Feature Articles

January 2013
Jamaican Posses

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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"Posse: a body or force armed with legal authority." (Webster's Dictionary)

     Jamaican criminal gangs in the United States have taken on the word "posse" after the very popular old Western films viewed widely in Jamaica. The posses are known for violent tendencies. A conservative number of about forty posses have operated in the United States. They have also been active in Canada, Great Britain and the Caribbean, with a total membership numbering in the thousands. Their specialty is drug trafficking. Bosses in Jamaica act as brokers for narcotics distributed by drug traffickers.

     In addition to narcotics, posses are known to kidnap for ransom, frauds, bank kiting (fictitious negotiable instruments) and money laundering. The gangs do not represent a syndicate but tend to be loosely organized with little loyalty to a single gang affiliation.

     Crack cocaine running is major. Jamaicans introduced crack into the Kansas City market and established several "gate houses" where the drug was sold. In 1989, in one police raid, authorities seized an arsenal of weapons, over thirty kilograms of crack and in excess of $600,000 in cash.

     Posses have infiltrated cities throughout the United States. In 1987, in Rochester, NY, sixteen gang members were arrested. They had seized control of the crack cocaine business in that upstate metropolitan area. Similar takedowns occurred in thirteen states and the District of Columbia, all wanted on charges of illegal migration, firearm violations, murder and narcotics trafficking.

     New York City has been fertile ground for the larger gangs. The Delroy Edwards drug distribution cartel, known as the Rankers Posse or Southies, engaged in territorial disputes. Edwards was a member of the most powerful of the Jamaican gangs. As such it was able to neutralize competing gangs and to monopolize drug distribution and sales. Extreme methods used to defeat competitors became a posse trademark.

     The posse phenomenon is not to be confused with the Rastafarians, a Jamaican religious cult, who use marijuana in their rituals. However, there have been crossovers between the two groups. Rastafarians have been deeply involved in marijuana trafficking. They are also given to violent methods and have been found in posse ranks.

     To the extent that a gang held together over a period of time, the posse structure was built along three distinct levels. At the top, the leaders controlled their posses and remained isolated from the everyday street-level activities. Sub-leaders make up the second level. They deliver drugs, guns and money up the hierarchy. They also, for a fee, are part of the smuggling system of illegal aliens into the United States. In the third tier are the street-level drug pushers, youngsters with most exposure to the authorities and most expendable. Their careers can be brutal and short. In general, a posse's longevity is brief: leadership fluctuates; new factions form; arrests are common. RICO charges have shown success in dismembering several gangs.

     The bosses are usually Jamaican nationals who have been residing in the United States for several years. The lower echelons are composed largely of illegal aliens. They are easily recruited because of their eagerness to come to the United States, tempted by the lure of quick money in quantity. They are brought to "safe houses" where they are instructed and given new identities. Each has a "cheat sheet" to memorize for use if questioned by the authorities: fictitious family names; work histories; social security numbers, as well as local area codes, schools attended and football teams.

     The posses are equal opportunity employers. Native-born Americans of Jamaican ancestry belong to the gangs. American female Blacks are employed for various criminal functions. In one documented instance, a Black female rented 200 apartments to be used as drug stash houses and from which crack would be peddled.

     Most posse members are in their twenties, use only street names and try not to stand out in appearance. Dreadlocks are reduced to conventional hairstyles. Members practice the code of silence to stymie police efforts. And they are transient, moving from city to city, which creates problems for the creation of full criminal dossiers. As organized crime organizations they are also successful in infiltrating licensing and government agencies to obtain and alter official records. No crime group can exist without official corruption and an enabling public.

     Examples proliferate. A Pennsylvania state trooper was convicted on twenty-four counts of aiding and abetting the sale of valid but fraudulently issued driver's licenses to members of a Philadelphia-based Jamaican posse. A Baltimore Department of Vital Statistics employee provided the Stanley Asher Cole mob with false Maryland certificates used by Jamaican nationals to enter the U.S. illegally, to join Cole's association. Official informants keep posses apprised of privileged information. Internal security leaks ruined a major drug takedown by the District of Columbia Metro Police Dept. Florida's Metro Dade Police were forced to remove data on its officers and their families because state files were compromised.

     In the early 1980s, the Jamaicans began to traffic in the high-grade sinsemilla strain of marijuana. Later they moved to crack cocaine. Crack was less bulky to transport with greater profit. Cocaine powder was purchased using Florida connections, flown from South America, carried in by prostitutes. Soon, flush with cash, the posses purchased their own aircraft for drug transport. U-Haul trailers carried bulk marijuana across national borders.

     As the mobsters moved into neighborhoods to take advantage of the crack craze, they encountered established local Black gangs. Inevitable disputes over turf led to wars. Where the posses endured, money at the street level moved up the hierarchy. A steady flow of cash was the priority. Any signs of holding out resulted in most of the killings.

     What did the bosses do with the overflow of profits? Investigations disclosed that the tainted money was laundered by investing in boats and airplanes, to move product and to purchase real property and businesses, including trucking firms, restaurants and operating concert tours. Businesses served as fronts for further criminality.

     The Jamaican mobs represent an interesting chapter in the history of American organized crime. Somewhat exotic in terms of ethnicity and modus operandi, they do represent a species of racketeering, albeit in somewhat crude form, quick to exploit opportunities as they arise and shrewd enough to present a challenge to law enforcement.

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