Transnational Organized Criminals: Seriously affecting the Safety of America but are they partly responsible for the poor economy?

September 19, 2012 By Sgt Lou Savelli, NYPD (retired)

Lou Savelli
Lou Savelli, former Detective Supervisor, NYPD Terrorist Interdiction Unit.

Gangs, Drug Cartels, Human Traffickers, Human Smugglers, Terrorists, Narco-terrorists, new Mafiosos and other criminals operating between America and foreign countries have become the changing face of crime in America. Most likely, you don't have to look much further than your next door neighbor. Criminals who operate in multiple nations are making America their playground and even sponging off the system in more ways than you can imagine. Profits amassed by these dangerous criminals tally to an excess of billions of dollars each year and their violence has become evident on television and in newspapers from cities and towns across the nation. Although most of us are, essentially, immigrants, these offenders give new meaning to the words 'illegal' and 'alien'.

The National Institute of Justice defines Transnational Organized Crime as "Organized crime involving the planning and execution of illicit business ventures by groups or networks of individuals working in more than one country. These criminal groups use systematic violence and corruption to achieve their goals. Crimes commonly include money laundering; human smuggling; cyber crime; and trafficking of humans, drugs, weapons, endangered species, body parts, or nuclear material." NIJ further states, "…Transnational crime ring activities weaken economies and financial systems and undermine democracy."

Transnational Organized Criminals (TOC) are plaguing American neighborhoods across the country at an alarming pace. It is especially problematic in the Midwest where foreign nationals from countries like Somalia, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Southeast Asia, Peru, Bosnia and the Ukraine are immigrating. Of course, the vast majority of these immigrants have come to America in search of an honest and better life but, like most immigrant nationalities, there are always a few bad apples and some of those apples are members of transnational organized criminal organizations. The toll on the US Government and the already weakened local law enforcement agencies tasked to combat these criminals is overwhelming.

On a recent trip to Nebraska, an Omaha Narcotics detective told me about Mexican drug traffickers they recently arrested after a year-long investigation. During their raids, they seized drugs with a street value of a million dollars and over five dozen firearms. I was amazed how these drug traffickers apparently had no problem acquiring weapons and setting up shop in the heartland of America. One detective involved in the investigation said he was largely unaware of the reach of such transnational criminals involved in the drug trade until he learned about them at a training class he attended. The investigation's reach and magnitude was a shock even for the seasoned detective. "Just when I thought I had seen everything during my career, I come across such dangerous transnational criminals in my own backyard", he added.

Tattoo's of Gang Soldiers

Last year, in Cleveland, Ohio, the police there arrested several members of a Mexican drug cartel with large amounts of drugs and guns after a lengthy investigation. Law enforcement officers working undercover on this investigation faced imminent danger from these armed criminals engaged in their international drug trade. A short time later, Cleveland Police also arrested three members of a Palestinian drug organization that may be linked to a terrorist group that has cells in Palestine and the US. In all three cases, Nebraska and the two cases in Cleveland, police assert much of the money is funneled out of the US into foreign countries to fund drug cartel and terrorist operations as well as their violence. One Cleveland Detective who worked undercover on these investigations admitted he was shocked at the level of violence these criminals were willing to reach. He said, "These violent transnational criminals who are invading America have nothing to lose."

Russian Organized criminals, operating between Eastern European countries and the United States, have been victimizing American citizens for decades. Today, these criminals are more brazen and prolific than ever. They deal in drugs, prostitution and human trafficking and often kidnap their victims to force them into both. According to one US Postal Inspector, Russian Organized Crime uses drug addicted immigrants from Eastern European countries to steal mail from residential mailboxes in many local communities across the US. He also said mail theft is a common crime used by Middle Eastern criminals and Middle Eastern terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda to develop funding sources for terrorist operations targeting America. He said, "These thieves prefer to steal checks and credit cards but will use personal information from the mail to commit identity-related crimes."

In the case of Russian Organized criminals, sites like Craigslist and the entire internet is their playground. Such organized criminal groups, like Vor v Zakone, translated from Russian to mean, 'Thieves in Law', is the Russian version of the Mafia. Though less violent than in the past, they continue to victimize the American people and the citizens from other countries while they travel between the US and Eastern Europe. Identity Theft, the sale of bogus International Driver's Licenses, fuel scams and staged accidents score millions of American dollars in profits each year for these transnational criminals. They frequently travel between America and other nations when they fear arrest or prosecution. Many return later using a new foreign identity.

According to Alfredo Kuilan, President of Caetra Consulting Inc, a New York based security consulting firm that provides security services in the US and overseas, many foreign criminals who operate between the US and other countries even target their victims by breaching wireless networks of American homes and stealing identities from personal computers and laptops. He stresses the use of firewalls, both hardware and software, and wireless encryption to guard against being victimized. Mr Kuilan added, "These transnational criminals drive around American neighborhoods with WiFi trackers and identify unsecured wireless networks. They call this technique 'Wardriving' and do it, predominantly, during the day in working class neighborhoods while most people are at work."

Graffiti Tag of the Gang MS13

Street gangs like MS13 (Mara Salvatrucha) and M18 (Mara 18), violent enemies that decapitate their rivals and rape women in El Salvador and Honduras, are so prevalent throughout the US, many police officials warn their officers of inevitable violence. These officials stress the importance of officer safety when encountering these criminals in local communities. Recently, in Brooklyn, New York, one M18 gang member was killed by another gang member from his own gang. His body was discovered in the weeds along a popular beach area used frequently by local parents and their children for kite flying and dog-walking. Both the victim and the murderer were members of a transnational organized criminal organization operating between Mexico and the US.

During a recent conversation I had with 'F.M'., a former police officer from Honduras who worked undercover for two years and infiltrated MS13, he said "Central American gangs come across the US border without worry and use America to commit crimes. When it gets hot, like when they kill someone, they go back! Many return again and again to sell drugs and rob people at gunpoint because money is abundant in the US." 'F.M., who was forced to flee that country with his family when he found himself and his wife in the midst of a violent attack by the gang, warns, "The American people are only experiencing the beginning stages of the threat from these gangs. It is going to get much, much worse!"

Graffiti Tag of the Gang MS18

Police in Los Angeles County, California and police in Laredo, Texas warn of local gangs recruited by Los Zetas, a super-violent drug gang in Mexico. The local gangs, made up of teenaged thugs calling themselves Los Zetitos (Little Zetas) allegedly provide contract murders and drug trafficking duties throughout America for the Zetas. One officer reported that recruiting among young gang bangers by the Zetas has become aggressive and far-reaching outside of California and Texas. Law enforcement officials warn that Drug Cartels are active in over 200 American cities and places like Atlanta, Georgia have become a hub for Cartel operations. Police in Phoenix and other cities across Arizona are exhausted by the crime and violence connected to these drug cartels. In fact, because of this, Phoenix is now known as the kidnapping and home invasion capitol of America.

'Snakeheads', the street name for the vicious human smugglers doing business, today, between the United States and China who prey on the hopes, dreams and desperation of poor Chinese people. They make promises of a better life in America but offer it at a high monetary cost and quite often, a higher human cost. As far back as June 6th, 1993, a steamer called Golden Venture ran aground along the coast of New York City. It awakened us, not only to the desperate attempts made by Chinese citizens to escape the exploitation of their homeland, but also to the frightening truth that some of these snakeheads live among us. In a quiet section of Brooklyn, NY, a neighbor of a pair of snakeheads belonging to the Fuk Ching, a highly organized and violent transnational criminal gang, told the police how his neighbors were "quiet and friendly". He was shocked when police raided his neighbor's home to free a dozen Chinese victims whom were smuggled into the country and held for ransom at gunpoint by the gang members. The victim's families were being forced to pay the equivalent of $30,000 US above and beyond the same amount they had previously paid to the snakeheads for transporting their loved ones to America after promises of safe passage, a job and housing.

These transnational organized criminals that operate between the United States and foreign countries are not, by any means, limited to street gangs, snakeheads, drug cartels, Russian Organized Crime, Middle Eastern Organized Criminal Organizations and Foreign terrorists. America has become the proverbial 'well' for foreign criminals to siphon profits from unsuspecting American citizens, businesses, immigrants and even the US government. Even the insurance industry is being bilked of millions of dollars each year by crimes from 'staged accidents' and insurance fraud perpetrated by these criminals.

Our nation's law enforcement officers dealing with the everyday violence are facing a frightening trend in line of duty deaths at the hands of some of these criminals. In 2010, there was a 37% increase in gun murders of police officers according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, an organization that lists law enforcement line of duty deaths. (Their website, Officer Down Memorial Page can be found at This increase in gun related murders of law enforcement officers marks the second year in a row of such a trend. In January 2011, during one 24 hour period, two police officers and a Deputy US Marshall in St Petersburg, FL were shot, four police officers were shot in a Detroit police station, one police officer was shot in Oregon and two police officers were shot in Port Orchard, WA for a total of ten officers shot. Four of the ten officers shot died. Craig Floyd, Chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial Fund attributes a rise in officer deaths to budget cutbacks. Regarding these cutbacks, Floyd states, "…budget cutbacks …are putting officers at risk!"

It is exceedingly apparent this country is dealing with its deadliest and most difficult criminals ever with the increasing threat from transnational organized crime. With the porous US borders, increasing border violence, proliferation of drug cartel activity in so many neighborhoods across the US, law enforcement officials I spoke with are highly concerned about their own safety, the security of our country and the safety of its citizens.