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Responding to organised crime through intervention in recruitment pathways

Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 473

Russell G Smith
ISSN 1836-2206
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, October 2014

Foreword | A multifaceted strategy is required to effectively combat organised crime. A key element of preventing and responding to organised criminal activity is to target how individuals become involved in illicit activities and to develop effective methods of preventing their recruitment.

Using prior research into the methods used by organised crime groups to identify potential targets or confederates, and individuals’ motivations to seek or agree to participate in criminal activity, a framework is presented that identified key recruitment pathways together with some strategies that would make recruitment and engagement less effective.

Adam Tomison

The essential components of an organised crime group are defined in article 2 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time, acting in concert with the aim of committing serious criminal offences in order to obtain some financial or material benefit (United Nations 2004). As such, organised crime requires three or more persons to come together for the execution of their common purpose. This paper examines the processes involved in recruitment and the opportunities and incentives that make participation in organised crime attractive for suitably motivated individuals. Armed with a sophisticated understanding of how recruitment takes place, it is possible to develop appropriate intervention strategies that would seek to disrupt recruitment pathways and to make it difficult for organised crime groups to secure the services of potential collaborators.

Considerable research has been undertaken into the daily activities of organised crime groups, including how they fund their operations, maintain control over communities and launder the proceeds of their criminal enterprises. Organised crime groups in Australia include outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs; Holmes 2007; Lozusic 2002), ethnic-based crime groups, family-based crime groups and groups formed on the basis of place of origin such as prisons (CCC WA 2005). The Australian Crime Commission has noted that:

although most organised crime activities in Australia are focused on illicit drug markets, organised crime is increasingly diversifying its activities, with convergences being observed between legitimate or licit markets and illicit markets (ACC 2013: 7).

Organised crime exists on a continuum of seriousness and complexity of activity as shown in Figure 1. At the lower end of seriousness are instances of small-scale street crime committed by small groups of individuals, often young people or family members who become involved in low-level property or violent crime. Small groups of individuals can also commit economic crimes such as small business-related revenue fraud. Other criminal networks are involved in organised cybercrime and online consumer scams that are coordinated entirely online (Choo & Smith 2008). Organised criminal activities are also linked to environmental crime, intellectual property infringement, maritime piracy and financial crime, which require the presence of multiple players in order for offences to be planned and perpetrated.

Arguably, at the most serious level are large-scale, organised criminal activities related to child exploitation, human trafficking, corporate fraud and illicit drug production and supply. Large-scale terrorist activity can also entail extensive organisation and planning.

The extent of co-offending

At the outset, it is important to understand the extent to which serious crime is carried out collaboratively, as the pathways of recruitment will differ depending on the number of individuals involved and the complexity of their relationships. Recruiting two individuals to carry out a major fraud within a bank is substantively different from the recruitment of 50 skilled participants to conduct a major drug production and distribution network.

Research carried out by the Australian Institute of Criminology and PricewaterhouseCoopers (Smith 2003) found that out of 155 case files involving serious fraud in Australia and New Zealand, 84 percent had only one accused person involved, and in only 11 case files (7%) were more than two persons involved (Smith 2003). This finding contradicts the view that a high proportion of serious economic crime is perpetrated by criminal organisations. The study in question, however, examined only successfully detected serious fraud and it could be the case that organised crime is involved in other matters that do not come to the attention of the authorities.

More recently, KPMG (2013) reported an increase in the proportion of serious fraud cases involving more than two offenders acting together between its 2010 and 2012 fraud surveys. In 2010, 23 percent of internal fraud involved collusion (KPMG 2010), while in 2012 this increased to 29 percent (KPMG 2013). The percentage of cases of internal fraud involving four or more persons increased from two percent in 2010 to six percent in 2012 (KPMG 2013, 2010). The vast majority of serious fraud reported in the surveys was, however, perpetrated by individuals acting alone.

Figure 1 Ranked seriousness of organised criminal activities

Figure 1

Theoretical approaches

Criminological theory provides a number of insights into the processes through which crime is commissioned. Edwin Sutherland’s (1939) theory of differential association, for example, that was developed in the late 1930s in the United States to explain juvenile gang behaviour, proposed that criminal behaviour is learned through a process of social interaction between individuals in which
they learn how to commit crimes and to justify their illegal conduct (Sutherland 1939). He argued that if the conditions favourable to acting illegally outweigh the frequency and intensity of conditions unfavourable to violating the law, then an individual is more likely to decide to break the law (Sutherland & Cressey 1974). Sutherland (1937) developed the theory drawing on his classic study, The Professional Thief, in which he analysed and described ethnographically the life and daily routines of professional thieves in the United States.

More recently, Derek Cornish (1994) developed the notion of ‘crime scripts’ to understand the processes by which criminals conduct their activities. Research of this kind has been applied in relation to the resale of stolen vehicles (Tremblay, Talon & Hurley 2001), cheque forgery (Lacoste & Tremblay 2003) and organised crime (Hancock & Laycock 2010).

Crime scripts, according to Cornish (1994: 161) are a sequence of ‘script functions’ and accompanying ‘script actions’ that organise our knowledge and understanding of routine behavioural processes. In the present context, these relate to the identification and engagement of co-offenders who can be encouraged to join in the illegal activity.

The recruitment of a third party to commit a crime can be broken down into a number of routine processes. These include preconditions, initiation, actualisation, doing and post-conditions, and these script functions have corresponding script actions (Cornish 1994). By developing an understanding of how organised crime groups may seek to recruit new members, a script analysis can then be used to identify the script functions and corresponding actions.

This paper explores the processes by which recruitment for organised crime takes place from the perspectives of:

  • existing members of organised crime groups seeking out new members to facilitate proposed criminal activities (recruiter pathways); and
  • environmental opportunities, which make participation in organised crime attractive for previously law abiding citizens (recruitee pathways).

Research evidence and anecdotal illustrations of identified pathways are drawn from a number of ethnographic studies of organised crime published in the academic literature. These include Dick Hobbs’s Lush Life (2013), which explored organised crime in ‘Dogtown’, a composite of various East London communities that he examined and Jan Goldstraw-White’s (2012) work for which she interviewed 41 incarcerated white-collar offenders in the United Kingdom. Organised financial crime has also been studied extensively by Mike Levi (2008) in his interview-based research into long-firm fraud (planned bankruptcies); while in 2007 the consultancy firm, Matrix Knowledge Group (2007), carried out a study of 222 convicted drug traffickers for the Home Office in the report The Illicit Drug Trade in the United Kingdom.

Research has also been conducted at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement at the Research and Documentation Centre of the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice in particular, research supporting the Organized Crime Monitor that examined 1,092 organised crime offenders including in-depth interviews with inmates convicted of participation in organised crime and incarcerated in Dutch prisons (Kleemans & De Poot 2008; Van Koppen 2012; Van Koppen & De Poot 2013).

In the United States, Adler and Adler (1983) spent six years observing and interviewing 65 upper-level marijuana and cocaine traffickers and their associates in south-western California, and examining their typical career paths. They noted how ‘potential recruits are lured into the drug business by materialism, hedonism, glamor, and excitement’ (Adler & Adler 1983: 206).

Diego Gambetta’s Codes of the Underworld (2009) also provides an extensive analysis of how organised criminals communicate with each other, and use signals and intimidation to support their activities, while Carlo Morselli’s Contacts, Opportunities and Criminal Enterprise (2005) provides a social network analysis of a number of case studies of criminal organisations taken from Canadian police operations (see also Morselli 2009).

In Australia, Arthur Veno, in his book The Brotherhoods (2012) presents the results of his ethnographic study of bikie gangs in Australia over 27 years; while in the United States, Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator (2009) gives an account of his five years’ undercover work for the FBI infiltrating the criminal hierarchy of Colombia’s drug cartels.

These are clearly only a small selection of the published literature on organised crime, but they provide firsthand, ethnographic accounts of recruitment practices in various organised crime contexts, which are relevant illustrations of the processes identified in this paper. Generally, there has been little specific research on recruitment processes, apart from one doctoral dissertation that presented an economic model of how government policies can affect membership patterns among organised crime groups (Long 2013).

Some caution, however, needs to be exercised when trying to fit the results of prior ethnographic research into a set of predetermined categories. In many respects, organised criminal activity is far from organised and as Dick Hobbs (2013: 5) rightly observes:

criminal collaborations generate chaotic sets of personal and commercial affiliations featuring fluid and often unpredictable interchanges that are ill suited to the sociometric analysis favoured by police and police science.

Recruitment pathways

With this admonition in mind, certain pathways in which organised crime recruitment occurs can begin to be identified. Pathways can be examined from the points of view of those who are seeking to recruit new members to become involved in criminal enterprises (recruiter pathways) and those who may be the targets of recruitment initiatives (recruitee pathways). Often, recruitees are individuals without prior criminal connections who are seeking to raise funds in order to maintain their lifestyle or to consort with established crime figures for various reasons, as explained below. The pathways to recruitment also vary according to the organisational structure displayed by the group in question—be it hierarchically based, network-based, or via more diffuse, loose arrangements (see UNODC 2002). Having centralised control can often make recruitment activities more targeted and efficient, while unstructured groups, such as those that exist online, often recruit in an ad hoc manner.

Recruiter pathways

Established members of organised crime groups seek out new members for a variety of reasons including the skillsets they offer, which might facilitate criminal activities such as the manufacture of illicit drugs or the counterfeiting of payment cards; their ability to use violence and intimidation, which crime bosses might not wish to undertake themselves; skills they possess in facilitating the laundering of the proceeds of crime; and their willingness to engage in high-risk activities involving weapons or explosives or other activities likely to lead to arrest. In addition, organised crime groups can seek to establish relationships with those in influential government positions who can assist in facilitating the flow of information or decisions relevant to proposed criminal activities. The case of ‘Ron’, a drug courier manager, is an example of how organised crime can seek to recruit otherwise law-abiding individuals (see Box 1).

Box 1 Recruitment of drug couriers

Ron was in his mid-50s and had been retired from his job in law enforcement for a decade when he first became involved in the drug trade. Ron managed an operation based on couriers importing cocaine into the United Kingdom from Granada and his role was to recruit and manage the couriers. He frequented a local casino where he spotted potential couriers from among the casino’s clientele, tending to target white, middle-aged men, low on money and ‘who needed a holiday’. Ron made all the travel arrangements, purchased the airline tickets, provided the suitcase and handed over the spending money…The couriers would have their holiday and return with an identical suitcase containing cocaine. On the successful arrival of a consignment into the United Kingdom, Ron would collect the case from the courier at the airport and hand the drugs over to his bosses, who would be waiting in a nearby carpark. The boss would pay Ron £12,000 in cash, which was £7,000 for the courier (who had also had a 2 week holiday) and £5,000 for Ron. Matrix Knowledge Group in Hobbs (2013: 242).

Recruitee pathways

Pathways can also be understood from the perspective of those who are the subject of recruitment. Otherwise law-abiding citizens may seek to become involved in criminal enterprises for a variety of reasons. They might need funds to satisfy debts or lifestyle expenditure, they may have a desire to enhance their financial or social standing or they might demonstrate an interest in risk-taking activities, or possess motivations based in pathological psychological processes (Hobbs 2013; Kleemans & De Poot 2008; KPMG 2013). Rather than commence criminal activities in isolation, they might seek out known criminals who could be seen to assist in their proposed course of action. The case of ‘Billy’, a used car dealer, is illustrative of such a person (see Box 2).

Crime scripts of recruitment

Hancock and Laycock (2010) have applied Cornish’s (1994) approach to analysing criminal behaviour through the use of crime scripts to the disruption of organised crime and identified recruitment as one area where disruption might have potential. The present discussion identifies three main stages in the recruitment process as—target identification, establishing trust and engaging in compliance, and enforcement script actions.

Target identification

One of the initial tasks that both recruiters and the targets of their recruitment have to undertake is the identification of willing and cooperative collaborators. This activity is fraught with risk as identifying participants for criminal activity can, itself, be criminal and can also lead to threats of, or actual violence, being inflicted.

Identification by recruiters

Potential criminals are able to be sourced from many occupational and other groups in society, largely based on their interests and the skills they possess. This can include those with experience in telemarketing who can participate in boiler-room investment fraud (ACC 2012), ex-military personnel who have experience in the use of weapons and explosives, and members of the public willing to act as drug or money mules. On other occasions, organised crime groups may seek out those working in the professions such as lawyers and accountants who can assist in laundering the proceeds of crime or in establishing corporate entities and other vehicles for use in tax evasion (see Choo et al. 2012).

Box 2 Recruitment of a used car dealer

Billy was a successful car dealer and nightclub owner, and had also made money from an expanding property portfolio before he was introduced to a group of drug importers who were contemplating how to invest their profits. Attracted by the prospect of easy money, Billy fed these profits through his car dealership and progressed to become a ‘middle man’, seeking out buyers for the drug importers. Eventually, he ran the enterprise, becoming embroiled with the day-to-day workings of a large operation consisting of storers, mixers, testers and legitimate professionals, many of whom were paid a salary. Billy also courted the friendship of police officers who, in exchange for free drinks, would provide him with information and carry out background checks on business associates and employees. Matrix Knowledge Group in Hobbs (2013: 241).

Those working in the information technology and security industries also have attractive skills that organised crime can use. The other productive location for recruitment is the public sector, particularly those working in law enforcement, border control, intelligence and corrections. Rowe et al. (2013) provide examples of recent instances in which public servants in Australia have been recruited by organised crime to provide access to law enforcement intelligence through a range of corrupt practices.

Prisons, in particular, provide many opportunities for inmates to establish ties with other offenders, sometimes individuals with low-level convictions who can be recruited into more serious criminal enterprises both while incarcerated, as well as after their release (see Box 3). Prison recruitment also carries the benefit that everyone involved can be assured that those whom they approach have criminal records sufficient to warrant a term of imprisonment.

Identification by recruitees

Arguably, a more difficult task exists for those in the law-abiding community who wish to become involved in organised crime. One cannot simply approach people who appear to be criminal and seek membership of an illegal organisation. Some traditional organised crime groups are clearly recognisable, such as the Yakuza with their tattooed bodies (Adelstein 2010), or OMCGs with their club colours and patches (Veno 2012). Even if individuals are recognisably members of a criminal enterprise, there may still be many procedures that they are required to undertake in order to establish trust and to secure membership.

Diego Gambetta (2009) has explored in detail the use of non-verbal cues to facilitate identification of those involved in criminal enterprises and notes how the use of language and behavioural cues can facilitate covert introductions in ways that do not attract attention from authorities or others who may be disposed to report what transpires to the police. Subtle conventions in the use of language, dialect, dress and behaviour are used to ensure that trust and legitimacy in the criminal enterprise are guaranteed.

Serendipitous identification

Finally, identification of potential criminal collaborators may take place accidentally or inadvertently through contact that occurs in common meeting places such as pubs, casinos, gyms, brothels and internet sites. Often, these are places at which individuals with either law-abiding or criminal orientations meet, establish social relationships and begin the process of criminal collaboration. Similarly, unplanned recruitment can also arise within extended families such as has been documented in the case of Mafia families (Tyler 1971), while more recently, social media have provided abundant ways in which people with common interests can establish relationships—both for legitimate and illegal purposes (Choo & Smith 2008).

On occasions, organised crime groups have simply advertised online for new recruits such as the following (unedited) online invitation for people to undertake credit card skimming operations:

We are private organisation for your special developing requests. We are focused at Electronic and Computer Engineering. If you need special hardwares (especially hi-tech) nor software that can not be done or even discuss in your Country because of any reason such as laws etc. then u are at the very right place. We are offering absolutely anonymous & offshore developing for your projects. We don’t care what you want to do with hardwares and softwares you requested to be done by us. Needless to say, your privacy is very important for us and we don’t share with anyone else because of any reason. We don’t need your Name, Adress etc. because of any reason. We only need your email. You will have a certificate and account for secure login to our private forum for tracking your development, you even may ask question to engineers who engineering your project. If you reach this Web Site then you already know us. We are not cheap developers and we cant make partnership with you. If you wish your dreams to come true then u have to have enough money to invest for your dreams. You even have to pay for request for quote from us for your project (Glenny 2011: 203–204).

Such online advertising for willing recruits is also prevalent in connection with online consumer scams such as work-from-home scams and online romance and dating fraud. Although increasing in sophistication, many such invitations are barely credible and yet continue to trick unsuspecting individuals into participation (Jorna & Hutchings 2013).

Box 3 Recruitment in correctional settings

Karl was a former accountant who was serving a term of imprisonment for tax fraud in Western Australia. While in prison, he was approached by another prisoner who needed his assistance in order to obtain funds from the Tax Office. The accountant assisted him, but later found out that the claim was not legitimate. He was then approached by other prisoners who asked him to prepare false income tax returns with false business details and other fabricated evidence. Over a period of a year he filed 210 fraudulent tax returns on behalf of 125 fellow prisoners in which fraudulent tax refunds, amounting to almost $1.3m were claimed. A total of half a million dollars was refunded by the Tax Office to the prisoners. Karl administered the scheme using a computer for online banking and mobile phone and received $61,000 in commissions and fees over the 12 month period. He argued that he was forced to carry out the scheme under duress, but was sentenced to an additional two years with a non-parole period of 12 months. [2002] WASC 265 (CCA, 20 September 2002).

A further example of serendipitous recruitment in the Netherlands concerned a former truck driver who had set up a café to be able to spend more time with his family and who was recruited into transporting heroin for an organised crime group through contacts he had with a group of customers at his café. This provides a clear example of how routine activities can facilitate the recruitment process (Felson & Clarke 1998). The café owner was eventually sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for heroin trafficking (Van Koppen & De Poot 2013). He explained how he became involved as follows:

You start talking and ask each other: ‘What did you do before and where do you come from?’ That’s the first thing you do. And when I mentioned I’d been a truck driver for years, that triggered something of course. He should know people, maybe he wants to. But I never wanted to [. . .] I wasn’t interested at all. I did not need the money and did not bite, it did not fascinate me. After some months, however…After all, they are your frequent customers and you talk to them all the time. There comes a time it goes through your mind that some others you know have the ability to and probably want to do it. At first I thought: I’ll do them both a favour and I can earn some additional money, you know. I really did not see the danger in doing it (Van Koppen & De Poot 2013: 82).

Adler and Adler (1983) also found instances of serendipitous recruitment in which law-abiding individuals gradually became involved in drug trafficking in order to make use of their skills or to enhance their income (see Box 4).

Box 4 Recruitment into money laundering

I used to be into real estate making good money. I was the only person at my firm renting to longhairs and dealing with their money. I slowly started getting friendly with them, although I didn’t realize how heavy they were. I knew ways of buying real estate and putting it under fictitious names, laundering money so that it went in as hot cash and came out as spendable income. I slowly got more and more involved with this one guy until I was neglecting my real estate business and just partying with him all the time. My spending went up but my income went down and suddenly I had to look around for another way to make money fast. I took the money I was laundering for him, bought some bricks from another dealer friend of his and sold them out of state before I gave him back the cash. Within six months I was turning [selling] 100 bricks at a time (Adler & Adler 1983: 198).

Establishing trust

Establishing trust and confidence that the person with whom one is dealing is not an undercover police officer, or someone likely to blow the whistle, is often a lengthy and invasive operation both for organised criminals and those whom they are seeking to recruit. In many cases, this can entail initiation tasks such as demonstrating criminal skills, providing samples of actual criminal conduct (particularly the use of violence) and showing a willingness to share confidential information with other group members.

In the case of online organised crime groups engaged in sharing child exploitation material, it is often the case that recruits need to supply extensive libraries of illegal exploitation images in order to establish their bona fides and to gain access to group libraries of similar material (Choo & Smith 2008; Wolak, Finkelhor & Mitchell 2011).

Establishing trust in the online criminal world can also require the use of various anonymising and security technologies. In particular, it is important to ensure that one’s true identity is not revealed and so aliases and false identities are invariably used when logging on to illicit websites. Security of data is also required and organised crime groups now make use of encryption, steganography, biometrics and Tor software that reduces the risk of online activities being monitored by law enforcement. Some organised crime groups also require identity verification both during enrolment and when undergoing regular checks designed to confirm trust and security of group members. An example exists in the case of OMCGs (Lozusic 2002).

Trust also needs to be maintained during the early stages of group membership and tests are often used to demonstrate an absence of risk, proof of veracity and loyalty to the organisation. Occasionally this can entail involvement in successful criminal operations to demonstrate skills and in the case of unsuccessful activities, willingness to be convicted and serve prison time.

Compliance and reinforcement

Further proof of commitment to the cause may require financial investment in the organisation and successful recruitment of new members of the organisation—such as occurs in connection with online networks that share child exploitation material.

Failed recruitment

On occasions, recruitment may be unsuccessful and fail. This can occur where criminal activity is detected by law enforcement and new recruits are suspected of whistleblowing or of being undercover operatives (Mazur 2009). In the case of hierarchically organised networks, sanctions of escalating severity may be imposed leading to expulsion from membership, or threats of, or actual, violence and murder.

Intervening in recruitment pathways

Having explored the various pathways for the recruitment of individuals to engage in organised crime and identified the crime scripts associated with methods of recruitment, it is possible to identify strategies that could be considered to intervene in such pathways so as to make recruitment difficult and likely to lead to detection by law enforcement.

Not all of the available opportunities for intervention may be possible, having regard to privacy, human rights and legislative limitations on taking action. At a minimum, however, the ways in which recruitment takes place can be identified and made obvious and available for official scrutiny.

Table 1 summarises a number of possible intervention points in recruitment pathways that could be explored by policymakers seeking to control organised criminal activities. Although some may be difficult to implement, discussion of each could be examined as possible ways in which to control recruitment activities. It develops Hancock and Laycock’s (2010) comparable presentation of prevention strategies arising from crime script analysis that are applicable to organised criminal activities generally. The principal areas to address in connection with recruitment relate to the use by organised crime of anonymity, reliance on professional advisers, convenient meeting locations and the availability of motivated recruitees. There is also a need to publicise the risks associated with involvement in organised crime from the perspective of likelihood of arrest, confiscation of assets and physical harms that may be inflicted both personally and on friends and relatives of recruitees who participate in organised crime.

Addressing anonymity

First, as Hancock and Laycock (2010) rightly emphasised, there is a need to address the use of anonymity among organised crime groups, especially those that operate online. In particular, removing the ability of organised crime to access pre-paid information and communication technologies (ICT) services and regulating the use of anonymising software and encryption for illegal purposes would be beneficial. Further, making effective use of existing lawful databases of persons convicted organised crime could assist law enforcement with identification of recruitment activities, while enhanced data analysis of financial and cyber intelligence including associated tracking of funds transfer locations might be possible.

Table 1 Potential interventions in recruitment pathways relevant to identified crime scripts

Script action

Intervention category


Act anonymously under law enforcement radar


Remove anonymity afforded by access to pre-paid ICT services (mobile phones, Internet services, payment cards)

Regulating the use of anonymising software and encryption for illegal activities

Using intelligence databases of convicted organised criminals

Enhanced analysis of financial intelligence collected by Financial Intelligence Units

Enhanced data-matching and e-authentication procedures

Obtain professional advice on commission of crime and laundering of proceeds

Use of professionals

Enhanced regulation of accountants and financial advisers

Enhanced regulation of ICT professionals and transport sector workers

Full compliance with FATF anti-money laundering recommendations for professional advisers

Tighter controls and identity checks on company formation

Enhanced checks on convicted organised criminals seeking to form companies

Coordination of anti-corruption measures

Improved protection of whistleblowers who report organised crime and improvement of reporting mechanisms

Identify places to meet

Meeting locations

Monitoring high-risk meeting locations

Anti-fortification laws directed at fortified organised crime club premises

Mandatory membership records for high-risk meeting locations such as gyms, fitness clubs, gambling venues and for sex industry proprietors

Improving the collection and sharing of prison intelligence among law enforcement and correctional agencies

Locate motivated recruitees

Motivated recruitees

Address the red flags of fraud and rationalisations for the commission of financial crime (eg problem gambling, excessive lifestyle expenditure with inadequate assets, small business failures)

Publicise high-risk lifestyle and fun associated with organised crime

Risk awareness

Enact and publicise uniform unexplained wealth and assets confiscation laws

Publicise the harms associated with organised crime lifestyles (eg violence, intimidation, family loss, asset loss, addictions)

Publicise the cost–benefit balance associated with organised crime lifestyles

Publicise the probability of detection of serious crime and sanctions applicable to organised criminal activity

Enhance opportunities for lawful avenues of risk-taking activities

Regulating professional advisers

Enhanced efforts could also be made to ensure that financial advisers and accountants, in particular, are adequately regulated to ensure that their services cannot be used, overtly or unwittingly, by organised crime groups.

Additional controls may need to be developed for other occupational groups, such as those in the transportation and ICT industries. Having procedures that could identify high-risk individuals within these sectors could assist in locating red flags for corruption before they are acted upon. For example, enhanced reference checking for those seeking employment in trusted positions in the transport industry and those working in ICT may help to identify individuals who may be subject to corruption. Similarly, having national standards and disciplinary controls for those working in ICT may help to identify high-risk individuals.

Prohibitions could also be enforced against those convicted of serious crimes from forming companies and enhanced identity checks undertaken when businesses are being established that could be used in connection with organised crime. In addition, the use of Australia’s anti-corruption regime could be used to identify potential infiltration of government by organised crime groups (Rowe et al. 2013). Allied to this is the need to encourage reporting of serious crime and the protection of those who make reports in the public interest.

Controlling meeting places

There is compelling evidence that recruitment takes place in a limited number of high-risk locations, particularly prisons, pubs, fitness clubs and brothels. Ensuring that fit-and-proper persons’ tests applicable to those in charge of such venues are enforced might help to deter organised crime involvement. Similarly, ensuring that such businesses maintain accurate and verifiable records of members and regular users could also make some premises unattractive to organised crime.

Recent anti-organised crime legislative measures such as anti-fortification laws and anti-association laws could also be useful in ensuring that meeting places frequented by organised criminals are made less desirable places to congregate.

Finally, when police task forces are targeting organised crime groups, it would be beneficial to focus some activity on increasing the probability of detection of organised crime groups when attempting to recruit new members. Improving prison security and further development of corrections agency intelligence could assist in disrupting recruitment activities that take place within prisons, while allowing online data monitoring—with judicial authorisation—would assist law enforcement in identifying high-risk recruitment environments.

Attacking recruitee motivations

Attacking the motivations for involvement in organised crime by otherwise law-abiding individuals is an essential element in breaking pathways to recruitment.

For example, there is now an established awareness of the red flags of individuals becoming susceptible to involvement in serious financial crime (eg KPMG 2013), such as the presence of lifestyle pressures, gambling addiction and business failure.

An illustration of how personal financial difficulties led a senior public servant to be recruited by organised crime to obtain confidential intelligence for the group is the case of the former Assistant Director Investigations at the NSW Crime Commission who became involved with a drug trafficking organisation and the importation of 300kg of pseudoephedrine. His motivations for becoming involved in the criminal organisation were clearly financial gain, to clear himself of debts and to provide for his family. To this end, he entered into an agreement with an informant and a legitimate businessman to import a large quantity of pseudoephedrine concealed in a container of rice ([2011] NSW Supreme Court 1422, 8 December 2011). Had the NSW Crime Commission been aware of his financial position, his vulnerability to corruption could have been identified and perhaps prevented. Any such monitoring of personnel would need to comply with privacy and human rights protections.

There is also evidence that neutralising the rationalisations or justifications for involvement in serious crime can be an effective deterrent to individuals acting illegally (Duffield & Grabosky 2001).

Publicising risks

Making organised crime unattractive and unprofitable through the confiscation of assets and use of unexplained wealth laws has been identified as a key strategy in preventing and responding to organised crime (Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement 2012). Recent legislation that has sought to proscribe membership of organised crime groups could also have the indirect beneficial effect of deterring individuals from seeking to become new members of such groups through fear of prosecution as a member of a proscribed gang.

Broadhurst, Lauchs and Lohrisch (2014) argue, for example, that many OMCG members are simply motivated by a desire to have ‘fun’ and to engage in risk-taking. Publicising the negative consequences of criminality including the potential physical and mental harms, risk of imprisonment, loss of livelihood and involvement in addictions could all help to make organised crime appear to be an unattractive lifestyle choice.

Organised crime is a multifaceted, complex phenomenon and as such, requires a multifaceted response strategy. Initiatives need to be flexible and dynamic and able to meet changes in the nature of organised crime as they become apparent. A key element of preventing and responding to organised criminal activity is to interdict or prevent individuals being recruited into criminal organisations. This paper has identified some potential ways in which this may be achieved that reinforce a multifaceted approach to combat organised crime.


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About the authors

Dr Russell G Smith is Principal Criminologist at the AIC.


Preliminary research for this paper was carried out by Cienan Muir during an Internship at the AIC in 2013. The author is grateful to the anonymous reviewers who provided comments on an earlier draft.