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Criminal Defense Questions and Answers

Q: Can the average citizen get tangled up in organized crime charges or are those typically only brought against well-known members of crime families?

A: Anyone can be brought into an organized crime case because that’s how organized crime works. Organized crime itself does not generate any money. Members of organized crime enrich themselves like a parasite. They leech off of legitimate businesses. Typically, the way they do that is they get an otherwise law abiding citizen in a compromising position and then put themselves into the person’s business in such a fashion where the organized crime figure is enriching themselves off of the person’s business.

They cannot do that without the legitimate business person doing some things which are not legitimate. However, the legitimate business person is doing it out of fear of retribution from the organized crime figure. Perhaps they owe money. An example of this would be an individual who is a small business owner. Say they own a hardware shop and they like to gamble. They have a bookie that they place bets with.

That problem may develop where they may lose a great deal of money that they cannot pay off. The organized crime figure who is behind the bookie starts to put pressure on the bookie, and they turn the debt on the gambling debt into a loan where the person has now had to borrow money to pay off the gambling debt.

Typically, the person then digs themselves deeper and deeper into a hole and owes more and more money. Oftentimes, what they’re paying on the loan is not going to capital on the loan. It’s simply preventing an arm or a leg being broken or their business being trashed. If their debt becomes so large, the organized crime figure may say he wants a piece of the business. He wants to be put on the books, because the organized crime figure has regular concerns such as health insurance.

He may want to be listed as an employee falsely, so he can get health insurance. He may want to list himself as an owner and he can then apply for credit cards based on the financial status of the company. He can then run those credit cards up without ever intending to pay them off. He may take other loans out on behalf of the company.

Those loans would never be used to benefit the company, but rather to personally enrich the organized crime figure. Before the business owner knows it, what started out as a gambling problem has grown into a loan sharking problem, has grown into his business being overwhelmed by the debt and malfeasance that this organized crime figure has done by injecting himself into the company.

The person has gone down the slippery slope never intending to be a bad person and probably trying to avoid some retribution. But now has tolerated this, has allowed this organized crime figure to do these things in his name knowing that those things were false, knowing that those applications for the credit card companies were not really for the company, the small business.

Knowing that the loans were not really for the small business. Knowing that when he submitted the insurance application that this person was not an employee.

Another thing that organized crime figures do is put themselves as an employee, they get themselves on the payroll. Now, they have a paper cover for the income that they have. They may not be actually getting a payroll or maybe they are, but they’re certainly not working there.

When it comes time to file taxes, they look on paper like a regular Joe who works nine to five when, in fact, they don’t. They can then hide their illegitimate income under the cover of this supposed legitimate income that they’ve gained from appearing as an employee in this business.

Organized crime figures need legitimate people. That’s how they operate. They draw those people in. A lot of people also like to be drawn in. They may romanticize organized crime figures from their romantic portrayals that they see on TV or in the movies, then get lured into that life and feel that maybe that’s the life for them and find themselves in the thick of criminal activity.

Former New York state prosecutor Thomas J. Melanson represents clients in the Hudson Valley from his office in Kingston, New York. This interview was from March 2013.

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