One-Million Strong: The Changing Face Of Organized Crime

As powerful as the mob was historically (and it was pretty damn powerful), today it is only a fraction of what it once was.

Operation Dirty Thirds, May 2018. (Photo by Keith Durflinger for SCNG)

The Italian-American Mafia's ability to organize, infiltrate and control labor unions, run entire industries as monopolies, not to mention protect itself from law enforcement and politicians (think of major mob fixers like Chicago's Curly Humphreys and New York's Frank Costello), will likely never be outmatched. The mob was such a force in major cities across the country -- New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, etc. -- it made corruption a fact of daily life to the extent that those in fields such as law enforcement and journalism had to keep a steady eye on it to simply do their jobs.

Today, the scrutiny the mob faces is so piddling, a resurgence is  almost guaranteed.

In any event, in terms of sheer size, meaning numbers of "bodies" in the street, the mob doesn't come close to the manpower (or firepower) of the street gangs. And while it's unlikely the gangs will ever be sophisticated enough to shake down labor unions and otherwise corrupt daily life like the mob did, it's that sheer size -- these gangs boast tens of thousands of members in a single city -- that sets them apart.

Street gangs for years have been filling any void created by Cosa Nostra's downsizing (which doesn't mean that these trends converge: in fact,  the mob historically had ties to and recruited members from local street gangs and this historic cooperation seems to be continuing today, at least based on recent cases involving the Genovese and Luchese crime families.) For the general public, these gangs present a huge danger that was never a factor with the mob: gang members routinely engage in visible low-level street crime, most prominently drug dealing, and are much more prone to critical violence

Street gangs today are also growing increasingly sophisticated about surveillance and savvier about spreading the wealth around to win the silence of the locals.

A million gang members reportedly now operate in the US, as per federal officials, and these gang-bangers are everywhere, from the smallest hamlets to the biggest cities. And most of these gang members are affiliated with a dozen major gangs reportedly based in only three cities stretching from coast to coast: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Today it’s the Vice Lords banging up Chicago — and they seem to be taking their cue from traditional organized crime.

Recently in Milwaukee eight homes were raided by law enforcement and numerous members, all tied to the Vice Lords, were arrested on drug charges. As per the FBI, the men had been selling large quantities of heroin in Milwaukee for the Chicago gang.

“It’s a very sophisticated group. They are very good,” said Jason Soule, FBI supervisory special agent in Milwaukee. “They are very surveillance-conscious. They pay individuals throughout the neighborhood either in cash or heroin to act as lookouts.”

Law enforcement sources said they believe the drugs sold in Milwaukee were supplied by gang operatives in Chicago.

“I think it branches out all over the country, to be quite honest,” Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said.

Investigators said the gang migration from Chicago, L.A. and New York has provided a gang presence and the drugs, gun trafficking and violence that go along with them in every section of the nation and more than three dozen states.

Illinois, mostly Chicago, has the highest per capita gang population in the nation.

According to gang investigators and the most recent federal figures, the Vice Lords headquartered in Chicago and tied to the Milwaukee raid have between 30,000-45,000 members in 74 cities in 28 states.

Chicago's Gangster Disciples gang has 25,000-50,000 members in 110 cities and 31 states.

The Latin Kings have 20,000-35,000 members in 15 cities in 5 states.

The Black P. Stone Nation in Chicago could have up to 100,000 members scattered in various cities among 10 states.

Chicago's Latin Disciples have 1,500-2,000 members in Great Lakes states and the Southwestern U.S.

According to other research, an estimated 70,000 gang members strut through the streets of Chicago alone today. And all these entities are on the upswing. Reportedly one-quarter of all the homicides in Chicago are attributable to street gang violence. At least 2,000 gang homicides are reported each year across the country.

Out west, dozens of members of the Mexican Mafia and subsidiary street gangs in Pomona and other Los Angeles-area communities were arrested recently in an expansive sweep that officials said was intended to destroy a lucrative drug enterprise operating in the region’s jails.

Read Where The Mob Once Found Its  Members

In total, federal prosecutors charged 83 people in widespread racketeering conspiracies, alleging they ran drugs and carried out violent assaults and murders on behalf of what officials called “the gang of gangs.”