A report and headline yesterday referred to an organized-crime network as the Yazuka. It is the Yakuza.
The Japanese Yazuka, a ruthless organized crime network with more than 100,000 members in Japan, is moving into the United States with extensive drug-smuggling, gun-running, prostitution, gambling, extortion and money-laundering activities, the President's Commission on Organized Crime said today.
The largest Yazuka operations here are in Hawaii, where they prey on Japanese tourists and the large Japanese-American community. However, in the last five years they have been active in Los Angeles and San Francisco, buying import-export businesses, real estate, oil leases, nightclubs, restaurants, gift shops and tour agencies, according to the commission.
Yazuka members have purchased businesses and property in Arizona, Washington, Colorado and Nevada, which law enforcement officials say is part of a vast money-laundering operation. In New York, Japanese businessmen have been lured into high-stakes gambling operations jointly operated by Yazuka associates and Italian-American crime figures, according to a Japanese businessman who testified before the commission disguised in a black hood and robes.
"They are devastating and they are dangerous," said Appeals Court Judge Irving Kaufman, who heads the $5.5 million-budget commission charged with investigating organized crime. So far, he said, the federal government has "paid little attention" to organized crime in the Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese communities, the subject of three days of hearings here this week.
State, federal and local agencies have been hampered by a shortage of agents fluent in Oriental languages. Moreover, the Asian groups have traditions and codes of silence that are virtually impossible to penetrate, Hawaiian and California police officers testified.
Police officials in Japan have told U.S. journalists that Yakuza members import guns from the United States and are engaged in other criminal activity here. But they question whether the Yakuza will ever capture a significant part of the U.S. drug market or whether concrete links have been developed with U.S. organized crime figures.
The Yazuka, organized into some 2,500 societies that trace their origins to 17th-century feudal Japan, are known for tattoos that cover their bodies from the neck to legs. The tattooed dragons and warriors, made with needles that penetrate a quarter inch into the flesh, "show that a man can undergo great pain and he is a Yazuka for life," said a Japanese member who testified today in black robes with the help of a translator.
The Yazuka member, who, according to the commission is the first "insider" to speak publicly about the organization here, held his hand aloft from behind a screen to reveal a pinkie finger, severed at the joint.
Following a common Yazuka custom, the man said he severed the tip of his finger "as a show of repentence for a mistake I made" and sent it to his Yazuka boss in a bottle of alcohol labeled with his name. The man said he held a high position in a Yazuka hierarchy and had served time in prison for criminal activities.
In recent years, several Yazuka members have been caught and prosecuted here after alert immigration officials on the West Coast noticed missing fingertips on people as they entered the United States.
In Japan, a criminal group called Sokaiya, with links to the Yazuka, specializes in corporate extortion, according to testimony. Detective George Min of the Los Angeles Police Department testified that Sokaiya members have bought stocks in U.S. companies and showed up recently at International Business Machines (IBM) and International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) stockholders meetings.
In an interview, Min said that the Yakuza "is a criminal group with 100,000 members and millions of dollars that is looking to expand. America is the land of opportunity and they are coming here already."
However, he added, "at this point they are not strong enough to make moves" against large U.S. companies. "They are here to test the waters. They asked to speak at these stockholder meetings. They brought their own photographers -- maybe to take back photos to elevate their prestige in Japan."
So far, according to Min and other witnesses, the Yazuka, unlike the Chinese Triad societies, has not recruited members among Americans of Oriental extraction. It does, however, use Japanese Americans here as interpreters and guides, Min said.
He said two recent homicides in Los Angeles were clearly Yazuka-related and that the organization operated a white slavery ring in the area, recruiting blond singers and dancers through newspaper ads, inviting them to Japan and forcing them into prostitution there. A suit is pending against the state department filed by a North Hollywood entertainer who claims the U.S. Embassy in Japan refused to help her, he said.