The names change, the languages vary, and the players keep evolving. But when it comes to organized crime activity, the game on the street remains remarkably consistent.
It’s a lesson former Metro Det. Jason Hahn many years ago. Hahn, who retired from the department in December after nearly 27 years, spent most of his career working on the street as a member of Metro’s Criminal Intelligence Bureau. He also partnered with a federal task force focused on Asian organized crime.
The result was an impressive series of cases in which prolific prostitution rings and criminal gangs were taken down hard. Among the more notable were operations were Doll House, Jade Blade and Vegas Hold’em. Doll House and Jade Blade were prostitution-related. Vegas Hold’em was a joint task force operation that nailed a California-based Korean organized crime crew that was making high-dollar home invasions. By the time those cases closed, dozens of criminals were hit with long prison sentences.
These days Hahn has teamed up with former FBI agent Charles Bevan, his partner in the Korean case, in a local private investigations firm. The pair will no doubt benefit from its organized crime expertise.
Early in his career, Hahn realized what most good mob investigators know: Although criminal group identification and affiliations are important, many gangsters will gladly cross traditional ethnic lines to make a score. That’s why astute observers will commonly see Asian hoodlums in association with European criminals, Russian mobsters teaming up with Israeli counterparts, and traditional La Cosa Nostra figures taking advantage of alliances in outlaw motorcycle clubs. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll even see a casino guy keeping company with a notorious Chinese Triad associate.
Given Hahn’s background, it’s not surprising he would play an integral role in the growth of the International Asian Organized Crime Conference, as it was first known. It has undergone its own evolution over the years. Following the 9/11 attacks, the group added “Terrorism” to its title. With the spread of international organized crime, and investigations revealing liaisons between disparate criminal operations, this year’s gathering reflects the law enforcement group’s larger mission.
It’s now called the International Conference on Transnational Organized Crime &Terrorism. This year’s conference, which is closed to the public and most press, is set to begin Monday at the Red Rock Resort. More than 400 members of law enforcement from around the world are expected. This year, Metro Sgt. Darren Heiner and FBI agent Chuck Ro are the local conference coordinators.
“It basically covers everything — all different types of organized crime groups,” Hahn says. “These organized crime groups are working together. If there’s a profit to be made, it doesn’t matter if they’re Asian, Israeli, Italian, Eastern European or Russian.”
The conference reflects the reality of the new street. A sample of the workshops: “Narco-Terrorism,” “Detection of Counterfeit Currency,” “International Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs,” “Yakuza and Banks,” “Automating Investigative Tools for Social Networking Sites” and something called “Using Casinos as a Source of Information.”
That last one sounds intriguing.
When it comes to understanding the power of Japan’s Yakuza organized crime families, few can match the insight author and investigative journalist Jake Adelstein gained at Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper. The scheduled speaker is the author of “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.”
Although it’s nothing the chamber of commerce would want to advertise, it also makes sense to hold an organized crime conference here — and not just because we have our own Mob Museum.
Although the traditional mob influence is largely a thing of the past, international organized crime associates continue their fascination with Las Vegas. In recent years, authorities have investigated and prosecuted groups representing Russian, Yugoslavian, Korean, Mexican, and Israeli mob factions.
Some of the crews are remarkably sophisticated, others are pretty crude, but they all share the same desire for easy money.
The players come and go on the street, but the game remains the same.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-383-0295.