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The Changing Face of ORGANIZED CRIME IN NEW JERSEY – A Status Report – State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation 2004 Report

As is the case in much of the world, criminal societies and groups have plagued Asian countries for centuries. As wave after wave of industrious, honest Asian immigrants arrived in the United States seeking a better life, a ready supply of criminal opportunists accompanied them. Some of these criminal interlopers belonged to ancient organizations, but many emulated America’s gangster subculture, adapting it to their own cultures and languages. All have taken advantage of the usual array of criminal opportunities, as well as some others achieved by victimizing the law-abiding multitudes within their own ethnic groups.

Most intimidating are the Asian street gangs and crime rings that prey upon Asian communities. Spurred on, in part, by the old mob cult hero figures portrayed in the theatres and television, they engage in murder, aggravated assault, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, illegal gambling, enslavement of smuggled illegal immigrants, home invasion robberies, kidnapping, extortion of legitimate and illicit businesses, loansharking, weapon trafficking, counterfeiting of merchandise, identity theft, arson, using massage parlors as fronts for prostitution, and using nail salons as fronts for money laundering. Gang members are resilient and often simply do not consider certain activities, such as loan-sharking, prostitution as payment for alien smuggling fees or the selling of counterfeit merchandise to be criminal in nature. They also fear their superiors and elders more than they fear law enforcement.

In recent years, substantial numbers of Asian criminals have avoided blatant association with known Asian gangs. Gang members prosecuted in the 1980s and 1990s learned that flaunting gang membership made them easier targets under racketeering statutes. Those recently released from prison are educating the younger generation as to how to avoid state and federal prosecutions.

Even relatively small Asian enclaves still have to cope, however, with criminal groups of a similar ethnic background. For example, Kapatiran USA, Inc. is a Filipino organized crime group known until recently as Kapatiran. The group “represents” (victimizes by extortion) many Filipino businesses in Jersey City. White Tigers is a Chinese-Filipino street gang operating in New Jersey and based in New York City. Two smaller, more youthful and localized Filipino street gangs are All Crazy Kids (ACK) and True Filipino Blood (TFB). In addition to extortion of legitimate businesses, these groups engage in narcotics trafficking and assaults.

Since large numbers of Asians patronize Atlantic City casinos, the State police and Division of Gaming Enforcement have had to contend with organized Asian criminals fostering prostitution, loan-sharking and money laundering. These groups also take advantage of opportunities to corrupt casino employees to fix games.

State Police investigations have revealed that Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese loan sharks actively loan money to Asian casino patrons on a daily basis. The going rate for these usurious loans differs according to the ethnicity of the loan shark. Korean and Vietnamese loan sharks typically charge exorbitant interest of up to 20 percent or more per week, collected on a weekly basis. Chinese loan sharks charge an average of 10 percent per day. The loan sharks, many suspected of being linked to Asian crime groups, generally originate in New York City.

The gangs also serve as enforcers for more traditional Asian organized criminal groups. Often, smuggled illegal immigrants are forced into violent criminal activity as a way of paying smuggling fees of up to $50,000 to the so-called “snakeheads” who control them.

Asian organized crime groups and gangs, particularly those with ethnic Chinese backgrounds, derive a lucrative source of revenue from heavy involvement in the illicit cigarette trade. On one level, high-quality, hard-to-detect counterfeit cigarettes bearing popular brand names are fabricated in Hong Kong and elsewhere and packaged by the millions for smuggling amid legitimate cargo through the region’s ports. On another level, Asian gangs reap substantial sums of money through schemes that subvert cigarette taxation. Untaxed cigarettes purchased at a rate of $2.50 per pack, for example, are sold in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area for double that price, thus not only undercutting the legitimate market but also siphoning off a source of tax revenue upon which the public treasury in New Jersey has come increasingly to rely.

State Police Detective David A. Smith testified at the Commission’s public hearing at to how Asian gangs, through violence, extortion and intimidation, elude discovery and arrest because they concentrate on their own communities and terrify docile victims:
They primarily prey on people of their own ethnic backgrounds. That's why it makes it so difficult to infiltrate Asian organized crime groups, because most of the crimes – actually, I would have to say 99.9 percent of all the crimes – are being committed against their own kind. And an understanding of the Asian culture and their language [is] beneficial [when doing] investigations of these types. But generally, … unless you cross that threshold, it makes it real difficult to do actual investigations because, number one, the victim thinks if he reports the crime or the incident to law enforcement, there will be retribution. And, number two, … a lot of the Asian individuals are afraid of law enforcement.

Recently retired Jersey City Police Detective Fred J. Paparteys testified at the public hearing that the uninterrupted extortion of legitimate businesses threatens the viability of commerce in a city:
Regarding adverse effects stemming from these groups' criminal activities on legitimate businesses, several owners in Jersey City, … victims, had intentions to close their shops and move elsewhere, but … the prosecution of [certain gang members] had convinced the owners and the victims to stay put and continue on with their businesses.

Language is a formidable obstacle to the successful investigation of Asian organized crime. Detective Smith testified that the language barrier proved to be particularly troublesome during an investigation of the Fukienese Flying Dragons. He said, “Not one law enforcement officer, to my knowledge, speaks [Fukienese].” He related that FBI agents in Newark and New York City helped the State Police “to come up with a postal service man who spoke the Fukienese language” and was willing to assist the investigation. Detective Smith noted that where there are investigators who speak some Asian languages fluently, there must be cooperation among law enforcement agencies in the region – FBI, State Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prosecutors’ offices in New Jersey and New York, and the Chinatown precinct of the New York City Police Department – to make that language assistance available.

The language gap is particularly troublesome when conducting electronic surveillance and debriefing informants. The New Jersey State Police are forming an Asian organized crime squad comprised of county and State Police detectives. An important initial goal of the squad is to recruit Fukienese speakers.

Detective Smith testified that the insular nature of Asian communities is heightened among the illegal immigrant population. Fearful of deportation, they see law enforcement as something to be avoided.

Detective Paparteys did not regard language or culture as insurmountable barriers to enforcement. He noted that there have been many “notable arrests of Asian organized criminal street gangs in Jersey City,” and “the majority of the prosecutions have been successful.” He testified:
In some instances, the language barriers can complicate law enforcement investigations, but local interpreters are readily available to and for the prosecution when needed. The mistrust of local law enforcement personnel by the Asian community presents a formidable problem, but it could be overcome somewhat easily by interacting and showing interest in that same Asian community.

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