Transnational Organized Crime

FBI Agents Help Arrest Organized Crime Members (Reuters)

The FBI is dedicated to eliminating transnational organized crime groups that threaten the national and economic security of the United States. Using the criminal and civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the FBI works with agencies in the U.S. and worldwide to target the organizations responsible for a variety of crimes.

How TOC Groups Operate 

Transnational organized crime (TOC) groups are associations of individuals who operate, wholly or in part, by illegal means. There is no single structure under which TOC groups function—they vary from hierarchies to clans, networks, and cells, and may evolve into other structures.

These groups are typically insular and protect their activities through corruption, violence, international commerce, complex communication mechanisms, and an organizational structure that spans national boundaries.

With few exceptions, TOC groups are looking to make money. TOC groups often commit crimes such as:

  • drug trafficking
  • migrant smuggling
  • human trafficking
  • money laundering
  • firearms trafficking
  • illegal gambling
  • extortion
  • creating and selling counterfeit goods
  • wildlife and cultural property smuggling
  • cyber crime

The vast sums of money involved can compromise legitimate economies and have a direct impact on governments through the corruption of public officials.

Today, TOC groups are more commonly incorporating cyber techniques into their illicit activities, either committing cyber crimes themselves or using cyber tools to facilitate other crimes. Technology also enables TOC groups to engage in traditional criminal activity, such as illegal gambling, but with a greater reach.

TOC poses a significant and growing threat to national and international security with dire implications for public safety, public health, democratic institutions, and economic stability across the globe. It jeopardizes our border security, endangers our health through human trafficking and counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and seeks to corrupt officials domestically and abroad. 

Countering Transnational Organized Crime 

To combat the ongoing threat posed by these groups, the FBI has a long-established—yet constantly evolving—transnational organized crime program dedicated to eliminating the criminal enterprises that pose the greatest threat to America.

Due to the transnational nature of these criminal enterprises, the FBI leverages relationships domestically and abroad to combat the influence and reach of these organized crime groups. The Bureau deploys subject matter experts to international locations to develop strategies to address TOC matters impacting the region, as well as to identify targets of mutual interest.

The FBI also participates in selecting TOC groups to appear on the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Top International Criminal Organizations Target List and contributes to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control efforts to pursue criminal enterprises. Further, to pool resources and leverage technical and investigative expertise, the Bureau participates in many organized crime task forces with our state and local law enforcement partners.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset forfeiture is a powerful tool used by law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, against criminals and criminal organizations to deprive them of their property used illegally and their ill-gotten gains through seizure of these assets. It is also used to compensate victims of crime. Learn more about the FBI’s asset forfeiture program and to see forfeiture in action.

Transnational Crime Threats

African Transnational Organized Crime Groups 

African TOC groups have developed quickly since the 1980s due to globalization and advances in technology. Nigerian criminal enterprises are the most significant of these groups and operate in more than 80 countries of the world, including the United States. They are primarily engaged in drug trafficking and financial fraud, including a number of internet-enabled crime and scams.

Asian Transnational Organized Crime Groups 

Asian TOC groups have been operating in the United States since the early 1900s. Asian criminal enterprises conduct traditional racketeering activities normally associated with organized crime—extortion, murder, kidnapping, illegal gambling, prostitution, and loansharking. They also engage in smuggling, traffic heroin and methamphetamine, commit financial fraud, steal cars and computer chips, counterfeit computer and clothing products, and engage in money laundering.

Balkan Transnational Organized Crime Groups 

Balkan TOC groups are adept at adopting new technologies, thus increasing their ability to expand their criminal market base through cyber-enabled fraud. These groups also engage in passport fraud, access device fraud, identify theft, healthcare fraud, real estate fraud, insurance fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, human smuggling, prostitution, and extortion.

Eurasian Transnational Organized Crime Groups 

Eurasian TOC groups are politically and financially motivated organized crime groups influenced by, associated with, or originating from the former Soviet Union or Central Europe. Eurasian TOC groups often engage in healthcare fraud, securities and investment fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, extortion, auto theft, interstate transportation of stolen property, robbery, attempted murder, and murder.

Their activity also threatens to destabilize the emerging political institutions and economies of the former Soviet Union, where nuclear weapons remain deployed. The potential national security implications of this destabilization cannot be ignored.

Art Crime 
Art and cultural property crime - which includes theft, fraud and forgery, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines - is a global problem with estimated losses in the billions of dollars annually. Although tremendous strides have been made to combat these crimes, intelligence reveals this is a growing global threat, demanding proactive FBI measures and resources. The FBI established the National Stolen Art File (NSAF) – a computerized index of stolen art and cultural property as reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and internationally. It also formed a specialized Art Crime Team to investigate art and cultural property crime cases. 

Read more about our Art Crime Program

Italian Organized Crime 

Since their appearance in the 1800s, Italian organized crime groups, broadly known as the Italian Mafia, have infiltrated the social and economic fabric of Italy and have become transnational in nature. Within Italy, there are four active groups: Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia), Camorra, ’Ndrangheta, and Sacra Corona Unita. They are also known to collaborate with other international organized crime groups.

In the United States, there are several Mafia groups operating under the La Cosa Nostra name. The major threats to American society posed by these groups are drug trafficking and money laundering. They also are involved in illegal gambling, political corruption, extortion, kidnapping, fraud, counterfeiting, murders, bombings, weapons trafficking, and the infiltration of legitimate businesses.

Read more about the history of La Cosa Nostra and the Genovese Crime Family.

Middle Eastern Transnational Organized Crime Groups

Criminal groups with associations to the Middle East have been active in the U.S. since at least the 1970s, particularly in areas with significant Middle Eastern or Southwest Asian populations.

Middle Eastern transnational criminal organizations typically engage in automobile theft, financial fraud, money laundering, interstate transportation of stolen property, smuggling, drug trafficking, document fraud, health care fraud, identity fraud, cigarette smuggling, trademark counterfeiting and sales of counterfeit goods, and the theft and redistribution of infant formula. They may use small storefronts as bases for criminal operations.

Western Hemisphere Organized Crime

The FBI remains focused on efforts to counter the activities of Mexican, Central American, and South American transnational criminal organizations—including illicit finance and money laundering activities and the flow of illegal drugs. The FBI works side-by-side with its domestic and international partners to infiltrate, disrupt, and dismantle these groups by targeting their leadership.

Illegal Sports Betting 
Organized crime groups often use the money made from illegal gambling to fund other criminal activities, like the trafficking of humans, drugs, and weapons. These operations may also be involved in tax evasion and money laundering.

Read more about illegal sports betting and the FBI's Integrity in Sports and Gaming Initiative.

Major Theft Crimes 

Major theft crimes have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy, not only contributing to the rise of consumer prices but also to the loss of tax revenues to states and communities. The FBI focuses its resources on the most egregious major theft activity that crosses state and sometimes international lines, particularly thefts of:

  • cargo
  • jewelry and gems
  • retail
  • vehicles

The FBI works side by side with state and local law enforcement on task forces and in partnership with many industry groups. The FBI uses sophisticated techniques, including undercover operations and court-authorized surveillance, to identify and dismantle the criminal networks that commit these major thefts.

Cargo Theft 
Cargo theft is a high priority due to its economic damage, negative impact on the retail supply chain, disruptive nature on the flow of commerce, and the potential for significant health and safety implications. Health and safety issues arise from the theft and resale of food and beverages, health and beauty aids, and prescription and over-the-counter medicines and pharmaceuticals. 

Jewelry and Gem Theft

Jewelry and gem thefts are often committed by organized criminal enterprises who rely on sophisticated thieves and stolen property markets. Jewelry and gem theft investigations can be extremely complex, national or international in scope, and require a specialized knowledge of the jewelry industry and how it operates.

Organized Retail Theft 

Organized retail theft causes higher prices for American consumers and less sales tax revenue for state and local governments.

The FBI focuses on the most significant retail theft cases involving the interstate transportation of stolen property as organized retail theft is a gateway crime. Major crime rings use the illicit proceeds to fund other crimes like health care fraud, money laundering, and potentially terrorism.

Vehicle Theft  

The FBI focuses its resources on disrupting and dismantling the most sophisticated, multi-jurisdictional criminal organizations responsible for the interstate and international trafficking of stolen vehicles, especially those that use the criminal proceeds from vehicle theft to fund other criminal activity.