Message in Mass Arrests: We Haven't Forgotten About You

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Tom Robbins, Village Voice reporter, and Jon M. Shane, retired New York City police captain and assistant professor of criminal justice at John Jay College talked about the arrests of at least 110 organized crime members in one of the biggest mafia busts in U.S. history.

Racketeering, extortion, murder, loan sharks, decades-long FBI cases, drugs, a web of Italian mob families—Attorney General Eric Holder's press conference this morning announcing 127 people charged with criminal activity in "La Cosa Nostra" sounded like an epilogue to the Godfather trilogy. Holder railed against the infiltration of organized crime in the ports, construction industries, in small businesses and labor unions in a network that ranges across the eastern seaboard.

Many New Yorkers were surprised by the enormous bust because in recent years the mafia has kept a low profile. But the power of organized crime in the New York area is very, very real, said Jon M. Shane, assistant professor of criminal justice at John Jay College.

That's all one more myth that they want you to buy into, that they're not as active, that they're not infiltrating things like they used to in the early 1900s, when in fact they are. It's an intergenerational problem and it persists.

Shane said the smorgasbord of criminal activities charged against members of the La Cosa Nostra families are still the foundations of the mafia's business.

They continue with the things that are easiest to them. When they've got generation after generation of influence in the traditional trades, like unions and the garment industry and restaurants and the sanitation industry and construction, that's where they continually go back for their food, and it's proven that it's not gone away.

Shane and Tom Robbins, a Village Voice reporter, both alluded to the fact that in the wake of 9/11, some law enforcement resources were diverted away from battling organized crime. The mob persists because there's constantly a new influx of people entering La Cosa Nostra, just like with street gangs, Robbins said.

Holder wants to send a message to the mob that 'even though we've been busy chasing terrorists for the last few years we have not forgotten about you.'

Shane also pointed out that there is a link between terrorism and organized crime—particularly at U.S. points of entry and exit like the Newark ports, where stolen cars are often shipped abroad and then converted to cash, and can be used to fund terrorism.

We don't have a real good handle on the cargo going out, because after September 11, we were more concerned with what was coming into this country.

Charges are wide ranging and arrests were made in all five boroughs, New Jersey, Rhode Island and even one in Italy. "The only thing that wraps them up together is that they're all Cosa Nostra and as Eric Holder said, 'we consider you a pernicious, evil element within society and we'll stay on your case,'" said Robbins.