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by Ryan Bird
Criminals are consistently bad and often dopey people who just seem to make the world terrible for everyone. Sometimes, however, the most well-oiled machines of criminal artistry make us do a double take, because it turns out that they've been actually helping people behind the scenes. Now that's not to say that this makes them good people by any means. But it is pretty damn surprising when you learn …
The Yakuza Provide Relief After Natural Disasters
The yakuza have a fairly long history in Japan, at least as far as continuously operating crime organizations are concerned. They're pretty big, too, boasting almost 100,000 members spread out among various separate syndicates. They make their money in a wide variety of ways, from extortion and fraud to human trafficking. Despite all this, the yakuza don't agree with that whole "criminal" label, but instead think of themselves more of a humanitarian group.
And while that may seem a laughable claim (it is) by a collection of terrifying criminals (they are), some people view them in a very different light, and sometimes for good reason.
In 1995, a large earthquake devastated the city of Kobe. Fortunately, Japan's largest yakuza group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, were on hand to help. From the parking lot of their actual headquarters, they handed out all sorts of food, with one spokesperson for the group saying they were handing out 8,000 meals a day to the people affected by the earthquake. And if you think that sounds pretty damn impressive, you're not alone. The Yamaguchi-gumi were widely praised for being more organized than Japan's own government at providing relief to the victims. Some did speculate, however, that the relief was nothing more than an attempt to improve their public image.
But the same probably can't be said for the Inagawa-kai, Japan's third largest yakuza, who took a decidedly less-public approach to their humanitarian efforts. In 2011, an earthquake/tsunami combo hit the Tōhoku region of Japan, resulting in thousands of deaths and many more thousands left without homes. Almost immediately after the dust settled, the group flipped on its "save the day" switch, driving 25 trucks filled with more than 50 tons worth of supplies to City Hall. And they did so late at night, so as to not draw attention, even covering up any identifiable information that could link the group to the yakuza. Even though, you know, everybody kind of knew it was them.
Damn. That's crazy to think of organized crime coming to the aid of people in need. Maybe someone should have called Al Capone to set up a soup kitchen during the Great Depression.
Al Capone Set Up One Of The First Soup Kitchens During The Great Depression
Alphonse "Al" Capone was one of the most famous crime bosses in history -- his name is virtually synonymous with the term "gangster". Of course, he made most of his money selling booze during Prohibition, but he was into other illegal things like gambling and prostitution as well, amassing a fortune that would have made him a billionaire today. Oh yeah, he was really into killing people, too. So there's that.
Which is why it's more than a little surprising to hear that when America was at its most desperate, Capone stepped up to help people. In fact, during the Great Depression, he was one of the early pioneers of launching what came to be known as "soup kitchens," which many people relied upon to get any food whatsoever.
Of course, Capone wasn't heavily affected by the Great Depression, which is apparently one of the job perks of owning a thriving, criminal empire. But that didn't mean he didn't see its effects all around him. With so many of his fellow Chicagoans not knowing where in the hell their next meal was coming from, he opened one up that some say served 5,000 people on Thanksgiving Day alone.
Again, as with the yakuza, some speculate it was done purely to bolster his image in the community. And to be fair, it did do that. But when someone is literally saving people from starvation, it seems kind of rude to focus on whether or not it was just a PR move. Then again, it's kind of rude to murder people, too, so touché.
Pablo Escobar Built A Whole Neighborhood For The Poor
Pablo Escobar ran the Medellín cartel back in the 1980s, whom you may recognize as the guy Johnny Depp eventually started working directly for in the movie Blow. And he made quite a bit of money doing it, being worth an estimated $30 billion. He's directly responsible for 80% of the entire planet's supply of cocaine.
Escobar conducted his business with a simple strategy called "plata o plomo," which translates to "silver or lead," meaning you either took a bribe or you took a bullet. Over the course of his career, Escobar basically bribed everyone he could and played the murder card on the ones he couldn't, resulting in the deaths of somewhere around 4,000 people.
Meanwhile, in 1980s Columbia, the poorest people in Medellín lived in a literal garbage dump due to a lack of government support. Using his vast wealth, Escobar helped pay for an entire neighborhood to be built, complete with a sanitation system and multiple soccer fields, so that the less fortunate of his city would have a non-garbage place to live. It was named Barrio Pablo Escobar, and it's actually still there today, serving as a tourist attraction of sorts.
Now, we’re not saying helping a single community erases the years of terror and death and lives ruined by drug addiction he's responsible for. It absolutely doesn't. But you might have a hard time convincing some of the people who still live there today, whose lives were saved by ... OK, a murderous drug lord. Dammit.
The Hells Angels Have An Annual Toy Run For Kids
There are just all kinds of motorcycle gangs out there, but none of them carry the weight of the "Hells Angels" name. Even without the apostrophe. A notorious collection of riders from all over the world, they are probably best known for being hardasses, involved in so much crime that the dedicated Wikipedia page on the topic might crash your browser. They don't enjoy the reputation of soft, cuddly teddy bears, is what we're saying.
Except for when they do, like in 2014 when they camped for days outside of a California Walmart in anticipation of a Black Friday sale so they could buy up all the bikes then donate them to needy kids.
As it turns out, it's not all about drugs and violence and extortion -- it can sometimes be about helping your neighbors in an area that really needs it. Also, this wasn't a one-time event … it actually marked the 16th year they rounded up toys for charity.
Wait, they bought them bikes? Crap. We hope this isn't some elaborate recruitment technique.
Lee Chao-Hsiung Donates $1.9 Million On His Deathbed
Lee Chao-Hsiung, a Taiwanese mafia boss, died in 2010 at the age of 73 as the then-leader of the Big Lake Gang. Not a lot is known about what specific crimes the group was involved in, but they were called a gang, so probably some crimes. We do know, however, that Lee Chao-Hsiung absolutely detested anything having to do with prostitution or violence. He was kind of known for being a mob guy not big on typical mob things.
He was even sort of famous for working with other gangs to release a bunch of kidnapped people who were being held for ransom. But this time, it was his final act of charity that brought together gangsters and politicians alike (some 20,000 of them) to remember his goodwill. Specifically, it was his final wish that almost $2 million of his own fortune be donated to charity.
The money was given to disabled groups and the impoverished, because that was just the kind of guy he was. You see, Lee Chao-Hsiung was a different kind of criminal -- he had only turned to crime as a way to climb out of poverty. He raised his kids to be honest, hard-working individuals, and often encouraged his own men to get real jobs when they could.
In the end, it was quite apparent that he didn't see criminal life as a career goal, but rather as a way to position oneself to contribute to something bigger than yourself. We're not sure that’s the best way to go about it, but we can't argue with the fact that it was pretty damn effective.
Like this article? Check out "Connecting With Dad By Robbing A Charity" and "4 Philanthropists Who Pretty Much Gave Away Their Fortunes".