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Difference between Gang, Racketeering and Crime Syndicate

Difference between Gang, Racketeering and Crime Syndicate


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About the Author:
Prof.(Dr.) Priya Sepaha
Director, Law Colloquy,
Author, Trainer, blogger, Youtuber

An organised crime group is a category of transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals who attempt to regulate and control the production and distribution of a given commodity or service unlawfully. Eventually, it is the product of a self-perpetuating criminal conspiracy involving the callous exploitation of the social, political and economic institutions of the society. It is majorly divided into three types:


A gang is an organised group of three or more individuals; whose purpose is to engage in criminal activity and which utilises viciousness or terrorizing to encourage its criminal targets. These criminals are recruited from among ex-convicts, escaped murderers, professional gangsters, and high-powered robbers.

The members collectively distinguish themselves by adopting a group identity, which they use to create an atmosphere of terror or intimidation, for instance, a common name, slogan, identifying sign, symbol, tattoo or other physical markings, style or colour of clothing, hairstyle, hand sign or graffiti and so on. They are equipped with modern pistols, bullet-proof vests, cars, etc. The gang criminals are efficient, disciplined but dangerous.

According to Barnes and Teeters, "they live violently and expect violence." Their activities are spread over a large geographical area, moving from place to place but reuniting at prearranged hideouts. They are registered as hardened and habitual criminals in police records.

Gangs are composed of tough and hardened criminals who do not hesitate to kill, assault, or use violence. They are involved in robberies, kidnapping, murder, extortion, and smuggling. Some gangs are engaged in anti-social activities, taking a cut of the loot or a fixed amount of money for the help rendered. The gangs float a score of satellites including restaurants, gambling dens, underworld messengers, women and children, and hangers-on.


A racket is a strategic or systematized criminal act, usually in which the criminal act is a form of business or a way to earn illegal or extorted money regularly. A racket is often a continuous criminal operation.

Donald Taft defines it as, “an organised crime in which the criminal elements perform a service to such members of society who are normally engaged in some legitimate business activity”.

It also involves a dishonest way of getting money by deceiving or cheating people, selling worthless goods and articles, adulterated commodities, spurious drugs and so forth.

The racketeers do not take away all the profits but allow the owners of the illegitimate business to continue their operations like prostitution, gambling, liquor trafficking, drug peddling, etc., but give them (racketeers) regular fixed money. In fact, money is demanded and paid as consideration for the ‘protection’ given by a criminal group to the operators of the illegitimate business.

According to Caldwell, the racketeering gang is divided into two groups-the 'brains' and the 'muscles'. The former does the thinking, issue orders, solicit new business and arrange for protection. The latter do the beating, destroying, plundering and even killing, i.e., all that is called the 'rough stuff.

However, Fitzgerald has stated that sometimes the 'brains' also do the jobs of the 'muscles' to maintain their leadership, enforce their authority, demonstrate proper techniques, to preserve their reputation. Such activities can have devastating consequences for both public and private institutions.

Some of the examples of racketeering are:

Protection racket, business labour racket theft operations, including Burglary, home invasion, robbery, identity theft, organized retail crime, shoplifting, and copyright infringement (including the sale of counterfeit goods).

Fraud and embezzlement operations, kidnapping, murder and murder-for-hire, bribery and police corruption, seduction, Cyber-crimes, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, extortion, prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation of children, Human trafficking, smuggling, witness tampering and intimidation, illegal gambling or bookmaking, including match-fixing and so on.

Crime Syndicates

Crime syndicate often called as ‘Mafia’ is the most significant areas of organised crime group that attempts to control the supply of protection. They create their own 'business' techniques, which is usually operated from established headquarters.

They avoid using violence and generally have a respectable position in society. They live in posh residential areas, freely associating with high-status persons and engaged in lawful earning pursuits. They mostly operate in big metropolitan areas which happen to be big centres of communication, transportation and distribution of goods.

The leaders of big crime syndicates periodically gather at fixed places to discuss problems of mutual interest and concern. They generally supply illegal goods and services by an organised criminal gang. The illegal goods could be drugs, liquor, etc. while the illegal services could be call-girls, gambling and so forth.

They have a proper hierarchy. They do not deal directly. Each syndicate has bosses who are usually behind the scene. There is front men/underboss at various levels executing the works assigned to them. The underboss collects information and relays messages to the boss and passes instructions down to underlings. In some cases, there is no underboss but the boss has an adviser or a counsellor.

Below the level of the underboss are criminals who act as 'intermediaries' between the upper and the lower level personnel. Some of these intermediaries act as chiefs of operating units. The lowest level members are ordinary criminals who report to the 'intermediaries'.

Outside the structure of the syndicate are a large number of employees and agents who do most of the actual work in various criminal enterprises.