Gangs in the Workplace: Corporate Investigations

By: Kym Pasqualini, Feature Crime Writer for Lauth Investigations

The days of red and blue handkerchiefs, baggy pants, graffiti, rap-music, and drive-by shootings are no longer such a popular sub-culture. Believe it or not, the new kind of gangsters hold college degrees, work and hold jobs in offices, warehouses, even government positions and police departments. They are a more sophisticated criminal and have infiltrated corporate America.

corporate gang
No more baggy pants. Today, you are more apt to find a gang member wearing black patent leather shoes.

If you think this is not a possibility in your own company, think again. No industry or company is exempt. A University of Chicago study found gangs have increasingly adopted a clean-cut appearance while replicating techniques used by organized crime.

Described as “very sophisticated and well organized” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), they estimate there are 33,000 violent street gangs with 1.4 million members nationwide. You can safely double that number if you count affiliates and wannabes. The number has risen steeply, up from 1996 where an estimated 400,000 gang members were accounted for in the University of Chicago study.If you think this is not a possibility in your own company, think again. No industry or company is exempt. A University of Chicago study found gangs have increasingly adopted a clean-cut appearance while replicating techniques used by organized crime.

Well-known companies, Chicago Police Department, the United States Post Office, major pharmaceutical companies, and even the Social Security Administration have found gang members within their ranks carrying out complex illegal operations netting millions annually.

According to the FBI 2015, National Gang Report (NGR), gangs have gained employment in the U.S. Military, law enforcement, corrections, and even judiciary.

From the Streets to a Global Crime Empire

Typically, gangs are known for drug trafficking, robbery, gun trafficking, intimidation rackets, prostitution, human trafficking, fraud and other crimes you may think would not infiltrate a common company. Now, they are. However gangs are concentrating their efforts on white-collar crime due to weaker sentencing guidelines and ease of making money.

The term “gang activity” involves identity theft, credit card fraud, prescription drug fraud, trafficking stolen goods, money laundering, mortgage fraud, Social Security Administration fraud, tax fraud, counterfeiting, and securities marketing manipulation. Where there is access, there will be individuals willing to participate in capitalizing and even selling their access to those interested in exploiting the system.

credit card
In New Jersey, the 111 Neighborhood Crips used a machine to make gift cards they distributed to grocery stores, pharmacies and other stores. Grand larceny accounts for 40% of all crime in the United States during 2014.

In 2015, the Outlaw Gangsta Crips in NYC made approximately $500,000 in a paycheck fraud scheme by obtaining a legitimate paycheck from an employee and using the information to create and cash counterfeit checks.

From 2004 through 2009, fraud investigations alone increased 33%, bringing losses associated with those schemes into the billions of dollars.

According to Fox Business, Gangs such as the Bloods, Crips and La Nuestra Familia are undertaking white-collar crime. They are recruiting members that possess the necessary skill-sets, according to the FBI.

When you think gangster, images of Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, maybe even Snoop Dog, may come to mind, not the impeccably dressed executive working in a high finance position. Or, the nicely dressed woman at the bank who knows how much you deposit weekly or the amount of your company’s payroll.

In a Workforce Magazine article, “Have Gangs Invaded Your Workplace,” during 1995, California, Silicon Valley firms alone were hit with more than 50 armed robberies of microchips and electronic components with the average heist netting the robbers $400,000. “There’s a growing level of sophistication and opportunism,” says Keith Lowry, a detective in the High-Tech Crime Unit of the San Jose Police Department.

Gang members are becoming harder to weed out in the hiring process, much of the time because we commonly think of “gang members” as looking like street thugs, and these old stereotypes are costing companies billions annually.

guy in suit
Weeding out white-collar gang members has become increasingly difficult.

Any company can become a target or an opportunity to engage in illegal activities, like dealing drugs, theft of property or personal information, extortion. Gangs have learned they can make a lot more money by being well-dressed, educated, and articulate.

For instance, electronics firms are easy targets. A microchip or computer processor weighing less than an ounce can score several hundred dollars on the street. The sentence for being charged with a stolen microchip much less than selling an ounce of drugs.

Some gangs plant members within a company in specific department such as infiltrating dispatching, shipping or the financial departments. They can also pose as temporary workers or work for outside vendors to gain access to numerous companies.

In addition, the growing trend toward outsourcing can often lead to less control over merchandise, files, and information.

According to a Fox Business article “From the Streets to Cyberspace: U.S. Gangs Turn to White Collar Crime,” the FBI says, “Gangs are more adaptable, organized, sophisticated, and opportunistic, exploiting new and advanced technology as a means to recruit, communicate discreetly, target their rivals and perpetuate their criminal activity.”

Facebook has become the preferred method for gang members to communicate according to the FBI. “The proliferation of social networking websites has made gang activity more prevalent and lethal – moving gangs from the streets to cyberspace,” says the FBI.

Arming Your Human Resources Department

Much of the solution lies in ensuring Human Resources procedures are effective. Of course, background checks and screening procedures are vital but is there more to be done to detect a potential criminal trying to infiltrate your workforce? The first thing to keep in mind – you get what you pay for and being lax can cost you.

Local criminal checks are almost worthless; however, a full criminal screening can pay off. In addition, many applicants may have earned their GED in prison, with some digging, their history can be discovered.

Many companies cut corners and haphazardly follow procedures when screening applicants not realizing dealing with the aftermath can result in costing more when you compare it to properly vetting applicants the first time around.

Additionally, letting your applicants know you will be conducting a thorough background, previous employment, driving records, verifying degrees, criminal record check, and reference checks can also discourage many applicants from pursuing the position in the first place, which ultimately saves your company time and costs associated with the screening process.

What is important to consider is applying an effective screening procedure to contractors, consultants and temporary employees depending upon how much access they may be granted, as well as, the time they will be spending at your company.

Trusting a “temp agency” is conducting the appropriate background checks is a potential liability for your company.

Educating your employees on how to spot gang activity and how to handle it is crucial. Some companies have found having training sessions and employee meetings add to their success combatting gangs in the workplace.

Experts agree loyalty to gangs overrides loyalty to an employer. Even though they may try hard to blend in they may still slip occasionally and there are some recommendations or even subtle things to monitor.

  1. Does your employee reside in a known gang area?
  2. Is your employee responsible? Too much time on the phone or arrive late?
  3. Does your employee go by a nickname and have nicknames for friends?
  4. Do the clothes, colors or insignias stay consistent?
  5. Does your employee have visitors at work, friend or family?
  6. Have you noticed any graffiti in or around your workplace?
  7. Does your employee use verbal, hand or walking mannerisms that could be associated with gang activity?
  8. Is your employee on parole or probation?

Being a girlfriend of a gang member or being a current or former gang member is not against the law, but it could be a sign of other activity that could be detected if your HR department is cognizant of the many issues that face companies if infiltrated.

Using Private Investigators to Combat Gang Intrusion in the Workplace

Private investigators are a commonly used tool in the arsenal to combat “gang intrusion” along with malingering, theft or fraud in the workplace.

Along with surveillance and providing evidence, they can also evaluate your HR department’s policy and procedures through undercover placement or working along with the HR department to tighten up the reigns to reduce incidents of crime.

Many times, it is recommended to have a private investigator apply for employment without informing anyone in your company to best determine where weaknesses exist in the hiring process. Were all the references called? What questions were asked? Were the proper background checks completed?

It may be necessary to start at the beginning of the hiring process. In addition, private investigators can be placed in certain departments where there have been discrepancies identified to collect evidence admissible in a Court of law. It is an extra layer of protection when investigating activities at your company without violating privacy laws.

When a company suspects criminal activity, it is advantageous to hire a professional who will work with police if the legitimate criminal activity is, in fact, detected. Abuse of sick leave or malingering costs companies billions of dollars a year. This is enough to warrant the hiring of a private detective to legally document the behavior.

From filming a guy talking about starting his new business and hinting at using the employer’s database, to a meat manufacturing plant taking a cut of the supplier’s delivery, to the employee watching porn on the company computers, a private investigator can take the care needed to conduct an internal investigation legally, ultimately protecting your company and saving you a lot of money.