Protection racket

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A protection racket is a type of racket and a scheme of organized crime perpetrated by a potentially hazardous organized crime group that generally guarantees protection outside the sanction of the law to another entity or individual from violence, robbery, ransacking, arson, vandalism, and other such threats, in exchange for payments at regular intervals. Each payment is called "protection money" or a "protection fee". An organized crime group determines an affordable or reasonable fee by negotiating with each of its payers, to ensure that each payer can pay the fee on a regular basis and on time. Protections rackets can vary in terms of their levels of sophistication or organization; it is not uncommon for their operations to emulate the structures or methods used by tax authorities within legitimate governments to collect taxes from taxpayers.


The perpetrators of a protection racket may protect vulnerable targets from other dangerous individuals and groups or may simply offer to refrain from themselves carrying out attacks on the targets, and usually both of these forms of protection are implied in the racket. Due to the frequent implication that the racketeers may contribute to harming the target upon failure to pay, the protection racket is generally considered a form of extortion. In some instances, the main potential threat to the target may be caused by the same group that offers to solve it in return for payment, but that fact may sometimes be concealed in order to ensure continual patronage and funding of the crime syndicate by the coerced party. In other cases, depending on the perpetrators' level of influence with authorities and the legality of the business being protected, protection rackets may also offer protection against law enforcement and police involvement, especially if the perpetrators bribe or threaten local law enforcement.

The protection racket mostly sells physical security. Through the credible threat of violence, the racketeers deter both third-party criminals and people in their own criminal organization from swindling, robbing, injuring, sabotaging, or otherwise harming their clients. The racket often occurs in situations and places where criminal threats to certain businesses, entities, or individuals are not effectively prevented or addressed by the prevailing system of law and order or governance, or in cases of inadequate protection by the law for certain ethnic or socioeconomic groups. Protection rackets tend to form in markets in which the law enforcement cannot be counted on to provide legal protection, because of incompetence (as in weak, corrupt, or failed states), illegality (when the targeted entity is involved in black markets), and/or because forms of government distrust exist among the entities involved. Hence, protection rackets are common in places or territories, where criminal organizations resemble de facto authorities, or parallel governments. Sicily, Italy is a great example of this phenomenon, where the Cosa Nostra collects protection money locally and resembles a de facto authority, or a parallel government.

Protection rackets are often indistinguishable in practice from extortion rackets, and generally distinguishable from social service and private security by the degree of implied threat; the racketeers themselves may threaten and attack businesses, technological infrastructure, and citizens if the payments are not made. A distinction is possible between a "pure" extortion protection racket, in which the racketeers might agree only not to attack a business or entity, and a broader protection racket offering some real private security in addition to such extortion. In either case, the racketeers generally agree to defend a business or individual from any attack by either themselves or third parties (other criminal gangs). In reality, the distinction between the two types of protection rackets is dubious, because in either case extortion racketeers may have to defend their clients against rival gangs to maintain their profits. By corollary, criminal gangs may have to maintain control of territories (turfs), as local businesses may collapse if forced to pay for protection from too many rackets, which then hurts all parties involved.

Certain scholars, such as Diego Gambetta, classify criminal organizations engaged in protection racketeering as "mafia", as the racket is popular with both the Sicilian Mafia and Italian-American Mafia.


A protection racket is an operation where racketeers provide protection to persons and properties, settle disputes and enforce contracts in markets where the police and judicial system cannot be relied upon.

Diego Gambetta's The Sicilian Mafia (1996) [1] and Federico Varese's The Russian Mafia (2001) [2] define the mafia as a type of organized crime group that specializes in the provision of private protection.

Protection racketeers or mafia groups operate mostly in the black market, providing buyers and sellers the security they need for smooth transactions; but empirical data collected by Gambetta and Varese suggests that mafia groups are able to offer private protection to corporations and individuals in legal markets when the state fails to offer sufficient and efficient protection to the people in need. Two elements distinguish racketeers from legal security firms. The first element is their willingness to deploy violent forms of retribution (going as far as murder) that fall outside the limits the law normally extends to civilian security firms. The other element is that racketeers are willing to involve themselves in illegal markets.

Recent studies show that mafia groups or gangs are not the only form of protection racket or extra-legal protector, and another important form of protection racket is corrupt networks consisting of public officials, especially those from criminal justice agencies. [3] For example, Wang's The Chinese Mafia (2017) [4] examines protection rackets in China and suggests two types of extra-legal protectors, namely the Black Mafia (local gangs) and the Red Mafia (networks of corrupt government officials). Wang's narrative suggests that local gangs are quasi-law enforcers in both legal and illegal markets, and corrupt public officials are extra-legal protectors, safeguarding local gangs, protecting illegal entrepreneurs in the criminal underworld, offering protection to businesspeople, and selling public appointments to buyers.

Territorial monopolies

A protection racketeer cannot tolerate competition within his sphere of influence from another racketeer. If a dispute erupted between two clients (e.g. businessmen competing for a construction contract) who are protected by rival racketeers, the two racketeers would have to fight each other to win the dispute for their respective clients. The outcomes of such fights can be unpredictable, and neither racketeer would be able to guarantee a victory for his client. This would make their protection unreliable and of little value; their clients would likely dismiss them and settle the dispute by other means. Therefore, racketeers negotiate territories in which they can monopolize the use of violence in settling disputes. [1] :68–71 These territories may be geographical, or they may be a certain type of business or form of transaction.

Providing genuine protection

Sometimes racketeers will warn other criminals that the client is under their protection and that they will punish anyone who harms the client. Services that the racketeers may offer may include the recovery of stolen property or punishing vandals. The racketeers may even advance the interests of the client by forcing out (or otherwise hindering or intimidating) unprotected competitors. [1]

Protection from theft and vandalism is one service the racketeer may offer. For instance, in Sicily, mafiosi know all the thieves and fences in their territory, and can track down stolen goods and punish thieves who attack their clients.

Protection racketeers establish what they hope will be indefinitely long bonds with their clients. This allows the racketeers to publicly declare a client to be under their protection. Thus, thieves and other predators will have little confusion as to who is and is not protected.

Protection racketeers are not necessarily criminals. In A Short History of Progress , Ronald Wright notes on p. 49, "The warrior caste, supposedly society's protectors, often become protection racketeers. In times of war or crisis, power is easily stolen from the many by the few on a promise of security. The more elusive or imaginary the foe, the better for manufacturing consent."


Government protection rackets

Government officials may demand bribes to look the other way or extort something of value from citizens or corporations in the form of a kickback. It need not always be money. A lucrative job after leaving office may have been in exchange for protection offered when in office. Payment may also show up indirectly in the form of a campaign contribution. Stopping governments agencies as a whole, and buying protection in the government is called regulatory capture.

See also

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This is a glossary of words related to the Mafia, primarily the Italian American Mafia and Sicilian Mafia.

  1. administration: the top-level "management" of an organized crime family -- the boss, underboss and consigliere.
  2. associate: one who works with mobsters, but hasn't been asked to take the vow of Omertà; an almost confirmed, or made guy.
  3. bagman: a person or paymaster designated to collect or distribute illicitly gained money.
  4. barone: a baron or landlord.
  5. books, the: a phrase indicating membership in the family. If there is a possibility for promotion, then the books are open. If not, the books are closed.
  6. boss: the head of the family who runs the show. He decides who gets made and who gets whacked. The boss also gets points from all family business; also see don, chairman.
  7. bridge: threat of death; e.g. "our former friend is walking across the bridge".
  8. button or becoming a button man: a mafia hit man; or someone who has become a made man.
  9. capo: the family member who leads a crew; short for caporegime or capodecina.
  10. capo dei capi: "boss of all [the] bosses" is a phrase used mainly by the media, public and the law enforcement community to indicate a supremely powerful crime boss in the Sicilian or American Mafia who holds great influence over the whole organization.
  11. captain: a capo.
  12. cement shoes: a method of murder or body disposal, usually associated with criminals such as the Mafia or gangs. It involves weighting down the victim, who may be dead or alive, with concrete and throwing them into water in the hope the body will never be found.
  13. clip: to murder; also to whack, hit, pop, burn, ice, put a contract out on.
  14. code of silence: not ratting on one's colleagues once one has been pinched -- no longer a strong virtue in organized crime families. Also, see omertà.
  15. comare: literally "godmother" in Southern Italian slang, usually pronounced "goomah" or "goomar" in American English: a Mafia mistress.
  16. confirm: to be made; see made guy.
  17. connected guy: an associate
  18. consigliere: the family adviser, who is always consulted before decisions are made.
  19. Cosa Nostra (Our thing): mob term for the family or Mafia
  20. crank: speed; in particular, crystal meth.
  21. crew: the group of soldiers under the capo's command.
  22. cugine: a young soldier striving to be made.
  23. don: the head of the family; see boss.
  24. earner: a member who brings in much money for the family.
  25. eat alone: to keep for oneself; to be greedy.
  26. family: an organized crime clan.
  27. forget about it (often pronounced "fuggedaboutit"): An exclamation; as the title character explains in Donnie Brasco:

    "Forget about it" is, like, if you agree with someone, you know, like "Raquel Welch is one great piece of ass. Forget about it!" But then, if you disagree, like "A Lincoln is better than a Cadillac? Forget about it!" You know? But then, it's also like if something's the greatest thing in the world, like, "Minchia! Those peppers! Forget about it!" But it's also like saying "Go to hell!" too. Like, you know, like "Hey Paulie, you got a one-inch pecker?" and Paulie says "Forget about it!" Sometimes it just means "Forget about it."

  28. friend: "a friend of mine" is an associate, "a friend of ours" is a made man.
  29. G: a grand; a thousand dollars; also see large.
  30. garbage business: euphemism for organized crime.
  31. Golden Age: The days before RICO.
  32. Goodfella: A member of the Mafia.
  33. goomar or goomah: Americanized form of comare, a Mafia mistress.
  34. goombah: an associate, especially a senior member of a criminal gang.
  35. heavy: packed, carrying a weapon.
  36. hit: to murder; also see whack.
  37. initiation or induction: becoming a made man.
  38. juice: the interest paid to a loan shark for the loan; also see vig.
  39. kick up: give a part of the income to the next up in the command chain.
  40. lam: To lay down, go into hiding.
  41. large: a thousand, a grand, a G.
  42. LCN: abbreviation for La Cosa Nostra.
  43. lupara bianca: a journalistic term to indicate a Mafia slaying done in such a way that the victim's body is never found.
  44. made man: an inducted member of the family.
  45. make one's bones: gain credibility by killing someone.
  46. mock execution: to whip someone into shape by frightening them.
  47. mattresses, going to, taking it to, or hitting the: going to war with a rival clan or family.
  48. message job: placing the bullet in someone's body such that a specific message is sent to that person's crew or family; see through the eye and through the mouth.
  49. mob, the: a single organized crime family; or all organized crime families together.
  50. mobbed up: connected to the mob.
  51. mobster: one who is in the mob.
  52. oath: becoming inducted as a made man.
  53. Omertà: to take a vow of silence in the Mafia, punishable by death if not upheld.
  54. one-way ride or taking someone for a ride: underworld for an execution method
  55. outfit: a clan, or family within the Mafia.
  56. old country: refers to Italy when used by members of the American Mafia
  57. painting houses: murdering someone
  58. pass: A reprieve from being whacked.
  59. paying tribute: giving the boss a cut of the deal.
  60. pinched: to get caught by the cops or federal agents.
  61. points: percent of income; cut.
  62. program, the: The Witness Protection Program.
  63. rat: someone who turns informant, snitches or squeals after having been pinched.
  64. RICO: Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Passed in 1970 to aid the American government in clamping down on organized crime activities, its scope has since been broadened to prosecute insider traders.
  65. shakedown: to blackmail or try to get money from someone; also to give someone a scare.
  66. shy: the interest charged on loans by loan sharks.
  67. shylock business: the business of loansharking.
  68. sitdown: a meeting, esp. with another family.
  69. soldier: the bottom-level member of an organized crime family who is made.
  70. spring cleaning: cleaning up, hiding or getting rid of evidence.
  71. straighten out, getting straightened out: becoming a made guy.
  72. tax: to take a percentage of someone's earnings.
  73. The Commission and the Sicilian Mafia Commission: two bodies, Italian-American and the Sicilian respectively, of leading Mafia members to decide on important questions concerning the actions of, and settling disputes within the Mafia.
  74. This Thing of Ours (Cosa Nostra): a mob family, or the entire mob.
  75. through the eye: a message job through the eye to say "We're watching you!"
  76. through the mouth: a message job through the mouth to indicate that someone WAS a rat.
  77. underboss: the second in command to the boss.
  78. vig: Vigorish abbr. the house's or bookie's take in gambling or the interest paid to a loan shark for the loan; also see juice.
  79. waste management business: euphemism for organized crime.
  80. whack: to murder; also clip, hit, pop, burn, put a contract out.
  81. wiseguy: a made man.
  82. zips: is a slang term often used as a derogatory slur by Italian American and Sicilian American mobsters in reference to newer immigrant Sicilian and Italian mafiosi.
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