Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Haitian Gangs--Chimeres/Ghosts

I've been trying to work up a starting bibliography for understanding gangs in Haiti. Not a post. A collection of notes and sources, as always, to help people get what they need to know. Updated January 24, 2010

For the most part, this doesn't follow the usual run of American-based posts. That's because Haiti has been underserved by its own country in documentation (whatever documentation is now lost, too) and underserved in terms of access to the internet. likewise, the symbols of the gangs seem less widespread, although there are certain, almost corporate-style borrowings from American culture.  So far I've seen little graffiti and no tattoos, a lot of weapons. This is not really gangland as American understands it. It is a failed country.

So, less Web-based bibliography that's gang related. But we do have some:

News and Dated Reports:
2003, December 29, St. Petersburg Times, FL--post-Independence Day conflict in Port-au-Prince. A little on Aristide's Lavalas Family (the Cleansing Flood) and the ties of organized crime to the gangs.

Overseas Security Advisory Council, 2007 Crime and Safety Report. This is a comprehensive but easy-to-read report on the kidnappings, home invasions, and gang activity in not just Cite Soleil but also Martissant, a slum in the southern part of Port-au-Prince. Since it is in common web space, it is the decommissioned report (less recent). The site is security-access only. LEOs might be able to register into the site.

Post Earthquake;
2010, January 15-AP--"Haitian gang members profit from disaster and confusion"
Backgrounder on Security/UN Presence/Police Efforts in Haiti
1. A post on MINUSTAH and the quake.
2. Crime, Police, and Keeping the Peace
3. Security Update

These two are in English and can't be embedded. The rest are in Haitian creole or French are only linked for those who can translate.

--"Ghosts of Cite Soleil" (filmed 2004; released 2006) The reference to chimeres or ghosts refers to the fact that these young men don't live very long and are invisible to the law.
At their Web site, you can view a trailer. They refer you to an unnavigable sales site. If you wish to purchase it, Amazon and the i-Tunes store seem to have it available. Go there instead.

The review at American Prospect suggested that the documentary is unparallelled in access but completely without a context for improvement of the situation. I think access is worth more than a predigested lesson. Anyone can get the context from reading an article or two. In this review, the aid worker in the film is said to behave incomprehensibly.  What he really means is that there is some inappropriate romance going on, that the film is about two young brothers (one names 2-Pac) and one young aid worker and that the documentarist is also young. And aid workers have baggage like everybody else.

--"Haiti, Kidnap Capital of the World." 2006, uploaded in 2008: Journeyman Pictures, 12:46 minutes. This is a very instructive backgrounder, but I can't embed it. In English/Discretion advised. It does have a slightly preachy/horrified tone, but the facts are shown. Amorel, a gang member and his satellites (T-Block, others) views of birth clinics, gang extortion, prisons, talk of rapes, kidnapping rings, gunfights, and allegations against Minustah forces, especially those troops from Jordan--

The Jordanians are quartered in terrible terrain--the heart of Cite Soleil slum--according to the documentary. The UN HQ where those troops are stationed get hit with 1000 rounds per day . The UN does admit 25% of its troops are also corrupt.  I wondered if the placement of the Jordanians was more to do with the state of the Brazilian troops and Caribbean connections. The report does not go into which troops are corrupt and why the Jordanians are in Cite Soleil. The more you know, the more questions you have.

--2006, "Commandant Bibi" puts down his weapons. In Creole.
--2007: 7 minutes, in Creole. Evans Ti Couteau, notorious gang leader, arrested. News anchor, then ETC gives a press conference while keeping his hands folded on top of his head for three minutes, then the prison view, then police spokesman.

Web Sites:
Creole Dictionary--at Another one, at, has been compromised.

Dieciocho--18th St. Gang in El Salvador, U.S. part 2

The Diez y Ocho (Ten plus Eight or Eighteen) is one of the two major gangs in El Salvador and also in the United States. The other is Mara Salvatrucha.
This series is from BBC. Except for the Norteno music, which is Tex-Mex, it seems free of exaggeration. In South and Central America, Mexico is seen as a prosperous nation and is a significant cultural exporter, so maybe they really are listening to Tex-Mex in El Salvador.
As in all docu-video, there is a little playing up to the camera. But mostly we see this trade is run by poor kids in El Salvador.

Video 1: Gang Initiation

Video 2: The flip side of immigration. When parents emigrate and leave their children behind, the children make their own families. An economy that rents to them, tattoos them, that protests when they are robbed too often, that buys weed from them.

Video 3:
You don't do what you sell.

Video 4

Video 5

Friday, September 18, 2009

Drug Cartel Leader Killed

This is kind of an update on a previous post about Drug Trafficking south of the U.S. Border. Dec 18

Arturo Beltran Levya was killed in a raid on his home in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The Army of Mexico, its Navy, and the DEA all participated. According to CNN, the Navy of Mexico was the deciding factor.

From the story by the Christian Science Monitor: "Why it matters"
Beltran Leyva split with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, seen as Mexico’s most powerful drug kingpin and the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, in early 2008. The Beltrán Leyva organization is said to be allied with the Zetas, a criminal ring founded by Mexican army turncoats who are especially strong on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. Beltrán Leyva’s organization also maintains a strong presence in Sinaloa and Morelos, the state south of the Mexican capital, where Cuernavaca is located.
It matters mostly, initially, in the Gulf region of Mexico, where lesser members of the organization will fight to gain power over the vacant spot in the trade.

It will then matter next to the Caribbean, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Texas--as shipments get erratic, fought over by crooks, or resumed. Refugees from the battle will be heading this way via land--they will be refugees with guns and money and involvement. Last of all, it may affect drug traffic in Mexican Mafia but more likely Texas' Mexicanemi gang, and to Florida, as supplies get erratic, etc. etc.

We're lucky Mexico wants DEA input, and works with ICE (immigration), because it helps us coordinate our own intelligence and actions. They're lucky to have us too. As the quote from the CSM points out, their army has turncoats, all because of the greater money and force of the drug cartels.

A little more on Mexico's fight against drug trafficking

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Money Laundering

Dec 15 This is the most heinous thing going, because it's where the hiding occurs. It's what happens to aid money from when it's stolen by corrupt officials. It's how money gained from stolen taxes or revenue, illegal drugs and human slavery gets turned into country club dues, haciendas, and kick-ass cars. It's how people who collaborated with the Nazis were able to leave millions to their grandchildren.

Recent stories on this continent have highlighted Mexico, but also a group of rabbis in New Jersey, public officials in Florida.

This diagram is from the UNODC (UN Organization Against Drugs and Crime):

The Car Guy is collecting the "gang tax", the extortion money, the drug proceeds, the cut from the brothels, illegal casinos, dog parlors, and bookies. Reports of huge basements full of cash are often exaggerated. If you have a plane to carry dope, it can probably carry cash to the Caribbean, too. But often diffusion of cash is the key. Sometimes cash gets stored until it can be diffused properly.

Subcontractors and necessary professionals are sometimes paid in cash. And eventually, these smaller amounts go to the First Local Bank. Splitting up the cash (called "smurfing" in one report)  is necessary due to money laundering laws. In the U.S., that 'heads-up' deposit amount is under $10,000.00. (I imagine 9,999.99 would also be a flag.)

Cost of Doing Crime:
One-third of the expenses in drug-running are fees for money-laundering: the cut that CarGuy and his tribe get for making deposits of illegally-gotten money into legitimate banks.

Not Exactly Obvious
There isn't generally a First Local BadGuy Bank. It's just a bank, any bank. Although, sometimes banks in big trade cities such as (picking at random) Miami, New York, Bogota, Hong Kong, get far more than their share. Sometimes officials in legitimate banks are bent, cover up transactions, look the other way, another corruption of the system.

The money gets transferred to another bank, another one, eventually to a safe haven bank, such as in the Caymans or Switzerland. Once it's aggregated, it's used to invest.

This diagram is a little simplified: the smartest move a money launderer makes is start a company that legitimately could make deposits into First Local Bank. Something cash-based, like a restaurant, for instance.  That way they can launder their own money (here comes the 'double books' that are against the law.) They can also force a company (through extortion) to launder money for them, by placing extra proceeds into the bank and transferring them. The (say, pizza parlor) transfers money to the second bank to pay a nonexistent bill. for this risk, they receive a fee. Then that money is further laundered, right into a safe haven or legitimate account.

Big Funds for Crime, Misery, Terror
Investments are purchased. Business is expanded: a savvy organization like the Mexican Mafia then pays expenses to start a cell in a Central American country, or to grease the wheels in Asia for purchasing MDMA or heroin. They buy guns, or find a way to supply them. That's how women from poor countries end up abused in rich ones. That's how terrorists get their explosives and how North Korea or Iran gets its plutonium.

 Along the way, more officials are bribed. Government begins to be compromised, and then to fail.

Here is a map from Le Monde Diplomatique. You can click on it to see it in better detail. The top left is banking centers of interest, top right, financial paradise centers. The grey ovals, where the money is made. The brown areas, where international crime syndicates are really well set-up.

The Feds work on this all day long and well into the night. It is one of the most important things that they do for national security (and by extension, international security). Like all crime, it's hard to get caught up. Thank you, anti-money-laundering  specialists!

References and additional sites:
--Frontline has a great series on the Arellano/Tijuana Cartel. An interview with former prosecutor and money laundering expert Mr. Intriago.
--2009, December 11--Miami Herald--Recent money laundering case in Florida, involving a County Commissioner and a School Board official.
--2009, October 19--The 2-Way blog--"Mexican cartel suspects nabbed in hundreds of U.S. raids"--go, ATF, DEA, FBI. Great work.
--2009, August 3--Planet Money blog--Rabbis doing the "schnookie" with cereal boxes. Adorable. (stealing, sneaking, lying, and breaking trust)
--The Drug Enforcement Administration on money laundering
--The Department of the Treasury page on money laundering
--A site where financiers keep up with regulatory news

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Vagos Motorcycle Club--Links and Notes

This is not a post, but a collection of sources and references on the Vagos Motorcycle Club. Updated May 19, 2010.

The triangular patch reinforces the 'V' of Vagos. The 'devil on wheels' is said to indicate Loki, the Norse god of trickery. That and the green color reinforce the primarily whites-only original make-up of this gang. The name sounds vaguely Hispanic until you remember the word 'vagabond'--moving around. There are hispanic members and a thriving community of Mexican members in the Tijuana area. No doubt this is convenient for marijuana and meth-amphetamine trade.

They are also known as the 'Green Nation', and wear green touches on their gear. Their number is 22. (V is the 22nd letter of the alphabet.) Both Germanic and Celtic imagery are used.

Motorcycle Club versus Motorcycle Gang
The Vagos maintain they are a motorcycle club, not a gang, and have a history of suing law enforcement agencies that treat them as an outlaw group. (See news entries below) and motorcycle gang introduction here.


The graffiti motifs I found for the Vagos come from Grand Theft Auto gaming--a fictional hispanic street gang in LA at war with a fictional Grove St. gang.  The first one is found on Fotolog, the second on Grand Theft WikiIf you do more research on the Vagos, you will run into this confluence of reality and fantasy.

--(2010, April 26) "Street brawl points to new outlaw mc rivalry." Silicon Valley Mercury News.
--(2010, March 31) "Vagos Motorcycle Club report that they are not a criminal gang." Valley News, Volume 14, Issue 13.

--(2010, March 22) "Outlaw motorcycle gang member sentenced to prison on coercion, weapon charges". The Oregonian. "The final case in a multi-year prosecution of the North Valley Chapter of the Vagos Motorcycle Club" which is headquartered in Grants Pass. The trial is from an incident in 2007. A total of six members of the club convicted it appears for an inside-the-gang dispute.

--(2010, March 18) "Gang Crackdown: Vagos MC targeted in police raids." Christian Science Monitor.
A good article. Raids in four states (including 70 locations in California) netted a meth lab, weapons, and drugs. A little gang history is included in the article.
--(2010, March 17) Northwest Harley Blog, "'Green Nation' busts on St. Patrick's Day"

(2008, August 8) Northwest Harley Blog, ' Vagos MC meeting in Grants Pass." Discusses previous conflicts in Grants Pass as part of the history of the Vagos.
(2008, July 14) "Vagos: Ogden members say they're "a bunch of clowns." Brain Bucket Magazine. This goes with the video above.

More images of insignia, posters, and bumper stickers at Vagos Motorcycle Club Group (Photobucket).
Northwest Harley blog for Vagos jacket picture.

Quotes: none so far.

Nothing here is really documentary quality. Hence more notes.

Uploaded by MRGarimus, October 12, 2009. This is almost ten minutes of a Vagos biker parade in Reno, Nevada 2009. Music for about three minutes. After filming five minutes of the parade, the vidder then takes a brief glance at waiting associates/tourists/and police helicopter practicing surveillance. After the six minute mark, the parade footage resumes at a different location, presumably the post-parade cavalcade to a second event.

This video shows some range of motorcycle customization for the gang. Most notable to me were the wings on each side of the handlebars (Valkyrie wings? sex trophies is one legend) These are mostly black or bronze, one silver, one red, one blue. There appears to be a consistent hand sign flashed (forefinger and middle finger, extended horizontally or up, most times with the palm toward the body--(the 'V' for Vagos). Also, there appears to be a standard (though not uniform) style of helmet reminiscent of WW2 era storm troopers. Most are black and some are green. At the end, I at last saw a green bandanna gang tag.

Uploaded by sylmacaligirl, 29 seconds, showing the uniformity of insignia--a closer look at people--in the Tristate Vagos Chapter.

A newsreel by the Standard-Examiner ( in Ogden Utah, about a chapter of the Vagos at one year old. They started with six members and now have significantly more. One member smiles in the parking lot of the pool hall and says, "This is heaven on earth."

Web Sites--Social Networking Sites:
MySpace Green Machine MC-SoCal--music tracks, some videos, messages, and an e-mail portal.
North Sac Vagos
Gang Green Crew 22--a blog by ganggreencrew22 on MySpace, dated April 12, 2008. An entry/press release about suing law enforcement over 2008 raid. And other posts.

Web Sites:
Gang Identification Task Force--White Prison Gangs-Vagos

Vagos MC NYC Web site. They have a history , a guestbook and a shop, too. In the shop is a shirt which has the motif and slogan "22 Wrecking Crew." Of course V is the 22nd letter of the alphabet. The slogan is banded with a diamond shape in which spiderwebs (a prison tattoo motif signifying 'time') is included.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Pagans MC

These are from The History Channel's 'Gangland Series'. Uploaded to YouTube by permanentlockdown on August 1, 2009. This episode brings in how much of a business the gang really is. A little on the methamphetamine trade. Two former gang members were interviewed. One, Jimmy DeGregorio , is a former "meth cooker" and "president" of the Pagans. The other one, "Denny" was an enforcer. Both of these informants were betrayed by the gang, which seems to be the main way informants are made.

You can order the Gangland video series from the History Channel here or at itunes. This is from Season 4.

Part 1:
Jimmy D. "The motorcycles and the brotherhood. Everything else comes after that."

Part 2:
The leadership of Fred "Dutch" Birhans in the mid-Sixties completed the transformation of the club into a gang.  The self-reported rise of Jimmy D., the methamphetamine trade.

Part 3:
The Mafia tries to shake the Pagans down for methamphetamine street tax.
"Diamondback" One-percenter patch in diamond shape signifies a chapter president.
The 'Mother Club' is like the Board of Directors and apparently numbers 13.
ARGO, NUNYA. Ar, go eff yourself, none ah ya business.

Part 4:
The Norse Myth of Surtar, the ruler of Hell as their motif.
Smaller gang, more intimate networking. But betrayal still occurs.
Mid 1990's Federal investigators build their case.

Part 5:
The end of the fight for Philadelphia between Hell's Angels and the Pagans.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Motorcycle Clubs--An Intro

This is a short discussion with a little additional reading. It's really just a start.
(Slightly updated, May 18, 2010).

They come roaring through your town in a tight formation of custom-modified bikes, wearing jeans, extreme hair, and insignia. Are they a threat to your neighborhood or a group out for a weekend's amusement?
Or is it even that cut and dried?
"Saturday Night, Sunday Morning"
Painting by David Mann, available at Segal Fine Art/Motorcycle Art
No helmets, no road grit, no hangovers. Looks like fun.
David Mann's art frequently compares bikers to Vikings, knights, free-booting pirates, mountain men, cowboys, war veterans, and independent truckers. He captures the biker myth: a combination warrior, outsider, loner, and self-sufficient man.

Other artists focus on the tradition, American craftsmanship, or the family aspects of this lifestyle, American scenery, and the romance of the open road.

Motorcycle Clubs (MCs)
Any group of people interested in talking about motorcycles and riding together, planning activities and meetings around motorcycling may be called a motorcycle club. Many of them are enthusiasts of certain brands of bike, a group built around their profession, or the clientele of a particular motorcycle shop.

Further Reading:
--The Blue Knights Official Web site. (a law enforcement motorcycle club).
--Patriot Guard Riders will, at the request of a military, firefighter, or law enforcement family, attend a funeral or memorial service in order to guard the family and service itself from demonstrators. F8 and Be There blog has photos  of them safeguarding a firefighter's funeral in Missouri.
--An article on the Red Knights (a fire fighter's motorcycle club) The founding Massachusetts chapter is shown below. They had originally gathered around a particular motorcycle shop.
--A guide to finding a registered MC in your area at the American Motorcyclist Association
(The 99-percenters)
--Wikipedia, 'Motorcycle Clubs'

Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs)
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Gang Unit, motorcycle gangs are a significant security threat:
Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) are organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises.

"OMGs are highly structured criminal organizations whose members engage in criminal activities such as violent crime, weapons trafficking, and drug trafficking. There are more than 300 active OMGs within the United States, ranging in size from single chapters with five or six members to hundreds of chapters with thousands of members worldwide. They pose a serious national domestic threat and conduct the majority of criminal activity linked to OMGs, especially activity relating to drug-trafficking and, more specifically, to cross-border drug smuggling. Because of their transnational scope, these OMGs are able to coordinate drug smuggling operations in partnership with major international drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs)."

They are transnational, mobile, and have affiliates in most localities.

USDOJ lists the following seven as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. They are considered a threat to national security, and may have other, smaller gangs affiliated with them. 

The Bandidos
The Black Pistons
The Hell's Angels
The Mongols
The Outlaws
The Pagans
The Sons of Silence
The Vagos

Further reading:
Wikipedia, Outlaw Motorcycle Club. The footnotes are fantastic on this article.
Dulaney, William. (2005, November).A Brief History of "Outlaw" Motorcycle Clubs. International Journal of Motorcycle Studies.
Blog post on the Las Vegas Bike Fest where Vagos and Hell's Angels were there to be consumers, not warriors, at Anneli Adolfsson's blog. Several pictures of motorcycle painting as well.

Back to the Mystique
Thompson, Hunter. "The Motorcycle Gangs: Losers and Outsiders." The Nation, May 17, 1965.
From this article, Thompson went on to write his book The Hell's Angels. Some of his points are:
a. the Department of Justice grossly overestimated the number of motorcyclists involved;
b. that police and press over-reaction served to popularize and consolidate the gangs, the Hell's Angels first;
c. that motorcycle gang members were too independent to organize into strict hierarchies and in fact, could just ride away any time they wanted,
d. Motorcycle gangs are about a certain lifestyle. Criminal activity was not the lifestyle, but crimes were sometimes committed (randomly by random members) to pay for the lifestyle;
d. crimes committed by motorcycle gangs were not committed as a 'gang activity', but the network of individuals (many of them young, ex-cons, and with few job skills) allowed them to find others who would commit crimes with them. In short, one or more gang member might be involved in a crime without it having gang sanction.

What is particularly interesting about this set of claims is that it forms the bulk of an unchanged apologist literature today. The 'bumbling loser' tag has been dropped, but the 'outsider' label lives on in the American imagination. Further, it forms the basis for claims in modern criminal trials for the defense. Thompson's article perfectly describes the theme against which modern law enforcement and prosecution must contend.

The 1947 Hollister Riot / The One-Percenter Motorcycle Club
Both Hunter Thompson and all of the Wikipedia articles refer to a sensationalized bike rally in Hollister, California, during the 4th of July Weekend in 1947. The small town was overwhelmed by the large number of bikers who turned up, but the riot appears to be a product of sensationalized journalism from Time, Newsweek, and Life magazine. The American Motorcyclist Association ostensibly put out a press release saying that "99% of all motorcyclists are law-abiding". Although there is no record of this press release, the term "One-Percenter" has passed into legend. It signifies outlawry and occasionally, the failure to register one's MC with the AMA.

The 'pro bro' refers of course to loyalty within the OMG. It can also stand for the subordinate place for women in the OMG, extending to criminal practices.

Further reading:
Wikipedia, List of motorcycle club patches. Actually this has no illustrations. It is more a dictionary of slogans and terms often found on motorcycle club insignia.

Legal Case, 2010: The Difficulties for Law Enforcement
People v. Memory, (California Court of Appeals, Third District, San Joaquin, CO54422, 2010, March 5 filing) where it was argued that prosecutors had said the Jus Brothers Motorcycle Club was a gang, and introduced gang paraphernalia into the trial. The original conviction was overturned because the word 'gang' and the 'gang-type evidence' was viewed as prejudicial.  Although I do not have legal training, it looks like the prosecutor would have had to prove them a gang first, instead of 'gang-like.'  Of course it is crime that makes the difference between the two, and that the crime be 'organized' by the gang. When does association create organization?

The appeal presentation includes the narrative of the crime. Most importantly, the relationship of smaller gangs to a dominant gang (in this case, the Hell's Angels) is explored. According to the defendants, smaller MCs are supposed to interact with larger ones, network with them, and assist if ordered to do so. In my view, that sounds like organized crime rather than diminished responsibility, but the appeal judges didn't see it that way.

So the language of motorcycling as a sport, industry, or recreation is irretrievably mixed into many of the distinctions between an MC (legal) and an MC (outlaw). Even if the distinction is crystal-clear in reality, its romantic ethos has apparently made it far more complicated.

Transnational association, below: Three thousand bikers (these from Holland) from across Europe show up for 'Gentleman Gerry' Tobin's funeral in September of 2007 in the UK. He was shot in Stratford-on-Avon. Three men were charged.  BBC photo essay
Photos: Segal Fine Art, Motorcycle Shows . com, Billy Hell RC blog, BBC.