The complexity of Fukushima contracts and the shortage of workers have played into the hands of the yakuza, Japan's organized crime syndicates, which have run labor rackets for generations.
Nearly 50 gangs with 1,050 members operate in Fukushima prefecture dominated by three major syndicates--Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, police say.
Ministries, the companies involved in the decontamination and decommissioning work, and police have set up a task force to eradicate organized crime from the nuclear clean-up project. Police investigators say they cannot crack down on the gang members they track without receiving a complaint. They also rely on major contractors for information.
In a rare prosecution involving a yakuza executive, Yoshinori Arai, a boss in a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai, was convicted of labor law violations. Arai admitted pocketing around $60,000 over two years by skimming a third of wages paid to workers in the disaster zone. In March a judge gave him an eight-month suspended sentence because Arai said he had resigned from the gang and regretted his actions.
Arai was convicted of supplying workers to a site managed by Obayashi, one of Japan's leading contractors, in Date, a town northwest of the Fukushima plant. Date was in the path of the most concentrated plume of radiation after the disaster.
A police official with knowledge of the investigation said Arai's case was just "the tip of the iceberg" in terms of organized crime involvement in the clean-up.
A spokesman for Obayashi said the company "did not notice" that one of its subcontractors was getting workers from a gangster.
"In contracts with our subcontractors we have clauses on not cooperating with organized crime," the spokesman said, adding the company was working with the police and its subcontractors to ensure this sort of violation does not happen again.
In April, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare sanctioned three companies for illegally dispatching workers to Fukushima. One of those, a Nagasaki-based company called Yamato Engineering, sent 510 workers to lay pipe at the nuclear plant in violation of labor laws banning brokers. All three companies were ordered by labor regulators to improve business practices, records show.
In 2009, Yamato Engineering was banned from public works projects because of a police determination that it was "effectively under the control of organized crime," according to a public notice by the Nagasaki-branch of the land and transport ministry. Yamato Engineering had no immediate comment.
Goshima said he himself had been working for the local chapter of Yamaguchi-gumi since the age of 14, extorting money and collecting debts. He quit at age 20 after spending some time in jail. He had to borrow money from a loan shark to pay off his gang, which demanded about $2,000 a month for several months to let him go.
"My parents didn't want any problems from the gang, so they told me to leave and never return," Goshima said. He went to Fukushima looking for a well-paying job to pay down the debt--and ended up working for a yakuza member from his home district.