuza. Their structure, according to Frederico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford and an expert on international organized crime, is highly decentralized.
The group is composed of 10 separate quasi-autonomous “brigades” that operate more or less independently of each other. The group does pool its resources, however, and the money is overseen by a 12-person council that “meets regularly in different parts of the world, often disguising their meetings as festive occasions,” Varesi says.
It’s estimated that the group claims upwards of 9,000 members, and that it’s bread and butter is the drug trade and human trafficking. Russian organized crime in general is heavily involved in the heroin trade that originates in Afghanistan: it’s estimated that Russia consumes about 12% of the world’s heroin, while it contains just 0.5% of the world’s population.
3. Camorra—Revenue: $4.9 billion
While the Italian-American mafia has been severely weakened in recent decades by law enforcement, the Italian mafia in the old country is still running strong.
Despite years of efforts from citizens, journalists, and government officials, the local governments in Italy remain linked to and protective of various mafia groups, to the point where a 2013 study from the Università Cattolica and the Joint research Centre on Transnational Crime estimated that mafia activities generate revenue of $33 billion dollars, mostly divided among Italy’s four major mafia gangs.
Camorra is the most successful of these groups, raking in an estimated $4.9 billion per year on everything from “sexual exploitation, firearms trafficking, drugs, counterfeiting, gambling … usury and extortion,” according to the report. And Camorra has been at it a long time.
Based in Naples, the group’s history dates back to the 19th century, when it was formed initially as a prison gang. As members were released, the group flourished during the bloody political struggles in Italy during the 1800s by offering protection services and as a force for political organization among Italy’s poor.
4. ‘Ndrangheta—Revenue: $4.5 billion
Based in the Calabria region of Italy, the ‘Ndarangheta is the country’s second largest mafia group by revenue. While it is involved in many of the same illicit activities as Camorra,
‘Ndrangheta has made its name for itself by building international ties with South American cocaine dealers, and it controls much of the transatlantic drug market that feeds Europe.
It has also been expanding its operations in the U.S. and has helped prop up the Gambino and Bonnano crime families in New York. In February, Italian and American police forces arrested dozens of ‘Ndrangheta and Gambino family members and charged them with crimes related to the transatlantic drug trade.
5. Sinaloa Cartel—Revenue $3 billion
Sianola is Mexico’s largest drug cartel, one of several gangs that has been terrorizing the Mexican population as it serves as the middleman between South American producers of illegal drugs and an unquenchable American market.
The White House Office of Drug Control Policy estimates that Americans spend $100 billion on illegal drugs each year, and the RAND Corporation says that about $6.5 billion of that reaches Mexican cartels.With an estimated 60% market share, Sinola cartel is raking in approximately $3 billion per year.
Despite the fact that Sinaloa’s leader was arrestedFebruary, the cartel seems to have avoided the sort of bloody—and costly—succession battle that has plagued some groups when a leader is taken out of commission.
Riccardo Cordi’, a shy 18-year-old scion of one of Italy’s most notorious mob families, is a pioneer in a new strategy to fight the mafia by exiling crime clan sons from their homes and families.
Riccardo is the first of about 20 sons sent into a kind of rehab away from the mob by juvenile courts in the southern region of Calabria, home to the dangerous ‘ndrangheta syndicate
By age 16, Riccardo seemed destined to go the way of his father, a reputed boss gunned down in a turf war, and three elder brothers in prison on mafia-related convictions.
Their photos line the wall of the fortress-like Cordi’ home in Calabria, seen in an exclusive visit by The Associated Press, in a testimony to the rule of blood in the powerful ‘ndrangheta.
But when Riccardo was charged with attempted theft and damage to a police car, judge Roberto Di Bella followed up his acquittal with a startling order: The ‘ndrangheta family prince would be sent away to Sicily until he turned 18.
Di Bella had sent Riccardo’s three brothers to prison and wanted to spare the last son a similar fate. He cited legal provisions that allowed courts to remove minors from families incapable of properly raising them.
Riccardo’s mother seethed, but there was nothing she could do.
“If you don’t like it, we’ll take him away anyway,” the judge told her.
Riccardo was placed in a Sicilian facility for troubled youths where nobody cared that he was a Cordi’. Rules were rigid, including no going out at night. Everyone made their own bed and sat down for meals at a communal table.
“It was tough. I was counting the days,” Riccardo said in interviews with The AP.
The judge put Riccardo under the wing of a fledgling psychologist, Enrico Interdonato. The psychologist had helped launch a courageous band of youths who encourage Sicilian business owners to stop paying “protection” money to the Mafia.
It was an audacious pairing, because the Cordi’ crime clan was itself alleged to be in the protection racket. This unlikely mentor helped Riccardo understand the terrible human toll of organized crime, taking him incognito to ceremonies for Mafia victims.
If the psychologist acted as a surrogate brother, a construction company owner practically became Riccardo’s second father. Mariano Nicotra told Riccardo what happened when he refused to pay protection money: His car was torched, his daughter ostracized. Nicotra even gave away the family dog, because Mafia threats made walks dangerous.
Nicotra saw something in Riccardo that few back home even bothered to look for: a normal kid.
Slowly Riccardo began to change. Twice a week, he helped out at an after-school center for children from broken homes, even though doing something for nothing is an alien concept in the ‘ndrangheta.
He moved stiffly, always buttoned up, wearing a jacket even at outings at the sea. But he came willingly, a supervisor recalled. One day, he surprised everybody by clucking like a hen to make the children laugh.
Riccardo’s exile wasn’t all hard work. On Saturday nights, Interdonato took Riccardo out for pizza and beers, and even to discos. There, he earned respect because of his personality, not his name.
Just weeks before he was due to leave, Riccardo rebelled. He packed his bags. He wanted out. His mother helped persuade him to stay.
On his 18th birthday — Feb. 8, 2014 — Riccardo’s exile ended. The after-school center treated him to a birthday cake with strawberries. Soon afterward, he returned home to Locri.
In a letter to Corriere della Sera in May, Riccardo made clear he wasn’t repudiating his family. But he wrote that he now wants a “clean” life.
He recalled how one morning in exile, he went to the sea, from where he could see Calabria.
“This time, however, I saw it from another perspective: I was seeing it from another place,” he said. “But it was I who was different.”
Vito Rizzuto was the Steve Jobs of organized crime: charismatic, visionary, and shrewd enough to run a billion-dollar enterprise with tentacles reaching from Montreal to New York, South America, and Europe.
Because of its location along the St. Lawrence river and proximity to US markets, Montreal has always been a major point of entry for drugs, guns, and basically whatever else you can fit into a shipping container.
And for the good part of three decades, Rizzuto had his hand in almost every racket in the city, heading a “consortium” of organized crime which included Colombian cartels, Irish gangs who controlled the city’s port, and Hells Angels who took care of distribution of drugs across Quebec and Ontario.
Rizzuto’s death in December 2013—from natural causes—has left many speculating about his replacement and sources VICE spoke to hinted at a dramatic decline in the Sicilian Mafia’s power in Montreal and Canada since his passing.
With the rise of Haitian street gangs, the imminent release of numerous Hells Angels from prison, and rival Italian factions, there is no shortage of conspiracy theories surrounding Vito Rizzuto’s replacement.
Chief among those theories is that the Ontario-based Calabrian mafia, also known as the ‘Ndrangheta, is moving in and getting revenge after having been violently pushed out of the city by Vito’s father in the 1970s.
But this line of thinking is deeply flawed, said RCMP Staff Sergeant Chris Knight, because it assumes that Vito Rizzuto can even be replaced.
“No one’s got the credibility, no one’s got the clout, and certainly no one has the charisma that Vito Rizzuto had—and I’ve met him—to make allies out of enemies. No one has that right now,” Knight told VICE.
Knight has been with the RCMP for 34 years and works with local, provincial, and international law enforcement to monitor organized crime in Quebec.
His squad has seen no sign of rival Italian gangs moving to replace the Rizzuto’s, as certain media and observers have speculated.
“We haven’t seen attempts or power moves from Hamilton or Toronto on establishments or persons here. And we haven’t received any information on the street to that effect either. It’s a myth. I’ve always heard these things about New York and Toronto controlling Montreal but nothing could be further from the truth.”
Antonio Nicaso agrees. He has authored 27 books about organized crimes and acted as a consultant for the government on these. In his most recent book Business or Blood he writes extensively about the final years of Rizzuto’s life and the implications of a post-Vito world.
“I don’t see anyone with the same vision as Vito Rizzuto. His mafia was the real one, not a cheap imitation,” Nicaso told VICE. “Rather than fighting over turf, they are now trying to create a balance of power where different organizations will work together.
So it’s a group of people rather than one person like Rizzuto who was a master mediator capable of striking alliances and reaping huge profits through criminal enterprises.”
What is certain, for both Knight and Nicaso, is that the Sicilian Mafia no longer wield the power they once did in Canada. All signs point to a decentralization and instability—not a replacement.
“Their monopoly or their stranglehold is not what it used to be. It’s greatly diminished. They have lost a lot of power and there have been a lot deaths in the family,” said Staff Sergeant. Knight.
“You’re going to get struggles for street corners like you see in New York. In New York, it’s basically whoever has the biggest gun or the most soldiers gets the street corner for the distribution of narcotics and other organized crime activities.”
In 2010, Vito Rizzuto’s father and his son, both named Nick, were gunned down within months of each other.
The murders took place during a period of intense fighting wherein rival Italian factions, namely New York’s Bonanno family tried to take advantage of the power vacuum created after Rizzuto’s imprisonment in Colorado.
He had been deported and was serving time for his involvement in the triple murder of Bonanno family captains in 1981.
Earlier this month, Raynald Desjardins pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the murder of Sal “the Iron Worker” Montagna.
Desjardins was Rizzuto’s right-hand man during the golden years of his reign and, according to wiretaps, one of the only two non-Italians to be “made” in the Mafia.
Montagna was the acting head of New York’s Bonanno crime family who tried—and failed—to replace Rizzuto as the boss in Montreal. Obviously, their relationship soured and Desjardins’s car was showered with AK-47 fire north of Montreal in 2011.
Two months later, Montagna’s body was found floating in the Assomption River. Desjardins’s case is a salient reminder of just how complex and delicate the balance of power can be for organized crime in Montreal.
The city has seen a period of relative calm in recent months but that doesn’t mean that it’s stable or lasting. Based on the RCMP’s analysis, all signs point to splintering drug turf and increased instability.
“It’s very volatile on the street. Whereas ten years ago, if there’s one thing that Vito Rizzuto had it was the ability to gather people, negotiate truces, and make arrangements that everyone made money. With him being gone, it’s more volatile now.”
Ironically, this volatility is directly linked to the effective police work done by the RCMP who arrested almost 100 suspected mobsters in Project Colisée and pretty much every Hells Angels patch member during Operation Sharqc.
Obviously, these arrests did nothing to curb the demand for drugs and, according to sources who spoke with VICE, all of that demand was absorbed by notoriously unstable Haitian street gangs who are plagued with internal Bloods-Crips rivalries and have effectively replaced the Hells Angels on the street.
Sources also pointed to the fact that the notoriously racist Hells Angels will want their old drug turf back and will not be pleased with the fact that black gangs are now in control. There’s trouble a’brewing in la métropole.
“The Hells Angels will definitely become more and more important, that goes without saying,” said Antonio Nicaso.
Knight agreed: “They’re going to want more territory and more cheap drugs and a monopoly over extortion or illegal gambling. There will be conflict for sure. It’s all about money and power. And the more players you have, the less you have to go around.”
Without Rizzuto’s unifying and stabilizing influence, the current period of relative calm is likely to be short-lived. And in order to survive in a post-Vito world, the Sicilian Mafia will have no choice but to rebrand.
Unlike stereotypes propagated in the media, the Mafia in Montreal isn’t all about guns, drugs, and prostitutes—it’s actually more boring than that.
Last September, the Charbonneau Commission wrapped up.
The inquiry heard testimony from almost 200 witnesses and exposed a massive criminal conspiracy involving the mob, construction companies, unions, and high-ranking municipal employees—a reminder that crime in Montreal was able to fester in an environment of political collusion.
In fact, the findings of the Commission led to the resignation of mayor Gerald Tremblay and to the arrests of Laval’s former mayor and Montreal’s interim mayor on gangsterism and corruption charges, respectively (all of which makes Rob Ford seem pretty benign, Toronto).
“The Mafia is strong and powerful is because they were capable of infiltrating our society and our politicians. What they used to do with the gun, they now do with corruption, relationships, and contracts,” Antonio Nicaso said.
“They are not as strong and powerful anymore mainly because they are not able to replace Vito Rizzuto but without connections to those who hold the power and money, the Mafia would just be a bunch of hooligans.”
The assets seized from the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which controls much of Europe’s cocaine trade, included more than 1,500 betting shops, 82 online gambling sites and almost 60 companies, as well as numerous properties, the police said.
(ANSA) – Rome, July 22 – Anti-mafia and finance police arrested 41 people in an early-morning raid Wednesday, following a probe into an online illegal gaming ring run by Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia worth about 2 billion euros, investigators said.
The operation involved the seizure of 45 national and 11 international businesses, 1,500 betting parlours, 82 national and international online gaming websites, and numerous pieces of property.
Of the 41 people arrested, 28 were sent to jail and 13 were placed under house arrest. Police also executed five restraining orders and five orders to appear before judicial police as part of the operation.
A popular beachside resort on the picturesque Calabrian coast was seized by Italian police in an anti-mafia operation targeting the local ‘Ndrangheta syndicate — Europe’s largest drug cartel.
The few tourists enjoying the mild, late-spring weather of the southern Italian coast at the Beverly Village, near the town of Palmi, had quite an unusual holiday experience when officers with the Guardia di Finanza (finance police) showed up in the morning to take control of the pool and other premises.
Authorities allege the entire resort was the property of Candeloro Gagliostro, the nephew of a late ‘Ndrangheta boss Gaetano Parrello, aka “u lupu i notti” (the night wolf).
Gagliostro is accused of registering the property to a dummy owner to evade unwanted attention from the authorities.
Detectives believe the village, which has high reviews on booking websites and boasts two swimming pools, a large garden and a “sweet Italian breakfast”, was initially purchased with ‘Ndrangheta money.
“When a company is bought by a person with no means there is a presumption that illicit funds were used,” Guardia di Finanza Col. Domenico Napolitano told IBTimes UK.
The Beverly Village was one of four apparently legitimate businesses worth a total of €6m (£4.4m, $6.7m) seized as part of the same operation.
Police allege Cagliostro directly controlled also a car dealership with 50-vehicle fleet, and two cleaning companies, which ironically took care of Palmi’s courthouse and the prosecutor’s office.
Although not charged with mafia related crimes, Gagliostro is presumed to be a mob affiliate due to his family links and criminal record.
“‘Ndrangheta is a criminal group based on family ties,” Napolitano said. “And Gagliostro is the nephew of the notorious boss of the local clan, the Cosca Parrello.”
Holidaymakers who have already booked a summer stay at the Beverly Village can rest easily though as, pending trial, the resort will remain open under the management of a state-appointed director.
“Proceeds will go to the state,” explained Napolitano.
The strict family relations joining its members mean that affiliates rarely turn informers, making detectives’ work harder.