Very often, I think of organized crime as being associated with the mafia or mob

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Organized crime or criminal organizations are transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals for the purpose of engaging in illegal activity, most commonly for monetary gain. Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist organizations, are driven by political reasons. Even some localized gangs may become "disciplined" enough to be considered "organized". An organized gang or criminal set can also be referred to as a mob.

Very often, I think of organized crime as being associated with the mafia or mob. This may be due to the fact that we are an Italian American family, and my mother frequently describes my grandfather having been associated with the mafia before he passed away. This was never more true than when the television show, “The Sopranos: was popular, because I would ask my mom if she liked that program. She would always reply, “I saw all the stuff on that show in my own house. I don’t need to see it on TV!”

Well, I have never been able to confirm nor deny reports that my own family was involved in organized crime, but I do feel it is usually linked with what many of us think of as the mafia. These people are considered ruthless and are only out to make money. Furthermore, these individuals have been accused of breaking the law, again, just to make more money. While “The Sopranos” may have somehow glamorized the life of organized crime, it is actually a terrible and despicable way to live. Members are considered part of the ‘family’ of criminals and are committed to doing illegal activities for the good of the group.

Organized crime often victimize businesses through the use of extortion or theft and fraud activities like hijacking cargo trucks, robbing goods, committing bankruptcy fraud (also known as "bust-out"), insurance fraud or stock fraud (inside trading). Organized crime groups also victimize individuals by car theft (either for dismantling at "chop shops" or for export), art theft, bank robbery, burglary, jewelry theft, computer hacking, credit card fraud, economic espionage, embezzlement, identity theft, and securities fraud. Some organized crime groups defraud national, state, or local governments by bid-rigging public projects, counterfeiting money, smuggling or manufacturing untaxed alcohol (bootlegging) or cigarettes (buttlegging), and providing immigrant workers to avoid taxes. Organized crime groups seek out corrupt public officials in executive, law enforcement, and judicial roles so that their activities can avoid, or at least receive early warnings about, investigation and prosecution (Sullivan, 2002).

Furthermore, these mobsters are associated with pursuits that are certainly not considered honorable. These occupations, as it were, may include selling or importing drugs; prostitution; underhanded building contracts, etc. Today, crime is sometimes thought of as an urban phenomenon, but for most of human history it was the rural world that was crime-ridden. Pirates, highwaymen and bandits attacked trade routes and roads, at times severely disrupting commerce, raising costs, insurance rates and prices to the consumer. According to criminologist Paul Lunde, "Piracy and banditry were to the pre-industrial world what organized crime is to modern society (Lunde, 2004)."

In today’s world, it is hard to envision organized crime taking place in the country locations of yesteryear. Nevertheless, it certainly did, and caused quite a bit of disruption. Even the well-known crime boss, Al Capone, is not much more than a footnote today. In fact, if you take a ride on Walt Disney World’s Great Movie Ride, you will be treated to a brief play depicting life as a gangster via an actor playing the role of Capone. All of us on the ride had a hearty laugh, but there was no laughing matter for those affected by his treachery in the 1920’s.

I also equate organized crime with the spread of terrorism, as we know of it today. Certainly, the actions of Al-Qaeda and the events of 9/11 ca be seen as an act of terrorism, perpetrated by the leader, Osama bin Laden. Fortunately, I am too young to truly know many other examples of terrorism, and especially since I have been raised in a country generally free from such tragedies. However, that was an example of a tremendous act of terrorism aimed squarely at the United States. So many lost their lives that day, that we are all not soon going to forget the horrors we witnessed that fateful morning.

It is truly a crime that so many young people are exposed to the lives of these criminals and seduced in to a world of corruption and greed. I admit that I did watch “The Sopranos,” and even enjoyed that show very much. However, in reflection, I see that shows like that perpetuate unacceptable stereotypes about families like my own and lure innocent youths in to following a life of crime.

Lunde, P. (2004) Organized Crime. DK Adult.
Sullivan, R., ed. (2002) Mobsters and Gangsters: Organized Crime in America, from Al Capone to Tony Soprano. New York: Life Books.

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