Balkan Criminal Enterprises
The term “Balkan Organized Crime” applies to organized crime groups originating from or operating in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania.
Balkan organized crime is an emerging threat in the U.S. While several groups are active in various cities across the country, they do not yet demonstrate the established criminal sophistication of traditional Eurasian or La Cosa Nostra (LCN) organizations. However, they have proven themselves capable of adapting to expanding criminal markets and becoming involved in new activities, much like the historical growth of other organized crime groups.
History of Balkan Organized Crime
Organized crime in the Balkans has its roots in the traditional clan structures. In these largely rural countries, people organized into clans with large familial ties for protection and mutual assistance. Starting in the 15th century, clan relationships operated under the kanun, or code, which values loyalty and besa, or secrecy. Each clan established itself in specific territories and controlled all activities in that territory. Protection of activities and interests often led to violence between the clans. The elements inherent in the structure of the clans provided the perfect backbone for what is considered modern-day Balkan organized crime.
Many years of communist rule led to black market activities in the Balkans, but the impact of these activities was limited to the region. When communism collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it led to the expansion of Balkan organized crime activities. Criminal markets once closed to Balkan groups suddenly opened, and this led to the creation of an international network. Within the Balkans, organized crime groups infiltrated the new democratic institutions, further expanding their profit opportunities.
Balkan criminal organizations have been active in the U.S. since the mid-1980s. At first, these organizations were involved in low-level crimes, including bank robberies, ATM burglaries, and home invasions. Later, ethnic Albanians affiliated themselves with the established LCN families in New York, acting as low-level participants. As their communities and presence have become more established, they have expanded to lead and control their own organizations.
There is no single Balkan “Mafia,” structured hierarchically like the traditional LCN. Rather, Balkan organized crime groups in this country translated their clan-like structure to the United States. They are not clearly defined or organized and are instead grouped around a central leader or leaders. Organized crime figures maintain ties back to the Balkan region and have established close-knit communities in many cities across the nation.
Albanian organized crime activities in the U.S. include gambling, money laundering, drug trafficking, human smuggling, extortion, violent witness intimidation, robbery, attempted murder, and murder. Balkan organized crime groups have recently expanded into more sophisticated crimes including real estate fraud.