Back in the days of Bugsy Siegel, Al Capone and other “Godfather” types, gangsters used to hold up banks. Now they probably own the banks – at least shares in some of them. With the vast profits organized crime has raked in over the years from drugs, prostitution, robbery, extortion and other lucrative endeavors, mobsters have been able to buy enormous influence in business and politics.
Today’s mobster is likely to wear a business suit and wield a laptop instead of a machine gun. America’s top criminals have become extremely sophisticated – and even more deadly than ever. And they come from many countries, not just the United States. Take Russian “don” Semion Mogilevich, for example.
Mogilevich (photo at right) has earned a place in the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, although he operates out of Moscow. The FBI accuses him of involvement in arms trafficking, prostitution, extortion and murder for hire.
But he is also involved in less conventional criminal enterprises. For instance, he reportedly swindled Canadian and U.S. investors out of $150 million in a financial scheme centered on a firm called YBM, which was headquartered in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and supposedly made magnets in Hungary.
The scheme involved bogus financial records, bribery and stock rigging. And another thing – there were no magnets.
Mogilevich and his associates were indicted in 2003 on 45 counts of racketeering, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. Russian authorities arrested him last year on tax fraud charges, but because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, he has remained beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. He is now free on bail. The FBI says Mogilevich is manipulating international energy markets, and played a part in the recent natural gas disputes between Russia and the Ukraine.
Here’s another example of the proliferation of “white-collar crime” : widespread looting of Medicare and Medicaid.
American authorities report that crime groups of various nationalities are making millions from health care fraud. CNN recently detailed operations in Los Angeles, where Russian, Armenian and Nigerian gangs were caught by federal agents.
Recent arrests include crime boss Konstantin Grigoryan, a former Soviet army colonel who pleaded guilty to taking $20 million from Medicare. And Karapet “Doc” Khacheryan, boss of a Eurasian crime gang, was convicted with five lieutenants of stealing doctor identities in a $2 million scam.
It goes without saying that criminals who operate at that level of sophistication are also likely to take an interest in politics. Some lobbyists in Washington are not above representing mobsters – international as well as homegrown. And, over the years, there have been many instances of mob involvement in the American political process.
Sandra will tell you I have an overactive imagination, but I can’t help wondering how far that influence spreads. So much of what goes on in Washington defies logical explanation. Unless…
Unless our right to representative democracy has been hijacked by organized crime.
In April 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey warned that organized crime “has emerged as a top global threat as mobsters conspire worldwide to prey on everything from energy markets to victims of identity theft.”
Here’s an excerpt from the AP report of his speech:
No longer just the stuff of Mafia lore, organized crime groups are particularly dangerous when they hook up with terrorists to turn a profit, Mukasey said in announcing a new government focus on mobsters.
“At some point, when people who want to make money meet other people who are motivated by ideology and want to buy something, and they spot an opportunity for profit … then there is a coincidence of interest,” Mukasey told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“And the way you fight is, initially, with intelligence gathering (that) you then use to frustrate it or prosecute it as may be appropriate,” Mukasey said.
Also alarming is growing evidence of what Mukasey described as mobsters infiltrating and corrupting global gas and energy markets — potentially destabilizing parts of the U.S. economy. He cited cases of organized criminals increasingly smuggling immigrants and contraband — such as counterfeit money and drugs — into the United States.
You can find similar reports all over the web. And they don’t just refer to America. Apparently, this has become a global cancer. But it’s possible that the people who write these reports also have an overactive imagination. Let’s hope so.