U.S. drug agents have arrested three top Japanese crime figures on charges of conspiring to smuggle amphetamines and heroin into Hawaii and to set up a murder in Japan, using undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents they thought were members of U.S. organized crime.
U.S. Atty. Daniel Bent of Honolulu said Tuesday that the arrests Monday marked “the largest American law-enforcement effort against Japanese organized crime operations in the United States.”
The Justice Department has targeted Japanese organized crime operations for priority attention among those underworld organizations that have emerged in the United States in addition to the Mafia, whose members lawmen refer to as “traditional” mobsters. Japanese organized crime figures call themselves yakuza, which means “absolute bottom.”
Those arrested, who had traveled to Hawaii from Japan to carry out the alleged drug conspiracy, included Masashi Takenaka, regarded as the front-runner to take over the leadership of Yamaguchi-gumi, whose 10,000 members make up the largest of the Japanese organized crime groups. The group’s former leader, Takenaka’s brother, Hisayuki, was gunned down by members of a rival criminal syndicate last Jan. 26.
According to Bent, the other two arrested were Toyahiko Ito, self-described financial controller of the Yamaguchi, and a man identified only as Kiyoshi Kajita of Osaka and Hong Kong.
Five other men were arrested in Hong Kong on Monday on charges of bringing drugs through there bound for Hawaii. Bent said that the United States will seek to extradite these five others as part of the alleged conspiracy.
The Yamaguchi members allegedly made known their plans in meetings with the undercover DEA agents, who posed as American organized crime members interested in buying methamphetamines, or “speed,” and heroin. The drug conspiracy involved 52 pounds of methamphetamines and 12 pounds of heroin, according to an affidavit submitted as the basis for the arrests.
The Japanese suspects allegedly solicited the American agents to use a rocket launcher in carrying out a murder in Japan, according to the affidavit.
Bent, in a telephone interview Tuesday, refused to identify the target of the plot but said that information had been conveyed to Japanese authorities for appropriate action. Gang warfare has raged in Japan for at least four years, but Bent would not say whether such warfare was behind the assassination plot.
Gun Charge Cited
Takenaka, Ito and Kajita also were charged with conspiring to import 100 handguns, five machine guns and the rocket launcher into Japan.
Those arrested in Hong Kong by authorities there were identified as Tadao Naganuma, Hitome Kuroe, Lee Chung Wo, Akiho Yamagata and Wai Man Chan. Bent said that Chan is a popular movie actor in Hong Kong.
Until recent years, Japanese organized crime activities were thought to be restricted to Japan, where police estimate that 2,300 gangs take in more than $4 billion a year--nearly half of it from narcotics, most often methamphetamines. Other gang activities reportedly include gambling, prostitution, “protection” of businessmen and usury.
But the Justice Department, followed by the President’s Commission on Organized Crime, has said that Japanese criminal groups now are moving into the United States with activities including drug smuggling, gun running, prostitution and related operations.
Officials said that the largest U.S. operations run by the Japanese mobsters have been in Hawaii, where the criminals reportedly prey on Japanese tourists and the large Japanese-American community. More recently, the Japanese organizations have been active in Southern California and San Francisco, buying import-export businesses, real estate, nightclubs, restaurants and other enterprises, according to the President’s commission.