WASHINGTON - The gang problem in the United States is growing and there are an estimated 1.4 million members in some 33,000 gangs, the federal government said Friday.
Gangs are collaborating with transnational drug trafficking organizations to make more money and are expanding the range of their illicit activities, engaging in mortgage fraud and counterfeiting as well as trafficking in guns and drugs, according to the national gang threat assessment for 2011.
Gang membership "continues to flourish" and gang leaders are striking new alliances with other criminal organizations for profit, FBI agent Jayne Challman told reporters during a briefing at FBI headquarters.
The gang member estimate of 1.4 million was up from 1 million two years ago, a 40 percent increase, but the report attributed the rise in part to improved reporting by law enforcement agencies.
White-collar crime is an increasing focus for gangs. The report cited the arrest of a member in a Los Angeles gang called Florencia 13 for operating a lab that manufactured pirated video games.
A member of the East Coast Crips in Los Angeles co-owned a clothing store, using it to sell counterfeit goods and traffic in drugs, and members of the Bloods in San Diego were charged with racketeering and mortgage fraud, said the report by the National Gang Intelligence Center, a multiagency effort led by the FBI.
In an example of an alliance, the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods worked with the Lucchese organized crime family in New Jersey to smuggle drugs and cell phones into a prison.
On the West Coast, law enforcement officials in the state of Washington suspect that some Asian gangs are involved with Asian organized crime and marijuana cultivating groups.
In southern California, 99 members of the Armenian Power gang suspected of ties to crime figures in Armenia, Russia and the nation of Georgia were charged with kidnapping, extortion, bank fraud and drug trafficking.
Gang membership is increasing most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions of the country and many communities are experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian and Caribbean gangs, said the report, which is based on federal, state and local law enforcement data.