Special Report

America’s Most Infamous Criminal Gangs

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Place of origin: China, including Hong Kong
> Active years: 17th century
> Ethnicity: Chinese

The term “triad” was used as early as the 17th century to describe secret societies in China. Originally formed primarily in Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Canton), and Zhengzhou, triads have evolved into organized crime families, active not only in China itself (and especially in Hong Kong) but virtually anywhere there is a Chinese community – most definitely including Canada and the U.S. They are active in a wide range of crimes, including drug smuggling, counterfeiting and identity theft, loansharking and gambling, and increasingly in human trafficking. The groups grew in strength in the 1970s with the arrival in the U.S. of transplanted Asian gangs, and have been known to recruit non-Chinese members, even including some non-Asians..

> Place of origin: China
> Active years: 17th century
> Ethnicity: Chinese

Like the triads, with whom they are often confused, the tongs began as secret societies in 17th-century China. Their modern-day versions were formed in the U.S. during the great Chinese migration in the late 19th century. The newcomers faced intense discrimination from white Americans and other groups and the tongs started out as community support groups. Some remain legitimate organizations, but others devolved into criminal enterprises that controlled opium, prostitution, and gambling. Scott D. Seligman, author of “Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money and Murder in New York’s Chinatown,” said in an interview with Vice magazine that there were four tong wars during the 20th century and they were difficult to stop because not responding to an incitement meant loss of face.

Nuestra Familia
> Place of origin: California prison system
> Active years: 1965-present
> Ethnicity: Mexican

The Mexican gang Nuestra Familia was formed in the mid-1960s by Hispanic inmates from Northern California in response to what they said was mistreatment by Los-Angeles based gangs under the aegis of the Mexican Mafia. They also fought against other prison gangs, including the Aryan Brotherhood. To join Nuestra Familia, an initiate must commit a violent crime like assault or murder. The FBI began a major crackdown of the group beginning in 2002.

Source: 155828033@N08 / Flickr

Latin Kings
> Place of origin: Chicago
> Active years: 1954-present
> Ethnicity: Puerto Rican

The Puerto Rican group Latin Kings was formed in Chicago in the 1950s and has since spread its influence to 34 states. According to the Department of Justice, they are a “centralized, authoritarian, violent formal organization complete with a written constitution and by-laws.” Such was their ability to operate gang activity with relative impunity inside the Illinois prison system that the Justice Department recommended that Latin King leaders be removed from the state’s prisons.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Russian mafia
> Place of origin: Moscow
> Active years: Late 1980s-present
> Ethnicity: Russian

According to a paper written by James O. Finckenauer of the National Institute of Justice, there are about 15 loosely identified Russian criminal groups operating in the United States, with as many as nine of them maintaining links to Russia. The estimated total membership of those groups is as many as 6,000. Finckenauer said the criminal networks are neither highly centralized nor dominated by individuals. Extortion and protection rackets are the main areas of Russian gang activity. They are also involved in credit-card fraud. Russian gangs have largely avoided the more traditional areas of organized crime, such as drug trafficking, gambling, and loan sharking.

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