The Characteristics of Organised Crime Groups Based on Sinaloa Cartel

Categories: Drug Trafficking

‘As society becomes more complex, organised and interconnected so too does crime’ (Galeotti, 2005). Organised Crime (OC) is a complex topic, given that there are many varying definitions that have been applied throughout time and globally, which will be explored within this paper. Touching on globalisation; the breaking down of borders, dissolving nations state, (Hrrmann, 2010) and how the implementation of a Neo Liberal era; meaning a large scale privatisation and the dismantling of the welfare state (Arrows for change,2013) impacted Transnational Organised Crime (TOC), enabling progression globally.

This paper along with identifying and discussing global definitions of OC, will also discuss what lead to these conclusions of what defines OC. The main of this paper, will be around the evolution of European Organised Crime Groups (EOCG), briefly analysing specific Organised Crime Groups (OCG) in Europe, what their crimes consist of, what it is they desire and how they go about getting what they want. Focusing closely on Cosa Nostra Italian Mafia OCG, portraying them through fact and not through the eyes of the media, which is difficult to understand which of what is being shown is fact or fiction.

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Exploring how relevant they are to this current day, are they noticeable through their crimes, are they highly reported through the media, looking at how powerful the Cosa Nostra really are, and whether they hold any power over political and economic decisions. It will then look into the North American OCG, specifically the Mexican Cartel, identifying what their modus operandi (MO) is and how they go about obtaining it, identifying any similarities or differences to the OCG of Europe, discovering if their structures, MO’s, and the way in which they conduct themselves are similar to each other, particularly focusing on the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

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It is believe that ‘globalisation is shaping contemporary life more than ever, influencing our perceptions of community, identity and culture’ (Franko, 2007). There are numerous definitions of globalisation, and it is a widely discussed topic with those definitions varying. According to Giddens (1990) ‘globalisation can thus be defined as the intensification of worldwide social relations, linking distant localities in a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away’. Nilson (2010) defines globalisation as the ‘process by which different economies and societies become more closely integrated and concurrent with increasing worldwide globalisation’. Those that are critical of globalisation criticise neoliberalism; privatisation of state assets, deregulation and giving free rein to market forces, which then has a greater emphasis on individual responsibility and the dismantling of the welfare state system, found individuals struggling within society (Franko,2019). Neo liberalism and globalisation for many across the globe, the transformation has resulted in large scale poverty and social and political chaos. (Franko, 2007). ‘Global inequality is a pervasive trait of the contemporary world order which is magnified by the globalisation of media and consumer culture’ (Franko, 1990). Filling the the deprived with images of the lifestyle the wealthy have on a continuous basis, leading to relative deprivation meaning this leads to the inequalities between communities where the rich and the poor live in close proximity to each other, allowing a feeling of hostility, anger and injustice and for many this leads to crime and deviance (Franko, 2007).

The provision of illicit goods and services and the infiltration of business and government have become major problems of the modern age globalisation (Albanese & Reichel, 2013: p78). Allum & Gilmore (2011) Transnational Oraganised crime (TOC) is simplistically seen as entirely a product of globalisation, describing it as a phenomenon that crosses the border without the economies and societies becoming more and more connected and integrated through time, it would make TOC very difficult without the global links connection. The 21st century has developed over time with technology and communication, as has TOC, it is now definitely easier to establish and maintain cross-border criminal relations, to commit predatory crimes over large distances and to carry out certain illegal activities on the internet (Albanese & Reichel, 2013). TOC challenges states, exploits individuals, pursues profit, wrecks economies, destroys civil society and ultimately weakens global democracy (Allum and Gilmour, 2011). It is understandable that TOC is believed to be the result of Globalisation, due to the changes that were made meaning for some members of society, making a legal living wage was difficult. Merton strain theory suggests that if someone feels stressed or is under strain trying to obtain what they need to be successful in life, this may then lead to crime as a way to obtain those means. Classic strain theory focuses on that type of strain involving the inability to achieve monetary success or the somewhat broader goal of middle-class status (Agnew & Scheuerman, 2011).

There is an ongoing discussion with regards to what is classified as Organised Crime (OC). Schelling (1984) stated ‘It does not simply mean…crime that is organised’ (Wright, 2005). The question of what defines OC, is relevant and ongoing. Similar to TOC, OC is a concept lacking one specific simplistic definition, as there are varying classifications and much academic research is focused on the issue of the definition ( al, 2012). The UK serious organised crime agency, now known as the National crime agency, define OC as ‘Those involved on a continuing basis, normally working with others in committing crimes for substantial profit or gain’ (Wright, 2005). However there are some commonalities in the various definitions, for example, the definition given by the European union in 1998 was ‘A criminal organisation shall mean a lasting, structured association of two or more persons, acting in concert with a view to committing crimes…a means of obtaining material benefits’. (Wright,2005). Here we can see that both definitions share the idea that organised crime is committed to gain profit and benefit, however if we compare these to the definition of the US FBI (2013) viewing organised crime as continuing criminal conspiracy having a firm organisational structure, a conspiracy fed by fear and corruption. (Wright,2005) FBI give no mention to material gain or benefit, but that of structure and fear. Given the difference in definitions, prompts a lack of clarity as to what aspects of a crime would need to be present in order for it to be categorised as OC and in what countries. According to Reichel (2013) The concept of organised crime can be broken down into three simple dimensions; criminal activities, offender structures, and illegal governance. Criminal activities simply classifies as a crime that is being committed but has been organised, it is not merely a random act of crime, but one in which has been planned. Offender structures simply denotes the name in which the organised group has been labelled, such as the ‘Mafia’ and ‘Cartel’. And the last dimension; illegal governance simply illustrates that organised crime is regarding power and political power where the areas in which they find the Government are lacking (Reichel,2013). As a general rule, organised criminal networks are involved in many different types of criminal activities such as; drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, goods counterfeiting all spanning several countries (Interpol, nd). The 21st century has marked both growth in organised crime and a greater emphasis on new forms and new adaptions of technology that foster cross-boarder and international crime (Albanese & Reichel, 2013).

In 2017 the Europol identified some 5,000 organised crime groups operating in countries in the European Union (Unodc,2017). According to Interpol (nd), Europe can also be found at both ends of the trafficking routes that span the globe. Although organised crime groups in Europe participate in the criminal activities mentioned above, according to the UN world drug report (2017) Europe is the World’s second largest consumer markets of cocaine and the main consumer market of heroin, however although it is a large consumer of drugs, they arrive in Europe as finalised products (Interpol, nd). Due the large scale of organised crime and crime groups in Europe, which are increasing in scale and complexity with time (Socta,2017), Italy throughout history has been known for its OCG, specifically Sicily. According to Lyman & Potter (2007) it is there that OC gained prominence during the 1860’s, during this time the Sicilian immigrants were held responsible for the prevalence of organised crime in the US, some may label an Alien conspiracy theory; blaming outsiders and outside influences. (Lyman & Potter, 2007).

It is thought that the twenty-five or so Italian dominated crime families made organised crime apparent in the US. However some may argue that Alien conspiracy theory is fabricated and is down to the media, which incited a moral panic in regards to Italian mafia type OCG, moreover some may disagree with the notion that the Italian mafia had such a large widespread influence, due to the fact that the majority of Italian mafia OCG are largely family orientated and are thought to control well defined geographical areas. (Lyman & Potter, 2007). There are four main mafia type organisations in Italy, and although they all have some commonalities, they also have their own specific label and identity due to their own personal attributions to the organised criminal world. Firstly; Ndrangheta is among the most powerful and richest organised crime group, they also have a dominant position in the European cocaine market due to their close relationships with producers. Ndrangheta are also known for their abilities to corrupt political and environmental structures, gaining themselves hierarchal position enabling them to obtain power.

Moving onto the Camorra, the most flashy and extravagant of the OCG, unlike the previous two OCG, the Camorra is a cluster of families and clans who often partake in internal strife. Their flashy lifestyle allows their presence to be known, however this is something they take pleasure in. Outside of their territory their crime involvement includes drug trafficking, cigarette smuggling, illicit waste dumping and counterfeit products (Europol, 2013). Apulian; they are known for bandit type behaviour, they control the activities of their territory with extreme acts of violence, which sometimes lead to Murder. Initially they started out with the illegal trafficking of cigarettes, developing onto drug and weapon trafficking. (Europol, 2013) Lastly; Cosa Nostra, are the oldest most widespread traditional organised crime group. Increasing its involvement in drug trafficking and facilitate criminal operations and money laundering. Due to how highly skilled they are in money laundering; they also manage legitimate business structures. (Europol, 2013). As recent as March 2019, the Cosa Nostra were reported in the Organised Crime and Corruption report (OCCRP) with the headline ‘Cosa Nostra leader among 32 arrested in Sicily’ in the article they were described as ruthless, bloodthirsty and unscrupulous.

The apparent leader of the Cosa Nostra today, Antonio Massimino was labelled an aggressive character who was capable of all wickedness. (OCCRP, 2019). In 2018 the OCCRP reported The Sicilian Mafia car bomb attack on journalist Thwarted. They reported the South Sicilian clan had planned to use dynamite to kill a journalist who had been investigating the Mafia for years. From this, you can see that the Cosa Nostra, would rather murder someone who is attempting to unveil the truth about them, they saw the journalist as threat, and would go to any lengths minimise that threat. According to Catino (2015) the Italian Cosa Nostra has carried out 1917 murders from 1983 to 2012. North America includes the countries of Canada, United States and Mexico (Albanese & Reichel,2013) Organised crime In North America is not a singular phenomenon according to Albanese & Reichel (2013) it has always been composed of a variety of groups, both large and small that emerged to exploit particular criminal opportunities and given the position of Mexico, it is in the ideal position of land and water to allow the ideal launching points for smuggling people and products. Similar to Italy, Mexico also has four main OCG, their MO is also very similar to that of the Italian Mafia, and are known for the same criminal activities, they both traffic drugs and are involved in money laundering along with other criminal activities. (CRS,2019).

As the Cartel grew and connections with America improved, the Mexican Cartel expanded from drug trafficking to a portfolio of criminal activities throughout time, ranging from kidnapping, extortion and human smuggling (Grillo,2013). The brutality of the Mexican drug trade Is one which brings tremendous concern, leading to public brutality, such as public beheadings, bodies strewn on the street, car bombs being detonated within public sector, murders of journalist and political members (CRS,2019). One of the four most renowned OCG in Mexico is the Sinaloa Cartel, they have been described at one of the oldest and most established OCG (CRS,2019). The pacific state of Sinaloa is the cradle of Mexican OC, as Sicily is to the Mafia (Grillo, 2013:p2) According to the 2019 congressional research service the Sinaloa Cartel has grown to control 40-60% of Mexico’s drug trade by 2012 confirming the belief that they are one of the most established OCG in Mexico, with the increase in their control enabling an annual earning of an estimated $3 billion. Although with this increase of control and expansion comes recognition, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) identifying them as the primary of drugs to the united states. (CRS, 2019).

Another similarity with regards to the Cosa Nostra and the Sinaloa Cartel, is that of money laundering. The Sinaloa cartel were believed to have laundered billions of dollars through Wachovia, which at the time was one of Americas largest banks, shuffling $378.4 billion (Seo & Derouin, 2011). They use this process to amalgamate money made from illegal activity in with legitimate money enabling them to disguise the source in which the illegal money came from. The Sinaloa cartel also operate specific territories, and at times they may contract in other smaller gangs to carry out some of their criminal activities, this again demonstrates the power that they hold. The structure of the Sinaloa cartel is described at a Horizontal leadership; also known as a flat organisation, which broken down means persuading others whom you have no control over (CRS,2019). Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, which was built up of groups of families, which was always headed by a male dominant (Anderson,1995). It is clear that although the structures differ within the two organised the criminal activities carried out within the two are very similar, they both carry out brutal acts upon individuals and are both known for their role in the drug trafficking trade. Organised crime is evermore developing through time, which could well lead to an unprecedented future for OCG developing and expanding globally.

Some may say that Globalisation and Neo liberalism are key factors in the expansion of organised crime, allowing the growth of Transnational organised crime making living a legal life for some difficult, some may say the benefits of crime and deviance outweigh the risk, because certain individuals are unable to obtain the life they want with their current state, glamourising the Mafia and Cartels through media. Organised Crime has expanded thorough time, with the expansion of cross boarder connections developing, so too has organised crime. The development of Organised Crime groups makes the future of illegal activity unknown, with crime groups evolving, as one generation ‘retires’ so to speak, another generation steps up. It is clear, to an extent all organised criminal groups have their similarities, the Italian Mafia and the Mexican cartel discussed above are inherently involved In a large scale of criminal activity, with a wide range of crimes, committing these with the same aim to gain the most profit and power possible, with whatever needs necessary to do so, even if that means the corruption of officials, kidnapping and assassinations, it is clear that both OCG discussed would go to any length to protect themselves and each other. Both OCG participate in money laundering, through legitimate businesses to alleviate themselves from money that is gained from their criminal activities. The difference noted here today is that of the structures of the OCG, the Italian Mafia started out family based, with one dominant leader, whereas the Mexican cartel was more horizontal with the possibility of more than one leader. The study of OCG seems endless as they grow and expand so does the research and the never-ending hunt for answers and explanations of OCG.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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The Characteristics of Organised Crime Groups Based on Sinaloa Cartel. (2024, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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