The Power of the Institution; Parts 1, 2 and 3

(Image of Sinaloa Cartel -Federation, 2009; source: Stratfor)

Part 1, The criminal institution; it’s growth, role and effectiveness in the current age

As any student, homemaker or businessman can attest to, being organized can make or break any task. In childhood this may involve planning a school project, yet, in the criminal underworld, “being organized” requires formalizing a structure of expectations, for both the acquisition of wealth and membership. However, while any criminal can demonstrate a capacity for organization and profit from it, organization can also provide stability and longevity, qualities rarely enjoyed in the world of the criminal fraternity. As will be explored and discussed, lasting criminal organizations can only develop and survive through the institutionalization of their group. In this first issue of a three part series, PanAmerican Crime will seek to document and describe the role of the criminal institution in formalizing the relationships between criminals, providing lasting criminal organizations that have managed to outlive the deaths and arrests of their members. It will explore the tangible and intangible characteristics and benefits of the institution, such as geography and the establishment of lasting commercial relationships as they pertain to the criminal experience. Part 2 will involve a look at the effectiveness of the institutions of governance and law enforcement; and Part 3 will deal with roles of private, legal institutions that provide unparalleled support for criminal institutions. Indeed, through each of these studies the institution will be examined as both an abstract and tangible tool for ensuring the continued presence of either law enforcement or criminal organizations.

As touched on earlier, the practice of organization in the criminal underworld is not simply a tool for acquiring wealth and power; formal organization in the form of the institution provides a stable system for ensuring the long-term survival of economic and criminal relationships. This is where the act of explicitly or implicitly formalizing the criminal institution differs from the act of simply maintaining a criminal organization. The institution sets aside specific roles and responsibilities, acts which must be completed for the institution to survive. In this framework the position or job stands above the individual who fulfills this role. As with most criminal analyses of North American organized crime, the American Cosa Nostra provides the most clear example. Following the outright formalization of this criminal structure in the 1930s in the aftermath of the bloody Castellammarese War each American Cosa Nostra crime family was bound through tradition and history to set up their organizations within the framework of certain established parameters. Formally, the structure works as such: there is an organizational administration, consisting of the Boss, Underboss (number 2) and Consigliore (top advisor). This group plots and schemes, deriving from amongst themselves the actual operating policy of the entire criminal group. In the Italian gangster tradition this involves settling or promoting conflicts with other organization as well as streamlining the actions of its membership, such as the extortion of different unions or exacting discipline. Beneath the administrative block exists the capo-regimes, or captains, who operate various departments (street crews) for the organization. Every such faction is controlled by its own boss, or capo, and consists of approximately ten men who have been formally inducted into the organization for life. (Such an action is called “being made”). Beneath each of these “made” members exist prospective members and other criminals, who commit crimes and perform other tasks for the organization.

While not a particularly original system of organization, what the Italian Cosa Nostra has achieved is an institutionalized framework that ensures the survival of the organization. Each person can be removed, or rather whole groups of people can be removed from the organization, and yet the organization merely repopulates the absent roles with new members and survives intact. Indeed, a whole crew or the entire administration of a family can be removed and the organization can still function and survive. Because of such a system the New York mafia families have been able to weather their own violent tendencies and the intense pressure of the American government for over 80 years. Each family has clung to the established setup of the organizations, with only the infamous and powerful Genovese Family adding a new formal position – messaggero, or messenger – between the administration and the crews.

It is important to remember that all institutions can be week or strong – features that will be discussed at length during our later analysis of government institutions – and gauging and responding to such strength can mean the difference between survival or arrest and death in the criminal underworld. Obviously such strength is not just dependent upon organization, but also upon the quality of membership and especially leadership within such organizations. American Cosa Nostra leaders such as Lucchese Family underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso or the infamous Gambino boss John Gotti did as much as any federal agent in terms of running their organizations into the ground. Horrible judgement, pride and excessive use of brutality all contributed to the downfall of these figures. However, even extremely successful bosses such as Genovese leader Vincent Gigante (who routinely checked himself into a mental institution to avoid detection) or Lucchese boss Anthony “Ducks” Corallo were eventually brought to justice. Yet, the most important aspect of these arrests is that no matter who was arrested or their ability as a leader the organization they represented survived. Regardless of which prominent figure fell, the entire membership of each organization, despite conflicts within the group itself, remained loyal to the idea of the institution as a whole. Any conflicts regarding succession were never presented as a possible lasting fracture of the crime family but, rather, were fought in order to decide which faction would control the institution of the crime family as a whole.

It is interesting to note that not all criminal organizations have become physically institutionalized, a perfect example of which being the modern Mexican cartel structure. In fact, comparing the American Cosa Nostra and Mexican cartels is perhaps the easiest way to examine the successes of the criminal institution. At first glance Mexico’s cartels also appear to function as institutions. They inhabit set geographical parameters and can demonstrate clear organizational structure and hierarchy. However, the definition of a cartel is not a dangerous and powerful drug dealing organization, which is what it has become synonymous with today. Rather, the word “cartel” actually refers to a group of organizations or individuals who decide as a group to set the price of a commodity they sell between them in order to streamline profits and exclude the development of other competition. Therefore, using this understanding of the definition of cartel, it becomes nearly impossible for any cartel to formally institutionalize, because each group within the cartel would have to formalize a structure of an enduring hierarchical relationship between themselves. Such a structure would require ongoing consent between the various parties involved and would be made extremely vulnerable by any arrest or death of a top leader of any group involved. As such, a true criminal cartel cannot be formally institutionalized because it depends too much on the agreement, charisma and leadership of the top echelon to survive.

Indeed, such tough realities are already visible within the recent history of Mexico’s cartel conflicts. Although such organizations generally have too much cohesive hierarchy to be true cartels, they do not actually have institutional power to support their endeavours. This reality means that when pressure is applied to such organizations they shatter instead of weaken like their mafia cousins. Even Mexico’s most powerful cartels are not immune to such developments. For example, following the arrest of Osiel Cardenas in 2003 and his extradition to the United States in 2007 the Gulf Cartel that he had ruled began to fracture. The Los Zetas faction did not approve of the new leadership and by 2010 had formed its own separate and competing organization. As a result, the Gulf is now simply three factions fighting to control their once overarching empire. The infamous Sinaloa Cartel has also suffered from such destructive behaviour, with one of its primary factions – the Beltran Leyva brothers – separating from their former bosses and declaring themselves violently independent. This group soon shattered itself and is now survived by several smaller groups. Indeed, there has not been a single major Mexican cartel that has not suffered from some intense organizational fracture. Even the relatively cohesive and depleted Carrillo-Fuentes (Juarez) and Arellano-Felix (Tijuana) organizations have seen membership abandon ship and attempt to set up their own organizations. It is important to recognize that because of these organizational weaknesses such divisions within the Mexican criminal underworld are not at an end, and it is likely that Mexico will see the continued fracture of its major cartels as law enforcement operations and inter-cartel violence continue to take their toll.

It should be noted that Los Zetas do, at this point in time, behave as an established institution. Originally founded by ex-special forces members, the group has adopted the organizational capacities of a military institution. Membership is replaced and fractures have not taken place, despite intense pressures from US and Mexican law enforcement. It has also established a geographical area, centred in areas of the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, where it can expect a certain amount of support from the local population. It is this establishment of a physical base of familiarity that reveals the importance of the more abstract qualities of the institution, which, nonetheless, influence its physical capabilities. This abstract characteristic is the notion of belonging. American Cosa Nostra families in New York City have a long established system of patronage and economic involvement in various neighbourhoods and business establishments throughout the greater New York City area. This involvement is often not a product of personal relationships as much as it has become the operational norm in several New York industries, such as construction, catering and real estate development. The arrest or death of a Mafiosi does not mean that the company he extorts no longer has to pay, rather, that company must now pay his established replacement. Under this system it becomes clear that the company or victim was never paying an individual Mafiosi but, rather, the institution he represented all along. This practice wasn’t just developed recently, it has become a common way of doing business in New York society. In fact the only way that the American authorities successfully broke down other smaller mafia groups is by eroding their systems of patronage and belonging, which eventually resulted in the collapse of institutional integrity of the mafia groups involved, such as in Cleveland or Buffalo. Indeed, like Los Zetas, many Mexican cartels have managed this level of institutionalization by creating large geographic areas where they have established themselves as the paramount arbiter of social engagement and the foundation of economic life. The worship of the cult of Santa Muerte is further evidence of this sad reality. However, once again the turmoil of the cartel conflicts and their frequent territorial losses and gains makes the establishment of a long-standing system of economic patronage to one criminal institution nearly impossible.

The criminal organization exists like any other similar legitimate entity, it relies on the loyalty, judgement and the hard work of its members, as well as a relatively stable place to develop and thrive. This loyalty must exist not only between the underlings and their overseers, but rather between the entire membership and the organization itself. Ergo, it becomes clear that if the membership and, most importantly, leadership of a criminal organization put their own personal wealth, fortune or aspirations of power ahead of the needs of the group, such an organization will undoubtedly weaken or fracture. The only way that such a group can survive under such circumstances is if loyalty to the organization itself is considered paramount to the needs of the individual; and the only way that such a situation can occur is through the institutionalization of the organization through a defined system of roles and responsibilities. When comparing traditional Italian organized crime and Mexico’s chaotic cartels the importance of such differences become apparent. The drive for money and power has repeatedly trumped loyalty within Mexican criminal organizations and, as a result, PanAmerican Crime can quite confidently state that, as long as institutionalized loyalty and integrity remain, the current American Cosa Nostra experience in New York and its environs will long survive the collapse of Mexico’s current cartel establishment. The Sinaloa Cartel, by definition, can only exist as long as the health of its senior leadership, whereas the Genovese Crime Family will survive as long as the majority of its membership continue believe that it exists. Such is the power of the institution, even in a system as monetarily and morally taxing as capitalism.

– Scott Paulseth, Editor, PanAmerican Crime

Part 2, The institutions of governance and law enforcement; stemming the tide or righting the ship?

In Part 1 of PanAmerican Crime’s investigation on the power of the institution the discussion centred around the concept of institutionalized power and, specifically, how the criminal institution can achieve what the individual criminal cannot: longevity and lasting influence. In this examination of the criminal institution it became apparent that any criminal organization that seeks to survive must put the survival of the group above the survival of the individual, only then can the group hope to survive the challenges it will be sure to face. The criminal underworld remains a rough and unpredictable mistress for any would-be criminal mastermind, and even the most well prepared and capable individual can become an arrest statistic or, worse, a chalk outline on the sidewalk. As was discussed, in this unpredictable maze of deceit, treachery and greed only the criminal institution can offer some modicum of stability for the criminal fraternity. Again, this stability often comes at the expense of certain individuals, but conversely it offers shelter against the state for the other members of the institution. Thus, the real conflict within all criminal institutions becomes apparent – a struggle which pits the needs of the individual against the needs of the group. Can or will an individual sacrifice their freedom or their life for the wellbeing of not only other individuals but also for the institution as an entity unto itself? If the institution is reasonably effective in inducing such loyalty then such sacrifices may occur regularly, as can be seen in the Rizzuto Crime Family in Montreal or the former Medellin Cartel. Other criminal fraternities are not as successful, as demonstrated by the collapse of the Beltran Leyva Cartel and its various offshoots between 2008 and 2011. Such examples reveal that the institution cannot exist without the loyalty of the individual and therefore; as is evident with the fall of the Beltran Leyva brothers, the criminal institution does not in fact exist without a defined set of expectations and loyalties for all levels of the organization.

This week in PanAmerican Crime the discussion shifts from the so called “expectations and loyalties” of the criminal institution to the government and law enforcement itself. Effective government institutions represent the most important weapon in the arsenal against organized criminal activity. Just as criminal institutions seek to organize the behaviour of the individuals within their ranks, so to do modern government institutions, that stand as literal bulwarks against corruption and reactionary mismanagement, which are cornerstones in the development of organized crime. This bastion consists of abstract and physical elements, each of which must interact with one another in order for the institution to function effectively. The abstract or intangible pieces are defined as the expectations that the institution sets upon its members. Such elements raise the institution above the leadership of the group, allowing it to replace members and leaders without changing its modus operandi or collapsing due to outside pressures. In this respect, the abstract qualities are more important than the physical functions of the institution because they allow for a continuation of service to the community regardless of changes in membership. The physical qualities of the institution are the teeth of the government against organized criminal activity. This area could involve personnel dedicated to policing, intelligence or community relations. However, it should be noted that all of these activities can only be effective in combating organized crime if they are properly defined by the institution before they are implemented in public.

The effectiveness of law enforcement strategies and operations against organized crime depend unequivocally on the abilities of the individuals in the agency in question. However, when discussing the problem of criminality it is important to understand the scale of the issues being tackled. An attack by a mugger or a murder of a gangster can theoretically be prevented or solved based on the actions of a single individual. However, how can one individual attempt to rationally combat the systemic extortion of businesses across an entire neighbourhood or section of the city? How can one individual or even a group of individuals hope to effectively combat competing narcotics networks across an entire region? Examples of such abuses are not rare or hard to come across. Even in a country as secure and safe as Canada neighbourhoods such as Toronto’s Danforth Avenue and Montreal’s St. Leonard have become centres of organized criminal extortion. While clearly problems on a scale such as these are unsolvable on the level of the individual, they are not too large for an institution. As mentioned last week, the success of the institution depends upon the implementation of a series of defined relationships throughout the organization that dictate, for the most part, the financial and enforcement responsibilities of the individual within the framework of the group. For police agencies to operate effectively the operations and goals of the group must be clearly defined by the leadership structure, including the assignments and daily actions of the individuals within group. In the case of Toronto and Montreal, elements of the police institutions that oversee these regions have defined goals and regimented guidelines for combating the spread of corruption and extortion. Officers record complaints, investigate offenders and keep regular tabs on what is happening in their area of responsibility. Regardless of who is personally in charge of the police agency in question the mandate of the institution continues unchanged. While the efforts of police agencies are never enough to eradicate instances of criminal abuses, they are enough to keep the population that they serve relatively safe and content.

The purpose of this investigation is not to state that police without a set of goals will do nothing. Rather, it is to point out that the effectiveness of the police in any society is defined by the strength of their institution. Police that are not members of strong institutions will undoubtedly conduct operations, except that these operations will be defined by them, rather than society. In Juarez and other northern Mexican cities, where the ravages of the drug trade continue unabated, there has been a veritable turnstile of policing agencies passing through. The municipal police, the state police, the military police and the national police service have all been deployed to no avail. The Mexican national police service has actually been reformatted several times over the past decade in an effort to weed out corruption. Unfortunately, regardless of the intentions of the new leadership group within the organization, such efforts have repeatedly failed. All facets of Mexican law enforcement are actually expected to steal by the people they are supposed to protect and the populace has naturally lost all confidence in the ability of any police service to restore some level of justice to the region. These sad facts demonstrate why Mexico’s current president, Felipe Calderon, deployed the Mexican military to the most troubled regions of the country over the past five years, regardless of the extensive criticism he received. The Mexican military remains Mexico’s most trusted institution, especially when it comes to safety and security. The institutionalization of responsibilities in the military allows people to anticipate the physical responses of the military units in their respective areas. The municipal and state police in cities like Juarez are not predictable, even in their corruption. Hundreds of police officers in the city serve as enforcement for various competing drug networks in the city, including the Sinaloa Federation, the Carillo-Fuentes Organization and its beleaguered enforcement group, La Linea. Institutions become stronger the more they reflect the needs and expectations of society, and grow weaker the more their expectations ignore society’s wants.

Central American nations actually fare far worse than Mexico and provide even better examples about the importance of institutional strength when opposing organized criminal behaviour. The country of Mexico has over 110 million people and controls a large and diverse landmass, giving it access to labour, resources and, ultimately, wealth. The typical Central American nation is little more than an enlarged city-state, comprising of a central city and immediate hinterland. These nations are small, both demographically and geographically, and have little access to resources or wealth. In such an environment it is easy to see why the growth of effective institutions has stalled. In general, weak states produce weak institutions, which are unable to combat the pressures of poverty and corruption on society or themselves. The typical Central American policing agency is led by a military commander, with little knowledge of modern policing tactics or responsibilities. The police and soldiers under his command may in some instances be loyal, but the institution they are a part of would not be able to support regular or modern training. The product of this situation inevitably becomes a unit of moderate effectiveness, wholly defined by the abilities and intentions of its commander. When the leader of the unit changes the character of the unit also changes as well to reflect the new ideas and strategies of the new commander. This transition in expectations depending on the individual in charge is the ultimate reflection of institutional weakness. If institutional strength is derived from members carefully erecting and enacting defined responsibilities over the duration of the institution’s lifetime, then institutional weakness can be defined as ephemeral rules and regulations that are subject to the whims of the individual in charge.

But where is the proof that the development of such organizations actually improves the lives of citizens? Why couldn’t some extremely motivated individual reduce the efficacy of organized crime, without relying on the years of institutional development to be successful? Surely the successes of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger characters in thwarting Latin American corruption attest to the fact that it only takes one highly motivated individual to overcome the “bad guys.” To see the reality of institutional failures and the importance of institutional integrity the best examples lie upon the Central American isthmus. Clinging to either the Pacific or Caribbean coast, the tiny countries of Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala each have very little access to lucrative resources and centre around a defining metropolis, which is the epicentre of all government activity for each respective nation. These tiny countries came into being following the gradual collapse of direct European colonial endeavours in Latin America. Formerly ruled by others, at their inception these newly independent states had no trained and serving bureaucracy, and little to no history of recent and responsible self-government. Consequently, power in these countries reverted to the elites who could afford to pay for a security apparatus to guarantee their own survival. In El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala absolutely no effort was made to erect lasting and effective institutions to serve the public and the country. These governments existed, in essence, to legitimize their own hoarding of wealth and self-aggrandizement.

In Nicaragua, despite suffering from the same colonial beginnings as its neighbours, a different tragedy developed. Here, beginning in the 1970s, generations of youth joined up with the Sandinistas to fight against the US-backed Somoza dictatorship, resulting in an extremely bloody civil war that raged off and on for two decades. The results of this conflict, however, were not all negative. The immense suffering and destruction that came from this protracted war caused the Nicaraguans to organize. They set up hospitals, schools and military units that were entirely publicly funded. These organizations each relied upon the skills of their workers rather than the wealth of local landowners and therefore workers became recognized and promoted for ability, instead of using the rudimentary and corrupt Patron-Client System that was utilized by its neighbours. Today, while Nicaragua still suffers from some of the ghosts of its violent past, it has a far brighter future. The organizations that served during the war have blossomed into full-blown government institutions. Publicly funded hospitals, police agencies and agricultural cooperatives – all founded and managed according to the needs of the public and the morals enshrined by the state – operate above the needs of individual Nicaraguans, and provide true national services that are comparable in scope if not in practice to any Western nation-state. Because of these developments, Nicaragua, with one of the lowest annual government budgets in the World, enjoys a national homicide rate of just 13 per 100,000, while Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are now considered the most violent countries on the planet, with homicide rates of 82, 41 and 62 per 100,000 respectively. These dangerous countries do not have operating or effective government institutions and therefore spend far more than Nicaragua on defence, policing and prisons.

Another revealing point is that Nicaragua, because of its institutional strength, has been able to adapt to the shifts in illegal narcotics pipelines and can reasonably combat the shipments of drugs heading north to the United States from South America. Comparatively, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have all watched their crime rates skyrocket as the drugs poor in, and are simply in no position to stop this growing trend, one which will likely cause these troubled countries to get much worse in the near future before they get better. Nicaragua’s tradition of institutions does not mean that the average Nicaraguan isn’t as susceptible to the bribes of drug traffickers as others, rather, it means that the Nicaraguan state, through its institutions, has a reasonable chance of halting the corrupt practices of individuals before they completely undermine the legitimacy of the state. Without effective institutions the majority of Central American countries have simply been unable to assemble some measurable response to the immense tide of drugs that are now moving north out of Colombia by land instead of by the traditional sea routes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Ontario Provincial Police are effective law enforcement agencies not merely because they are large, rich and old, but because since their existence they have operated under a defined set of organizational goals and responsibilities. They, as organizations, understand the importance of maintaining the state’s legitimacy over the individual and the physical actions they undertake on the institution’s behalf. The strength of law enforcement comes from a unity of ideals, rather than the ephemeral notions of transitional leadership. All people die and all regimes change, but if the ideas, practices and overall morals remain unaltered then the institution – the greatest weapon society has against criminal behaviour – will be able to do its job.

Scott Paulseth, Editor, PanAmerican Crime

The Power of the Institution: Part 3

Supporting the criminal institution

In a typical series of essays or articles depicting social issues, critiquing political theories, or even exposing wayward public figures it is often considered best to present such ideas in a crescendo of intensity. In theory, the author should seize the reader’s interest and bind that interest to them through a constant rise in stimuli, ending with the climax of the argument to ensure the reader’s conversion to the written train of thought. While this method of presentation can be dramatic and entertaining, there are times when the social and political backdrop necessitates a more nuanced approach. The Power of the Institution is meant to be, at its essence, an introduction to the power and influence that government and criminal institutions wield over the public. This exploration began with an analysis on the importance of government institutions in terms of fostering national identity and loyalty to the state, as well as what can happen when such organizations cease to function. As can be seen, the effectiveness or impotence of such bodies can directly impact the social welfare and social cohesiveness of society by either empowering the government and providing leadership or, conversely, sabotaging and corrupting the public ideal. In Part 2, this analysis of the institution progressed to encompass the criminal institution directly, and attempted to reveal how criminal fraternities themselves can become institutionalized, thereby insulating the criminal organization from law enforcement efforts and, most importantly, separating the individual criminal from the definition of the organization and its goals. This institutionalization of organized criminal elements creates a scenario where the criminal can be withdrawn, yet the organization survives and continues to perpetuate itself. However, each of these discussions alluded to a final and equally important element within the equation of the criminal institution, a subject that should exist as a topic of discussion all on its own: the criminal support network. Or, more specifically, the privately run quasi-legal institution or quasi-criminal institution.

Surely the notion of the existence of a functioning network of legal and financial institutions that support criminal institutions seems absurd in the context of the modern democratic, Western nation-state. Shouldn’t the public be right in assuming that criminal ventures of this scope, outside of the typical boundaries of the criminal underworld, could not exist on such a scale while simultaneously remaining undetected? The answer is a tragic, uniform “no.” In his quintessential work on the proliferation of the five major Italian-American criminal institutions in New York, Five Families, Selwyn Raab identifies the crucial elements that enable the existence of such powerful criminal organizations. Speaking about the mafia, he states that their systemic plundering of local businesses through violence, intimidation and corruption is only possible due to the continued involvement and support of a vast network of associates, who are required to launder, hide and invest the billions of dollars of illegal proceeds that are generated by these criminal “families.” Essentially, Raab identifies the crucial nature of criminal institutions’ success, which is their involvement and dependence upon the talents and connections of other institutions operate in the legitimate world.

As has been stated throughout these pieces, the paramount value of the institution is the removal of the individual from the definition of the institution. This relationship creates a scenario on the street where an individual or a series of individuals can be arrested or killed and yet the institution as a whole will remain largely undisturbed. Yet the ability of the institution to manifest its uses in other ways cannot be ignored. As Raab makes clear in Five Families, the institutions and organizations that support the criminal institution are the “lifeblood” of that criminal institution, and it is this relationship, as well as the supporting characters that comprise it, that will be explored in this latest piece.

The criminal institution exists as a conduit through which the ills of society flow. This assertion is not made in order to state that all social ills are generated by organized crime; rather, it stresses that through organized crime the various illegal practices and habits of society become formalized and organized, and therefore take greater effect. This realization also reveals that, while the term “organized crime” refers to the organization of criminals, it also refers to the organized nature of the relationships the criminal institution in question possesses. Not only do such relationships exist between the members of the criminal institution, but they also exist between the organization and other legal or quasi-legal institutions. Again, the Mafia’s stranglehold on the New York area provides a perfect example. The Genovese Crime Family has possessed access to the Longshoremen’s union locals on the northern New Jersey waterfront since the 1930s. This relationship between the various locals and the Genovese exists has existed in perpetuity since the formalization of the Mafia’s structure during that time period. The relationship essentially works in this fashion: the Genovese Crime Family will guarantee that the leader of the union local will be elected, which is usually achieved through intimidation and violence, and the elected representatives of the union will guarantee a certain amount of money will be paid to the Genovese administration, which is generally siphoned off from union pension funds or union dues collected from the membership. Such legal organizations can also embed non-union workers on company payrolls in order to disguise the true origins of their income, which in the case of career criminals such as Mafia members is generally illicit. In this way the reciprocal nature of the criminal relationship becomes clear. Yes, the longshoremen’s union is a legal organization and provides a real service, but the ongoing relationship between the union leadership and the Genovese Crime Family essentially turns these legal institutions into criminal money-making and money-laundering machines. Indeed, the relationships between Mafia families in the New York and Montreal areas and the unions they have infiltrated have meant a sustained, institutionalized criminal partnership between legal institutions and criminal institutions for almost a century. No matter who is in charge of the union or who is running the crime family these interactions will continue.

Perhaps an even greater example of the importance of legal institutions to criminal institutions are the current cartels in Mexico. While PanAmerican Crime has argued that many of these groups have ceased to function as true institutions – because of their tendency to fracture based on personal loyalties when pressure is applied – the largest cartel groups in Mexico do possess many of the institutional qualities that allow these groups to operate so effectively. And, like their American cousins in the Cosa Nostra, this begins with their desire and capacity to do business with legal institutions to further their own financial and criminal ends. The fundamental reason for doing so is, as in America, money. As Selwyn Raab ably noted, these relationships are conducted by both sides in an effort to gain access to wealth and connections that were previously unavailable. While unions are of particular concern in mafia-plagued communities, the other major tools available to criminal organizations are legal and monetary institutions. Indeed, when dealing with millions of dollars, as these large criminal fraternities often are, there becomes nothing more important than organizing a clean way to access the wealth that the organization has generated. For the cartels these methods of cleaning and transporting cash generally rest in with the lawyers and banks who service their needs. According to Fox Latino News, Los Zetas laundered over $1 million a month over a period of several years in the Bank of America. And, such a revelation only scratches the surface of the problem. Wells Fargo, a bank that was considered “too big to fail,” was convicted in 2008 of laundering over $350 billion for the Sinaloa Cartel. The money involved with the Mexican groups alone is staggering. Indeed, such numbers indicate that while North American criminal institutions do not have the membership to challenge or threaten their respective states, they do have literally hundreds of thousands of people who work every day to process and move their ill-gotten gains, many albeit unknowingly. Clearly, the need to extract and hide cash has become as important to the Mexican cartels as smuggling narcotics across the border. STRATFOR founder George Friedman continually stresses in several articles that it is this cyclical nature of the cartels’ operations that needs to be attacked. Rather than just focussing on security and narcotics smuggling networks, the transfer of cash out of the United States is now equally, if not more important to the trafficking networks. Without cash readily available the cartels, the Cosa Nostra and the multitude of other criminal groups throughout the Americas would be simply unable to conduct their daily business of selling drugs or intimidating the public.

While large criminal groups are not generally thought of as financial conglomerates, the importance of money cannot be underestimated. Cash buys political influence, legal protection and loyalty for the membership of any particular criminal institution. A criminal group without access to money will soon find itself isolated and, eventually, defunct. Speaking within the context of the US response to the Mexican cartel threat, Scott Stewart of STRATFOR recently stated in an interview for National Geographic that the real way to assault criminal institutions is through dismantling the support networks, both legal and financial, that provide the real support to such an organization. The access to money allows rank and file membership, along with the administrations of such illicit enterprises to remain loyal in the face of indictment or arrest, knowing that the resources are there to support their cause. The threat of government intervention is always present within the criminal underworld, and imprisonment is generally a price of doing business, making lawyers yet another crucial spoke in the criminal support wheel, which already includes bankers, investors, government employees and union members. However, lawyers, with their access to imprisoned members and ability to invoke lawyer-client privileges in order to talk freely with their clients, provide incredible assistance to criminal institutions. Often called “house lawyers” – because they assist one criminal institution and its membership, these supposed paradigms of justice are often relied upon to transmit messages between various criminal groups and individuals when it is considered too dangerous to meet. These so-called house lawyers also provide introductions between criminal networks, acting as middle-men for many criminal groups. In an article published in 2011, Insight Crime explained the importance of the house lawyer to Mexican criminal groups in this way:

“Cartel lawyers oil the gears that keep the organizations running, performing duties from handling finances, securing official papers, to handling property transactions. As a brief by the White House on transnational organized crime points out, lawyers are often ‘critical facilitators’ for criminal groups. They are ‘semi-legitimate players… who cross both the licit and illicit worlds and provide services to legitimate customers, criminals, and terrorists alike.’”

Such realities clearly reveal the importance of such people and institutions to criminal groups. Indeed, while the supporting institutions of crime are generally not considered as interesting as the criminals themselves, it is increasingly clear to analysts who are cognisant of the criminal threat that without the presence of the support structure for organized crime the criminal institution would largely cease to exist. The major motivation for organized criminals to do what they do is money, and such money can only be made, stored and accessed by the coterie of corrupt lawyers, bankers, businessmen and bureaucrats who act in that capacity.

The institution is the foundation of the modern, Western nation-state. It provides organization for wealth, knowledge and morality, and ensures the continuation and progression of society’s perceived identity. The criminal institution casts the same shadow over society’s underworld. Without the institution, or without the presence of legal, law-abiding institutions, the wealth and lifestyle enjoyed by so many could never exist. If this way of life is to survive in a healthy and morally-defensible state, then the power of the criminal institution must be evaluated and understood. The criminal institution and its support network touch all aspects of daily life for every citizen. It raises the price of food and services. It increases the cost of doing business, buying a home or using natural resources to build. It corrupts the ideals of government and corrodes the faith of the public in their leaders. And, it provides the method by which any person from any background can destroy their life. The tragic danger of the criminal institution and its supporters exists in the fundamental truth that such criminal organizations have the ability to influence, corrupt or kill almost any citizen on the planet, and often without the public being aware that such tragedies continue to take place every day. As can be seen, no industry or profession can be completely immune to the pressures of the criminal institution, a lesson many people learn to their detriment.

– Scott Paulseth, Editor, PanAmerican Crime


One thought on “The Power of the Institution; Parts 1, 2 and 3

  1. Pingback: The North American Hammer and Sickle – panamericancrime

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