Mafia movies influence gang

Malverns love Godfather flicks, rapper videos, police say -
Mob lifestyle spurs move from drugs to fraud, counterfeiting

May 13, 2004
Toronto Star
By Moira Welsh

Malvern Crew leaders are fascinated with Mafia films, cramming their shelves with videos like The Godfather, Scarface and Goodfellas, police sources say.

Inspired by the lifestyles of Mafia bosses, the Scarborough street gang has evolved from drug deals and robberies to credit card fraud and making counterfeit money, say several police officers who spent years investigating the gang.

But the Malvern Crew's businesses were shut down yesterday when 65 alleged gang members and associates were yanked from their beds across the Toronto region in a series of early morning arrests that were part of the largest anti-gang takedown in the city's history.

Project Impact pulled together hundreds of officers from several police forces, many of whom spent the last year investigating the Malvern Crew, one of the biggest gangs in Toronto.

"Their businesses show that they run a sophisticated operation," said Bill Blair, Toronto police staff superintendent.

Nevertheless, Chief Julian Fantino called them "a bunch of no-goods, a bunch of thugs."

One of the officers who has been watching the gang said they moved into the business of fraud "because the penalties are next to nil."

"Everybody knows that the drug culture is dangerous. With drugs comes violence. So if you're going to make $100,000 from drugs or from fraud, what are you going to choose?"

Credit card fraud is a significant source of gang income, the officer said.

"You use the credit cards to build I.D. They have people in the banks and the Ministry of Transportation working for them. Once you get a licence and a name, it's easier to build the I.D."

The movies have so influenced the Malvern Crew and other Scarborough gangs that one of the most popular street names for local gangsters is Scarface, inspired by the 1983 film starring Al Pacino as a brutal character who builds an empire in Miami's violent drug trade, the officer said.

The business evolution of street gangs was depicted in the music video, "Poppin' Them Things," by rapper 50 Cent and G Unit, another officer said.

In the video, 50 Cent is shown in a room facing established crime bosses from the Mafia and biker gangs. They are pressuring him to get back down to the streets. But when the room suddenly overflows with 50 Cent's men, the crime bosses realize that street gangs are now a force to be reckoned with.

"Some of the gang leaders really relate to that," he said. "50 Cent is telling the Mafia, `We are here now. We are on the scene and we're not going away.'"

Even though tips from local residents helped lead to the Malvern Crew's mass arrest, gang members have in the past threatened residents to stop them from talking to police.

"I've heard of people wanting to come forward with information and being told (by the gangs), `Watch what you say, how you say it, watch who you talk to,'" said city Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre).

Many residents have become terrified, afraid to leave their homes, worrying that they would be hit by stray bullets from rival gang members shooting at each other nearby, Thompson said yesterday.

"You can't see a bullet coming. So people became very afraid in their day-to-day lives," he said.

The Malverns operate in Scarborough between Markham Rd. and Meadowvale Rd., up to Sheppard Ave. in the north, the officer said. In Scarborough, the most vicious gang fights are between the Malverns and their rivals, the Galloways, who control the Kingston Rd.-Lawrence Ave. E. area.

"There is a battle going on between the two gangs," the officer said. "It has been going on for about five years. I've heard a couple of reasons, either a drug ripoff or a stabbing at a party."

There is a strict no-dating policy between the two gangs.

"If a Malvern girl is seeing a Galloway guy, they stop it. It's not allowed. They shot at a guy for that a while back," he said.

Even gangs aren't immune to internal dissent. There are jealousies between the leaders and the younger "soldiers", mostly teenagers, who are required to prove themselves by doing street crimes, the officer said.

"A lot of kids take the videos from rappers like 50 Cent to heart. They want it fast and they want it now. But there is a lot of jealousy within gangs. They see the leader driving a nice Lexus, wearing the clothes. They're thinking, `Here I am doing all the work, working really hard. Why don't I have that?'

"They want it all now. They see the videos with the cars, the jewelry, they want all that."

It's no surprise then, that teenagers are taking a piece of the drug trade for themselves — especially at high school.

Teenage drug dealers call their customers "custies," he said. They stake out their turf at school. But anyone who makes a success of selling drugs in the Malverns' area is required to pay a portion of their profits to the gang leaders, he said.

"On a bigger scale, gangs tax guys who are selling in their area," he said. "They have to pay between $1,000 to $2,000 a month to the gangs. If you sell in a certain area, they tax you. Or you face serious bodily harm."

Malvern leaders protect themselves from rivals, leaving their homes surrounded by bodyguards. Leaders have their own guns, but many gangs have communal weapons used for business.

"They are very careful how they use it," the officer said. "They get really angry if it's used for the wrong purposes. They want to keep their guns clean. Sometimes they make money by renting out guns."

Some of the shootings that have plagued Toronto in recent years are the result of drug ripoffs between gangs, he said.

The shootings are followed up with home invasions, theft of a rival's drugs, he said. And it's almost a perfect crime because the victim rarely calls the police.

"It's the crime of choice," he said. "You do a home invasion on a drug dealer, chances are he's not going to call the police. Most of these go unreported. They don't want to bring attention to themselves. It's easy money. Then they turn around and sell the drugs."

Unknown to the Malvern Crew, police had been tracking their moves for months.

Fantino pledged that police would stay on the gang members who are released on bail.

"We're going to be monitoring and watching them, babysitting those who get bail, until they go to jail."