Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Relations: organized crime

Let's talk about "The Godfather", because it's both your key to understanding organized crime, and a great movie. Why is it the key? Not because it was an accurate depiction of the Mafia as they were when the film came out, but because they adopted some of the conventions of the film. The "Dapper Don", the effect of the film as a recruiting tool for the Mafia, even the fact that Joseph Colombo first attacked and then later influenced the picture.

Everyone has images of themselves. We love those larger-than-life self-portraits we draw in our minds, and we absolutely love it when someone else contributes to that grandeur. And we'll fight to the death to protect those images from harm by reality. You all know what I'm talking about. You got into villainy for similar reasons.

Maybe this sounds like a lot of pop psychology. But it's useful, because when your business consists of the threat of violence and the management of dirty money, anything that dresses it up will help you sleep better at night. Realizing this is important.

What they want

Organized crime, like any big organization, looks at the world through its own lens. They acknowledge things bigger than them - governments, the military, and so on - but they look at those things as opportunities. Anything smaller than them was business. "The Corleone family was like the Roman empire," says Frank Pentangelli.

What you have to understand is that even if you have superpowers, even if you walk like a demigod among mortals, organized crime will still see you through this lens. They will think that they can manage you, or use you, or influence you. They will look for chinks in your armor. They will try to identify loved ones, favorite hangouts, habits, vices. They will have you followed. They will try to plant listening devices or tracking devices on you. They will look for leverage.

Once they have it, they'll try to work you into their program, whatever that might be. If you're hip with this, that's fine, but you're not really a supervillain any more - you're a mob enforcer with superpowers.

What you want

Generally, what you want from organized crime - the Mob, the Yakuza, whoever - is their interface between legitimate and illegal interests. You want guys who can handle a hit and launder money. You want a source of henchmen whose presence won't automatically get them arrested, even if they might tip off the cops. In short, you're doing business with a company whose existence is illegal but whose services are vital.

How to interact

Everything you want is a business transaction, so treat it as such. Don't get suckered into "free favors" or "benefits". Pay for everything you ask for, and do everything you accept money to do. Cash is your mediator for everything.

The rules for business transactions with organized crime:
  • When money is the subject of the transaction (such as money laundering), the fee should be a percentage of the total.
  • Always get a handshake or other clear acknowledgement of the deal, in the presence of witnesses.
  • Let them make the security arrangements, within reason. They want to feel safe from you, so respect that.
What to watch out for

The number one thing to worry about with organized crime is deviations from the norm. If you're used to meeting with your contact at a certain place, and they say they want to meet somewhere else, ask why, then independently check out what they tell you. If your normal contact isn't available, find out why and check it out. Ronald Reagan learned the Russian proverb "doveryai no proveryai" and used it a lot in its English form: "trust, but verify".

The number two thing to worry about is power plays within the organization. If you're used to dealing with one particular lieutenant, and he decides to get ambitious, he may try to compartmentalize dealings with you as part of his program. Maybe you're on board with that, maybe not - but if you think it's happening, always have a few members of the organization in your Rolodex that you can check with.