Capitol Alert: Kamala Harris says legislative fixes could suppress organized crime in California

jwhite@sacbee.comMarch 20, 2014 

Tougher laws and more money would help California law enforcement combat international organized crime, according to a report from the California Attorney General's office.

While it may first evoke an image of intercontinental drug routes, the term "transnational organized crime" can also encompass human trafficking, money laundering and cybercrime. California's size, its sprawling transportation infrastructure and its proximity to Latin America make it an attractive hub for organized crime networks, the report says.

Attorney General Kamala Harris was scheduled to discuss the report this morning in Los Angeles.

"These groups - with roots in places around the globe - have flocked to California to engage in an increasingly diverse range of criminal activities," the report says, adding that transational crime groups are active in every major California city.

Policymakers can better equip law enforcement to crack down on organized crime, the report says, by bolstering laws that could help pursue leaders of crime networks and by restoring law enforcement budgets that diminished during the recession.

Local supervisors or managers acting on behalf of transnational organizations face relatively lenient sentences, the report says, recommending that California emulate the federal Continuing Criminal Enterprise Act to go after these local affiliate heads.

Lawmakers could also empower prosecutors to freeze the assets or seize the property of a criminal organization before handing down an indictment. Otherwise, the report says, crime syndicates that see prosecution on the horizon can pre-emptively channel assets back across the border.

The state lacks a central data clearinghouse on transnational organized crime, the report says, impeding communication between various law enforcement agencies. Similarly, state authorities can do a better job working with their Mexican counterparts to pursue international money laundering.

Finally, the report addresses state funding shortfalls. Budget cuts have scaled back special units focused on drug crime and human trafficking, and the report says a $7.5 million infusion could fund new units in Sacramento, San Francisco, Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Some of California's organized crime distinctions, as laid out in the report:

-Methamphetamine flows into California at an astonishing rate, with as much as 70 percent of the U.S. supply passing through San Diego.

-As a government crackdown has altered the dynamics of Mexico's violent drug trade, allowing the Sinaloa cartel to dominate, an increasing number of California counties host Sinaloa-linked street and prison gangs. International gangs like La Familia Michoacana and MS-13 have built similar cross-border alliances.

-Demand for high-quality marijuana is leading more organized crime groups to establish sophisticated indoor growing operations, separate from existing outdoor grow sites.

-California's huge and diverse economy offers a channel for money laundering, with $30 to $40 billion in illicit funds passing through annually.

-California has also become a target for cybercrime operations, emerging as the leading U.S. end point for data breaches originating abroad, especially in Eastern Europe.

-Human trafficking is both lucrative and nearly ubiquitous: "Virtually all types of transnational criminal organizations in California participate in human trafficking in one form or another," the report states.

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