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FBI: Gangs turning to white-collar crimes

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday estimated there are some 1.4 million gang members in the United States and they are turning to white collar crimes as more lucrative enterprises.
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday estimated there are some 1.4 million gang members in the United States and they are turning to white-collar crimes as more lucrative enterprises.

Gangs like the Bloods and the Crips are engaging in crimes such as identity theft, counterfeiting, selling stolen goods and even bank, credit card and mortgage fraud, said a new FBI gangs threat assessment.

"We've seen it, but we've seen them doing it even more now and we attribute to the fact that the likelihood of being caught is less, the sentences once you are caught are less, and the actual monetary gain is much higher," said Diedre Butler, a unit chief at the National Gang Intelligence Center.

In 2009, the FBI estimated there were 1 million gang members. It attributes some of the 40 percent increase since then to more comprehensive reporting by law enforcement agencies.

Agency officials said they were unable to determine exactly how many new gang members there were now since the last estimate, but that such membership was indeed on the rise.

Gangs are using social media such as Facebook and YouTube to recruit members and communicate, as well as posting photos of their lifestyle to present a tough image, the assessment said.

"It may stoke the curiosity of someone in the community and so that is kind of a recruitment tool because now people may see this video and think that's kind of sort of cool," said Calvin Shivers, a section chief in the FBI's gang unit.

While being a member of a gang is not illegal, social network websites help law enforcement identify members and potentially pursue them if authorities believe crimes have been committed, he said.

The report cited the arrest of a member in a Los Angeles gang called Florencia 13 for operating a lab that manufactured pirated video games.

A member of the East Coast Crips in Los Angeles co-owned a clothing store, using it to sell counterfeit goods and traffic in drugs, and members of the Bloods in San Diego were charged with racketeering and mortgage fraud, said the report.

In an example of an alliance, the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods worked with the Lucchese organized crime family in New Jersey to smuggle drugs and cell phones into a prison, according to the report.

On the West Coast, law enforcement officials in Washington state suspect that some Asian gangs are involved with Asian organized crime and marijuana cultivating groups.

In southern California, 99 members of the Armenian Power gang suspected of ties to crime figures in Armenia, Russia and the nation of Georgia were charged with kidnapping, extortion, bank fraud and drug trafficking.

Gang membership is increasing most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions of the country and many communities are experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian and Caribbean gangs, said the report, which is based on federal, state and local law enforcement data.

Another concern is gang members joining the U.S. military and teaching skills they learn to fellow gang members, though the FBI said some members may join the military to escape gangs.

"The military is aware of the situation and they're monitoring it closely," Butler said.