Opinion

The search for organized crime in Federal Way | Andy Hobbs

With its stereotypes glamorized in popular culture, organized crime evokes images of ruthless mafia bosses with Brooklyn accents, sharkskin suits and machine guns.

Those infamous New York mobsters are like A-list criminals, earning money through illegal schemes such as gambling, lotteries, loan sharking, bookmaking, racketeering and violent shakedowns. The mob underworld sinks to even seedier depths with human trafficking, prostitution and drugs.

Legal or not, when there’s a demand, someone will find a supply, even at the cost of life.

I recently finished reading “Wiseguy,” a non-fiction book that details gangster Henry Hill’s life in the mafia. The book inspired Martin Scorsese’s epic film “Goodfellas.” The Italian mobsters in Hill’s story robbed, stole and killed without remorse. They lived in constant paranoia of law enforcement despite paying off multiple cops and public officials. A good share of crimes and murders revolved around gambling. Hill talked about blowing $30,000 or more at a time, and that was in the 1970s. Hill and associates also fixed Boston College basketball games in a point-shaving scheme.

In the crime world, the bad guys are the good guys who play cat and mouse, living moment to moment, fueled by the easy money and buzzed by the thrill of not getting caught. Crime is a lifestyle that reaches everywhere from the mean streets to Wall Street.

For every dumb criminal, there are more smart ones who get away with their crimes over and over again. When writing a feature for today’s paper on organized retail crime, I quickly realized how much deeper the topic can go. Expect another report on organized retail crime and professional shoplifting in the Puget Sound region.

The secrecy surrounding criminal culture makes it both fascinating and difficult to quantify. It is amazing how much thought and organization goes into some of these shoplifting activities. The National Retail Federation reports that in 2010, organized retail crime amounted to nearly $30 billion in losses.

As for the Puget Sound shoplifters, police say they are paid by middlemen who run a “fence” that distributes stolen items to customers for pennies on the dollar. These fences are much more elusive than the drug addicts who steal 40 razors in exchange for a few dollars.

Look at it this way: Every job and hobby has its best and worst, its biggest and smallest. For example, if we can find the best doctors in the country, surely we can find the worst doctors — if we look close enough. Even if you’re not hitting home runs for the Mariners, you can still pick up a baseball bat and smack a few baseballs at the park — if you try hard enough.

The same logic applies to people who choose to earn a living in the criminal underworld. From shell businesses that launder money to small diners that serve stolen steaks, criminal activity happens right under our noses, every day, even in Federal Way, ready to be found with the right set of eyes and ears.

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