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Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101: Mafia Transplantation


Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) continues to be an issue near the top of the international agenda. While crime has always been an issue, criminal organizations have developed increasingly sophisticated methods. Such international crime can be a threat to the peace and stability of even the most developed countries. The newest technologies have much such crime even less restricted by borders. The Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101 series aims to analyze the different forms of organized crime and the mode of operation of different organized groups. This series will further explore the similarities and differences between Transnational Organized Criminal groups.

The Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101 series is divided into six chapters:

2. Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101: Mafia Transplantation

3. Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101: Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime

4. Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101: Organized Crime at Sea

5. Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101: Human Trafficking and Smuggling in Africa and Europe

6. Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101: Organized Crime in Eastern Europe and Balkans

Transnational Organized Crime and Security 101: Mafia Transplantation

Transplantation is the term used to describe the movement of mafia groups from their original territories to new ones (Skarbek, 2012). According to this definition, a mafia group can manage to operate an outpost over a sustained period outside its routine operation (May, 2017). Mafia organizations take part in non-traditional activities in addition to securing control over a region. However, under some circumstances, they have been able to establish branches in far-off countries (Varese, 2016).

A mafia group is more likely to succeed in transplanting when there is an influx of Mafiosi (mafia members) from a traditional territory (via, for example, migration or police persecution at home) when their presence coincides with the abrupt creation of new and loosely regulated local markets (Varese, 2016). In these situations, mafias have a lot of opportunities to control access to lucrative markets, provide legitimate dispute resolution and protection services, enforce cartel agreements, lessen competition, and ultimately advance the interests of a certain societal group (Varese, 2016).

Image 1: Mobsters in America

Factors that Make it Possible for Mafia Groups to Move to New Regions

Based on the existence of several factors that influence the movement of the mafia from one location to another, transplantation can be divided into two categories: willing and unwilling (May, 2017). The willing Mafiosi movement results from actively seeking resources, investments, or markets, whereas the unwilling Mafiosi migration results from soggiorno obbligato (obligatory residence), mafia warfare, and the attempt to evade punishment (May, 2017). Forced mafia relocation occurs more frequently than voluntary mafia migration.

The majority of Mafiosi were ordered by courts to emigrate abroad to avoid justice or mafia battles and infighting. However, once in the new area, they began making investments in the local economy. When investments, a supply of Mafiosi, and certainty that there is demand for protective services are present, a group may solidify (Chu, 2013). The establishment of a mafia or the transplantation of a foreign group could result from both the demand for criminal protection, arisen from a sudden boom in a locally regulated industry, and the availability of individuals who are trained in violence and capable of providing such security (Chu, 2013). Therefore, successful mafia transplantation is more likely in situations where there is a demand for criminal protection due to unexpected market expansion that is not properly regulated by the state and where there is a supply of people who can fill this need (Bruce Bagley Globalization and Organized Crime Russian Mafia, 2001).

Image 2: Onlookers watch as police remove the bodies of the victims of an execution-style murder

Two other factors that have been detected to push ethnically based criminal organizations out of a setting are the legitimization of groups based on rising socio-economic position, and a certain decline in cultural marginalization. According to ethnic succession theories in transplanting, in fact, the 'push' variables are related to the group's social legitimation or upward mobility. An originally marginalized ethnic group usually moves away from criminal activity as it becomes more integrated into society and rises in social status (May, 2017). In such a situation other groups would take their position, possibly promoting new opportunities for cross boarder crime too. But the group never achieves complete legitimization (May, 2017).

Local conditions are another factor that affects transplantation. The level of generalized trust (between strangers) in a new area explains how deeply mafias establish themselves (Putnam et al., 1992). The lower the level of generalized trust among citizens, the less likely civil society will be able to organize itself to combat the presence of a mafia group (Putnam et al., 1992). The need for protection services increases when levels of trust among lawbreakers are low. Hence, the mafia can facilitate exchanges between criminals who do not trust each other by guaranteeing pacts and promises, suggesting the idea that such areas could become more conductive to mafia expansion (Varese, 2020).

Image 3: Police officer assessing smuggled drugs

The last factor is globalization. Through the formation and strengthening of "nets of links" in the economic, technological, social, political, and environmental spheres, distance is said to be "shrinking" on a global scale era (Bruce Bagley Globalization and Organized Crime Russian Mafia, 2001). Furthermore, the combination of technological advancement and economic liberalization has contributed to the unexpected growth of criminal organizations and operations on a global scale (Bruce Bagley Globalization and Organized Crime Russian Mafia, 2001).

The Difficulties in Mafia Transplantation

There are several difficulties tied to mafia transplantation that might affect its progress. One of them is the ability to monitor agents: monitoring an employee from a distance makes it harder to determine whether they are working honestly and efficiently (Skarbek, 2012). By embezzling funds and engaging in activities that are not authorized by the principal, the agent may misappropriate capital (both material and organizational) from the business, attracting law enforcement attention and putting the organization as a whole in peril (Skarbek, 2012).

Image 4: Police officers wore masks to hide their identities as they escorted Giovanni Brusca, a mafia informer, in Palermo, Italy, in 1996.

The next difficulty regards information collection and communication. A Mafioso's job involves gathering accurate information about what others do, but it could be complicated since they would not be able to rely on a large network of friends and allies in a foreign location (Skarbek, 2012). Additionally, the necessity for agents and managers to communicate often between the two regions increases the probability that authorities might intercept such communication, because face-to-face contact would be the exception rather than the rule (Skarbek, 2012).

Lastly, Mafiosi depend on their reputation to do their jobs. The greater one's ability to use violence, the less one will need to use violence (Skarbek, 2012). This is because people comply readily when your power is known to them. Investment in violence which builds a reputation on one's ability to deliver threats have higher impacts when the criminal has contact through a chain of people that leaves one suspect at the scene to witness the power (Skarbek, 2012). Such a chain is more prone to break with distance if it is dented (Skarbek, 2012). In a similar vein, reputation for effective violence is based on long-term relationships, firmly established inside autonomous friendship, ethnicity, and kinship.

Image 5: The actual Tommy Guns used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre


Transplantation involves mafia moving from their home territories to other territories. Several factors influence transplantation, some of them being court orders, local conditions, and globalization. With their influence, migration is made easier. Asides from these factors, mafia members usually face difficulties when they relocate to other territories. It is generally harder for mafia members to perform efficiently outside of their home territories.

Bibliographical References

Bagley, B. M. (2001, October 31). Globalization and Organized Crime: The Russian Mafia in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mama Coca.

Chu, Y. K. (2013). Review of Varese, F., Mafias on the Move: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories. In Asian Criminology.

May, S. (2017). Influenced Transplantation: A Study into Emerging Mafia Groups in the United States Pre-1920.

Putnam, R. D., Leonardi, R., & Nanetti, R. Y. (1992). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Italy. Princeton University Press.

Ubah, C. (2007). Immigrants' Experiences In America: Toward Understanding Organized Crime. African Journal of Criminology & Justice Studies, 3(1), 95-118.

Skarbek, D. (2012). Federico Varese: Mafias on the move: how organized crime conquers new territories.

Varese, F. (2016). The Cost of Non-Europe in the area of Organised Crime and Corruption. Annex III - Overall Assessment of Organised Crime and Corruption, PE 579.320, 15.

Varese, F. (2020). How mafias migrate: transplantation, functional diversification, and separation. Crime and Justice, 49(1), 289-337.

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1 Comment

Nov 14, 2022

This was actually a good read

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Edikan Victoria Inemeh-Etete

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