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The nature of organized crime leadership: criminal leaders in meeting and wiretap networks

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Abstract

Criminal leaders enhance their social capital by strategically brokering information among associates. To balance security and efficiency, leaders may favor meetings instead of telephones, potentially affecting analyses relying solely on wiretap data. Yet, few studies explored criminal leaders’ use of meetings in the management of criminal groups. We analyze criminal leaders’ participation in meetings and telephone calls in four distinct investigations. For each case, we extracted meetings and wiretap networks, analyzed leaders’ network positioning and identified leadership roles through logistic regressions relying on network centrality. Results show that leaders minimize telephone use (20% missing in wiretap net-works), and act as brokers, particularly in meeting networks (betweenness 18 times higher than non-leaders). Regressions on meeting networks identify leaders more effectively than wiretap networks, with betweenness centrality as the strongest predictor of leadership. Leaders’ centrality in meetings shows their strategic brokering position and the social embeddedness of criminal groups. While meeting participation is a sign of power, it is also a social obligation that leaders can hardly minimize. This makes them more visible, with possible benefits to investigations and intelligence.

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Notes

  1. Social network analysis is a statistical method allowing the mapping and measuring of relations among individuals constituting networks. Within a network, the members are the actors and can represent people or other entities; whereas the links show relations between nodes (e.g. telephone calls, friendship, etc.) [99].

  2. The cases were the most exceptional actions in recent years against the ‘Ndrangheta in Italy. After the arrest of nearly six hundred people, the courts confirmed the charges and convicted most defendants for Infinito, Crimine, and Minotauro. In April 2016, the first grade trial for Aemilia also confirmed the charges.

  3. In Italy, specialized judges in every court issue such orders upon request of the prosecution. The orders aim to impose pre-trial restrictions against the suspects by motivated decision (challengeable before other courts). Especially for large investigations these documents amount to hundreds of pages and include detailed information on all suspects’ activities. The literature has often used these sources for analyzing criminal networks [5, 26, 79, 94].

  4. Consistency checks included removal of duplicate events, synthesis of incomplete events, exclusion of uncorroborated events.

  5. Selected time spans were mid-2011 to 2012 for Aemilia; 2007 to mid-2010 for Crimine; 2008 to early 2010 for Infinito; 2007 to early 2011 for Minotauro. The selection entailed the exclusion of only few events and marginal individuals.

  6. In Infinito, “leaders” includes also two individuals responsible for a special body (“la Lombardia”) tasked with the coordination between Calabria and Lombardy.

  7. At the end of 2018, a final judgement confirmed the charges and convicted the five out of six leaders. A separate, first grade judgement convicted the last leader.

  8. Given the complexity of the investigations, some leaders made only sporadic appearances. To ensure that the analyses focused on the leaders actually managing their own criminal groups, a few leaders were classified as non-leaders for two reasons which may have biased the analyses. First, some were leaders affiliated to locali outside the scope of the investigation: for example, ‘Ndrangheta leaders from other areas (Calabria, but also other Italian regions and countries of the world) who seldom interacted with the groups under investigation. Second, other leaders were incapacitated to participate in events, e.g. due to imprisonment or death at an early stage of the investigations.

  9. In Minotauro, “leaders & organizers” also comprised former holders of the offices (only this investigation identified them), and the members of the “Crimine”, a special unit responsible for violent actions.

  10. All network analysis operations were performed using UCINET 6 [9].

  11. Preliminary explorations included also closeness and eigenvector centrality, but these measures reported limited differences between leaders and non-leaders.

  12. Complete or quasi-complete separation occurs when the outcome variable separates a predictor variable. For instance, in most observations leader = 1 corresponds to Mafia charge = 1.

  13. In wiretap networks, an individual’s participations in telephone calls often corresponds to the valued degree (number of co-participations) as most calls involve only two people.

  14. Across the four investigations, 48.6% and 36.1% of individuals in meetings and wiretap networks, respectively, took part in one event. Participants in 10+ events amounted to 9.5% and 15.7%, respectively.

  15. Specification I only included betweenness centrality, given its importance in the literature and in the analysis of the ratios between leaders and non-leaders. Specification II included only control variables to assess the impact of the mere participation in events and the possible biases by investigation. Specification III comprised betweenness and mafia charge, while specification IV betweenness and both controls. Specification V relied on betweenness, mafia charge, and valued degree for meetings and degree for wiretaps. Specification VI presented the complete models. Exploration of additional specifications yielded consistent results.

  16. Tjur’s R2, or Tjur’s coefficient of discrimination, varies from 0 to 1 as the prediction improves. It calculates the mean of the predicted probabilities of an event for each category of the dependent variable (i.e. whether or not a member is a leader) and then it takes the difference between the two [88].

  17. Aemilia comprised only six leaders, making it hard to achieve reliable estimations. Moreover, betweenness strongly correlated with the number of meetings (Pearson’s R 0.914), causing problems for collinearity in the specifications. Similarly, in Minotauro betweenness and meetings were closely associated (Pearson’s R 0.839) and the inclusion of meetings in specifications IV and VI made betweenness not statistically significant.

  18. This subsection presents results for meeting networks for reasons of simplicity. Exploration for wiretap networks yielded results similar to those presented in the previous subsection, with wiretaps models performing significantly worse than meetings.

  19. In Infinito the investigators filmed a ‘Ndrangheta meeting in a town nearby Milan, which took place on 31 October 2009 in a social club for elderly people named after Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two judges killed by Cosa Nostra in 1992. The meeting aimed at appointing the new Mastro generale. 23 men sat at a horseshoe-shaped table, eating dinner and discussing the appointment. All the leaders of the locali approved the candidate and subsequently celebrated with a toast.

  20. For example, a major event in the ‘Ndrangheta is the annual meeting at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Polsi, a mountain town in Calabria ([69], p. 53). In Operation Crimine, the investigation recorded for first time the discussions at the Polsi meeting of September 2010, where more than 300 affiliates were present. Only highest-ranked individuals from locali around the world participate discussing internal organization, activities, and awarding new high ranks. Crimine was the first time the Italian authorities has managed to monitor the Polsi meeting, showing how carefully managed meetings may provide better protection from investigations than telephone conversations.

  21. In Infinito leaders of the locali in Lombardy were invited to the wedding between the children of two powerful ‘Ndrangheta dynasties, the Pelle and the Barbaro on 19 August 2009. This was a major event for the ‘Ndrangheta, and Infinito leaders discussed participation and presents at length. Invitations reflected the status and power of a locale, whereas non-invitation showed its weakness.

    Furthermore, the largest recorded event during Operation Minotauro was a funeral held on 3 January 2009 in Settimo Torinese. The service concerned the caposocietà (deputy boss) of the locale of Natile di Careri, near Turin, murdered in an attack a few days earlier because of disputes internal to the ‘Ndrangheta. The ceremony was attended by dozens of criminals, who gathered to pay their respects to the deceased boss. Participation in the funeral represented an opportunity to demonstrate criminal standing and reinforce a group cohesion in difficult times.

  22. In particular, “leaders” numbered six (about 3% of the total) in Aemilia. Also in Minotauro, leaders numbered fifteen in the meeting network (4% of the total) and thirteen in the wiretap network (4.8%), respectively.

  23. Unsurprisingly, Aemilia reports the best improvement, as the number of “leaders & organizers” (n = 11) nearly doubles the number of “leaders”.

  24. Morselli described how repeated drug seizures affected N1, the group leader’s position (2009b, Chapter 6). N1’s centrality scores decreased as the law enforcement agencies intercepted more drug consignments, while other criminals organized new shipments, resulting in increased centrality.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank two anonymous reviewers, Scott Decker, David Krackhardt, Giulia Berlusconi, Elisa Bellotti, and Tomáš Diviak for the useful comments to our manuscript. This work is the result of the joint efforts by both authors. F.C. and E.S. jointly contributed to the design of the study to the data collection and to the analysis of the results. F.C. wrote the introduction and discussion, and reviewed the final manuscript.

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Table 6 Networks’ topology and connectivity
Fig. 3
figure 3

Operation Minotauro, two-mode and one-mode meeting networks. On the left pane, red nodes are meetings and black nodes individuals. On the right pane, red nodes are leaders, black nodes are non-leaders. Nodes sized by betweenness centrality

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Calderoni, F., Superchi, E. The nature of organized crime leadership: criminal leaders in meeting and wiretap networks. Crime Law Soc Change 72, 419–444 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-019-09829-6

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