Business Policemen behind the Blue Veil of Silence: Determinants of Centrality and Law Enforcement Outcomes in Corrupt Elite Networks
Public sector corruption is a large ‘industry’ generating annually about US $1 trillion dollars in bribes (World Bank 2004). For ‘corruption enterprises’ to be financially successful despite institutional change, they must possess an intelligently-designed production technology organized around talented leaders able to recruit capable, trustworthy criminal minds effectively blocking any anti-corruption investigations and reforms. However, criminal networks face a trade-off between secrecy and efficiency (Morselli 2009; Crossley et al. 2012). More central players have more associates, are involved in more criminal activities, and thus are more visible. Therefore, an actor’s location in a criminal network should influence the likelihood of penalties (Baker and Faulkner 1993). Different crime cultures exhibit different modus-operandi, and social structure (Morselli 2009). Elite corruption differs from ordinary (serious and organized) crime (Gambetta 2000; Varese 2000; Lauchs and Stains 2012). Corrupt top policemen, having a monopoly over violence and coercion and operating within a paramilitary bureaucracy, have different incentives to form ties from ideology-driven terrorists, politically-motivated mafiosi, or profit-seeking criminals.
Given the understudied field of organized elite police corruption and its deleterious consequences for socioeconomic development (Ivkovic 2005; Johnston 2005) and (inter)national security (Gerber and Mendelson 2008), this study seeks to understand: ‘Why are certain actors more central than others?’, and ‘How does an actor’s point centrality in a corrupt network affect the probability of law enforcement outcomes (allegation, arrest, verdict, and sentence), murder (death sentence or gun-justice), and whistleblowing (whistleblower or supergrass)?’ To address these questions, we draw upon organizational, organized crime and covert networks theories and use documentary and archival data to reconstruct the actual cooperation networks involved in high-profile police corruption in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Although aspects of 'covert,' 'conspiracy,' 'clandestine,' 'shadow,' 'underground,' 'illegal' or 'dark' networks have been studied by organizational criminologists and network analysts (e.g., Morselli 2009; Xu and Chen 2010), the elite corruption’s structure, leadership characteristics, and effect on outcomes have remained virtually unexplored (Launch et al. 2011, 2012). Moreover, there is a lack of comparative ‘networked’ corruption research. The study of organized, high-level corruption is important for both theory and policy. We contribute to secret societies, covert networks, organized crime, and organizational theories by studying elite illegal networks comprising public servants and their clients. Identifying the socioeconomic characteristics of highly successful corruption entrepreneurs, and exploring the web of their hidden interactions, may allow us to design better anti-corruption policies. Last but not least, our study explores the extent to which theories based on legal, secret or criminal networks are generalizable to corruption.
We applied theoretical sampling (Eisenhardt and Graebner 2007) selecting welldocumented, high-level, organized police corruption with the different main corrupt activities in different nation-states. Our corrupt police networks include: the Australian ‘First Joke’ (1959-1974), the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s corrupt network (1990s-2015), the Canadian ‘Ontario Provincial Police Union Scandal’ (2015), the Russian Chayka Family (2016), the British ‘Groovy Gang’ (1990s-2000) and ‘Operation Nightshade’ (1993), the U.S. ‘L.A.P.D. Rampart Scandal’ (1990s-1998), and the Chinese ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang’s guanxi (1998-2012).
We hypothesize that actors of higher socioeconomic status, criminal reputation and the ability to uphold the secret code, will be perceived more valuable, trustworthy partners in crime, will attract more criminal associates, and thus will be more central. We suggest that former members of political or secret organizations, having greater symbolic and social capital (Bourdieu 1997), are more likely to be sought as brokers between the police and (il)legitimate networks or organizations. We expect that males and particularly close family members, being considered more trustworthy in the uncertain criminal world (Abadinsky 2007), will be part of the boss’s inner circle. We predict that more central actors, having greater involvement in corrupt activities, will face stiffer criminal sentencing. Brokers and middle managers, possessing sensitive information and experiencing greater performance pressure, will be more likely to be lobbied by the police and become informants. However, the latter are also most likely to be murdered by the corruption boss. Lastly, we hypothesize that top officials, being able to better buffer themselves, will receive more lenient criminal sentencing.