The Russian Mafia in New
Ascent to Power
IN 1992, WITHIN THE FIRST DAYS after
the fall of communism, James
Moody, Chief of the Federal Bureau
Crime Section, received an
unexpected phone call. The
call was from the new Russian
First Deputy Minister of the
Interior, Mikhail Konstantinovich
Yegorov wanted immediate
cooperation between the Russians
and Americans in combating the
Russian Mafia [Русская
мафия, Russkaya Mafiya].
Despite the history
between the two nations each
agreed that something had to be
To initiate good
relations between the two
countries the Russians agreed to
Mr. Moody’s terms of obtaining Red
Daisy fugitive David Shuster.
David Shuster was
indicted for his involvement in
gasoline bootlegging operation by
Russian organized crime in New
An accomplice and Shuster
were known to be hiding in Moscow,
A Russian commando unit
wearing ski masks, bullet proof
vests and carrying automatic
weapons stormed Shuster’s
“import-export” business and
detained the fugitives.
Yet, without any formal
treaties, the Russians were unable
to send Shuster off to the United
Furthermore they were
unable to place Shuster in Russian
prisons due to the illegal capture
of the fugitive; so naturally the
Russians did what they did best
and turned to brutality.
David Shuster was
transported to a dense forest
outside of Moscow,
dumped in a hole and subsequently
buried up to his neck.
The Americans were given
three days to pick Shuster up.
After hauling Shuster
back to America,
he agreed to testify against his
old comrades in a gasoline tax
evasion case, in return Shuster
received a more lenient sentence.
This operation was the
first of many cooperative actions
between the United
in combating the Russian Mafia
The word mafia
sparks several images in one’s
mind ranging from Great Depression
gangsters like Al Capone to
Italian Families of La Costa.
Yet there are many
different mafias in the world, all
operating in some form of illegal
The Russian Mafia is
reportedly one of the most
wealthy, violent and truly
organizations in the world with a
presence throughout Russia,
Eastern Europe, the Far
East and The United
Through a combination of
complex white-collar crimes and a
lack of police action in the early
years, the Russian Mafia in New
was able to establish its wealth
and power making it one of the
nation’s most powerful crime
organizations by the mid-1980s.
Russian organized crime
continued to operate up through
the 1990s and into the new
Agencies have been
combating elements of the Russian
Mafia across the United
Europe and throughout the Russian
The Russian Mafia is a
powerful criminal organization
that willingly, almost an eagerly,
Through frauds such as
the sale of bootlegged gasoline
the Russian Mafia in America
gained the financial backing to
fund its operations.
Furthermore the extra
dimension of having a truly
international presence and close
connections between Russian and
American elements adds even more
to its harm capacity.
The Tri-State Joint
Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime
Project, an extensive examination
of Russian organized crime in America,
concluded that “Russian-émigré
criminals constitute a serious and
evolving crime threat in the United
Most mafia sources relate
to the more culturally popular La
Costa Nostra, or Italian Mafia
Families, of New
Much of the available
information relating to the
Russian Mafia is in books about La
Costa Nostra in small sections
dedicated to the Russians.
There is a good selection
of books dedicated to Russian
organized crime and
a healthy number of
historians and writers who have
dealt specifically with the
I. Friedman, a freelance
journalist who has covered
difficult topics in the Middle
East, used his hard-nosed
investigation style to study the
Russian Mafia in America.
The work of Lydia Rosner,
another great source of
information, contains excellent
Her book The Soviet
Way of Crime, published in
1986, was one of the first
comprehensive looks at the Russian
Other sources of good
information on Russian organized
crime are Claire Sterling’s Thieves
World and Russian Mafia
in America by James O.
Finckenauer and Elin J. Waring.
Several other historians
have covered the subject of the
Russian Mafia ranging from its
operations in Russian to the United
To understand the
Russians and their unique style of
organized crime one must step back
and examine the origins of Russian
Its roots date to the
Stalinist Era of the Soviet
Union and its brutal
Gulag prison system, where an
estimated 18 million people have
passed through this prison system.
The Soviet Gulag was the
government agency that
administered penal labor camps.
The term Gulag became popular for
describing the prison camp system
in the Soviet
In these prisons were
many different types of
criminals—some political, but
others professional law-breakers.
The most famous Gulag
camps were that centered in the
region of Perm,
which was home to the highest
concentration of labor camps in
the former Soviet
Over twenty camps were in
this region alone, with “Camp 6”
specifically devised for the most
Gulag systems like the
one in the Perm
had existed before the Soviet
Union emerged after
World War I, and became home to
one of the most powerful criminal
groups the world has seen: the vory
A society of criminals
arose in these camps that
consistently refused to
participate in the labor projects.
Over time, these men
eventually banded together and
called themselves “vory-v-zakone”
One of the most powerful
organizations in Russia,
they primarily operated in the
prison camps, even dating back to
the time of the Czars.
The vory brotherhood
evolved into a unique fraternity
with a ritual of initiation.
ritual of initiation was completed
with a newly inducted vory
choosing his nickname after being
The brotherhood had its
own language called “fenya”,
identifying tattoos, and a
commonly shared belief that they
would never contribute to society
and they would share everything
they had with one another.
If, for example, a vory
had two cigarettes, he was
expected to share them with
In addition the vory
also had their own strictly
followed code of behavior and a
court system where members were
judged and wrongdoers were
punished for misbehavior.
An example of vory
commitment to the brotherhood can
be seen in their common attitude
Marriage was allowed
between a vory and women
but attachment to ones wife was
looked down upon and monogamy was
seen as a weakness.
The women were viewed as
the property of their husband.
Varese notes that for the vory
“Woman, an inferior being, has
been created only to satisfy the
criminal’s animal craving, to be
the butt of his crude jokes and
the victim of public beatings.”
Eventually the vory
brotherhood expanded beyond the
confines of the Gulag prison
camps, but with this expansion
came the degradation of tradition
among the vory.
New vory, blatnye
prominence in the criminal world
outside the prison camps while the
older vory, pakhany,
were all too comfortable living in
the Gulags, where they spent the
majority of their adult lives.
The new vory
reportedly bought their way into
the brotherhood, even purchasing
the title of vory on the
Results of this change included
the loss of the influence of the
old vory and the further
erosion of the old strict code of
Fueled by this loss of
tradition, a shift began took
place among vory beliefs.
Instead of being content
to stay in the Gulags, some vory,
along eith the blatnye,
started preying on the people of Russia.
criminals and their associates
made their way out of the Soviet
Union and into new territory,
including the United
In the 1970s then
President Richard Nixon entered
into talks with the Soviet
increasing trade between the two
Nixon, in return, asked
the Soviets to show their good
intentions by allowing the
emigration of oppressed
A second, similar
agreement between the two nations
occurred during the presidency of
Gerald R. Ford.
President Ford signed the
Jackson-Vanik Amendment that
required the USSR
to grant exit visas to an
increasing number of Soviet-Jews
in order to receive increased
trade benefits with the United
States of America.
As a result of these acts of
friendship between the two Cold
War rivals, thousands of
Soviet-Jews emigrated from the USSR.
During this time an
estimated 40,000 Soviet-Jews
settled in New
York City, more
specifically in Brighton
which became the center of Russian
émigré life in New
neighborhood was surrounded by the
ocean on one side and the other by
a middle class housing project,
referred to as “The Great Wall of
China” by residents of Brighton
In this flood of Soviet-Jewish
émigrés came many criminals.
Some of these criminals
were looking to make it in America,
while others were products of a
purging of the Soviet prison
The KGB was accused of
releasing thousands of criminals
in a cleansing of its prison
system during this time; in a
fashion similar to Cuban dictator
Fidel Castro’s purging that
nation’s prison during the Mariel
boatlift of the 1980s.
This mixed group of
émigrés in Brighton
formed two different communities.
The first was composed of
hard working émigrés who tried to
give their children the chance to
succeed in America
by sending them to college.
The other community,
however, was made up of
professional criminals formed in
many individual gangs with the
goal of advancing themselves.
criminals preyed upon the area’s
honest and hardworking residents.
An example of one of
these early gangs was “The Potato
Bag Gang.” A member of the gang
approached a newly arrived émigré
with a sack and an offer.
In a very elementary scam
(but efficient nonetheless), the
gang member pulled a gold ruble
from the sack and offered to trade
the ruble—and the rest of the
contents of the bag—for American
The target émigré
naturally assumed that the sack
contained more golden rubles.
Some unfortunate émigrés
agreed to the transaction and,
after it was completed, the émigré
discovered the bag contained not
gold rubles, but potatoes.
Gangs like the Potato Bag Gang
ravaged the population of Brighton
for many years.
Despite all this criminal
activity, a police presence or
response was minimal at best.
The first factor
contributing to this was the
undeniable fact that many of these
criminals were actually Jewish.
This religious element
caused many problems for law
enforcement early on.
The Jewish community of Brighton
opposed much of the early law
The argument used by the
Jewish leaders was that the hunt
for Russian Jewish criminals in New
York City could
foster anti-Semitism and
jeopardize the continued
emigration of Russian Jews to Israel
and the West.
A second contributing
factor to the scarcity of police
action was the simple fact that
few police actually patrolled the
area, and of these patrolmen, just
one spoke Russian.
With limited resources available
to combat the new Russian threat
and political hoops through which
to jump, many law enforcement
agencies instead continued to
focus their pursuits on La Costa
Nostra criminals and other
A solid effort to combat
the growing presence of Russian
organized crime came on December
7, 1982, with the murder of
forty-nine-year-old Yuri Brokhin.
A New York Times
article on the murder described
the death of Brokhin who was shot
execution style in the back of the
head with a small-caliber weapon
above the right ear, as a clear
sign of a professional “hit.”
was supposedly a prominent
Russian-Jewish dissident, author
and filmmaker who immigrated in
November of 1972 during the Nixon
was all a cover, however, as
Brokhin had been a partner in
crime with Evsei Agron, who has
been called the first Godfather of
the Russian Mafia and is one of
the many suspected criminals that
the KGB dumped on America.
The two men enjoyed great success
in the theft and smuggling of
The Brokhin murder case
was assigned to detective Barry
Drubin, who in turn went to
detective Joel Campanella.
The head of a two-man
intelligence unit monitoring
Russian criminals, Campanella was
the closest thing to an expert on
the Russians in the NYPD.
The two men interviewed
dozens of Gulag-hardened thugs to
the root out the facts of
Despite facing contempt
from the unshakeable Russian
criminals—some of who had done
time in prisons in the Arctic
and Drubin discovered many
distressing was that many police
officers in Brighton
were on the payroll of the
Off duty cops were paid
nightly to act as bodyguards,
bagmen and chauffeurs.
Campanella also identified at
least four hundred Russian émigrés
suspected of belonging to a dozen
different crime groups.
Campanella documented his
findings and sent them off to NYPD
Internal Affairs, but the findings
The entire event and the
intelligences were all buried.
This proved the last significant
effort against Russian organized
crime in Brighton
On February 12,
1983, sometime after the murder of
Brokhin, the New York Times informed
the public of the possibility that
an Organized Crime syndicate might
be located in the Brighton
Furthermore the article
stated that this syndicate might
have links to the USSR
syndicates and even to KGB, the Soviet
security, police, and intelligence
Without a doubt there was
something brewing in Brighton
Of the early gangs in Brighton
there emerged one group of émigrés
that become dominate, this group
was under the leadership of Evsei
Evsei Agron immigrated to
on October 8th 1975;
his occupation was listed as a
“jeweler” though he conveniently
forgot to mention he had served
seven years for murder in the
Soviet Gulag, emerging from the
system as a vory.
Agron quickly established
himself as top dog in Brighton
upon his arrival.
His gang was ruthless in
their extortion of Russian
émigrés, beating up shop owners in
front of customers if they refused
to pay protection money.
According to many,
including Friedman, Agron
threatened to kill a Russian
émigré’s daughter on the day of
her wedding if he did not pay a
$15,000 mob tax; Agron was
subsequently paid for the wedding.
Agron valued fear above
He carried around an
electric cattle prod that he used
to torture extortion victims with,
and surrounded himself with
equally brutal individuals to help
him run his illegal businesses.
these individuals there was Emile
Puzyretsky who was involved with
Russian organized crime and one of
Agron’s more frightening
Other people Agron
employed around him included the
Neyfeld brothers, Boris and
Benjamin Neyfeld, an
ex-Soviet Olympic weightlifter
with a twenty-two-inch neck, was
the less fearsome of the two in
spite of one shocking incident.
Benjamin once murdered a
young Jewish male in Brighton
one day in front of dozens of
witnesses in a parking lot.
The Jewish youth had,
according to Benjamin, insulted
his girlfriend while reaching for
a weapon, Benjamin picked up the
young man by the neck with one
hand, lifting him off the ground
and plunging a knife into the
young man’s heart with his other
After the episode dozens
of witnesses vouched for
Benjamin’s record of events
justifying the homicide, the case
In addition to making a
name for themselves, the Russians
under Agron also caught the
attention some of the La Costa
Nostra Italian Families, most
notably the Genovese Family.
Murray Wilson, a Genovese
Associate known for his money
laundering skills, was one of the
first to take notice of the
situation in Brighton
He realized that not all
the émigrés were hard working Jews
making an honest living.
discovered that many professional
thieves and hit-men were living in
The Genovese and other
Italian Families soon hired
Russians to do their dirty work.
arranged a meeting between the
Genovese higher-ups and Agron.
At the meeting a deal was struck
with the Russians working under
the protection of the Italians,
while the Italians got a portion
of Russian profits, thus allowing
the Russians to expand rapidly
without fear of attack by the
already established and powerful
La Costa Nostra families in New
Things were going well
for Agron, his gang and the
Russian Mafia in general; they
were ruling Brighton
and making a fortune doing it;
their alliance with the Italians
offered them protection from
everybody including some of the
crocked cops on La Costa Nostra’s
The Police were paying
little attention to the Russians,
allowing them to continue to run
their illegal businesses.
Agron’s brutal business
practices and his attitude that he
should get a percent of every
operation going on began to rub
some of his followers the wrong
On May 4th, 1984 Evsei
Agron was found dead in the
hallway outside his apartment at
There were two bullet
holes in his right temple, another
No one knows who was involved with
the hit, yet evidence leads to a
conspiracy within the ranks of the
Organizatsiya (the Russian Mafia).
Agron’s right hand man,
Marat Balagula eventually took
over operations after Agron’s
death; leading to suspicions that
Marat had a hand in Agron’s death.
from who killed Agron; Marat
Balagula was in prime position to
make the vicious group of thugs
Agron controlled into a
sophisticated criminal network
that became involved in one of the
largest tax evasion scams in United
Marat Balagula immigrated
to the United
in January of 1977 in the wave of
Jewish refugees, Balagula himself
was a Jew.
He quickly rose to
prominence in the Organizatsiya as
Agron’s consigliere for several
years, serving as his financial
Marat was a very smart
man and held a diploma as a
teacher of mathematics and also a
business degree in economics and
another in mathematics.
Agron was a sadistic extortionist
who used violence as his favorite
means to an end while Marat was
worldlier and imaginative.
Marat had great
aspirations for the Organizatsiya.
After seizing power in
the months after Agron’s untimely
death, Marat organized the Russian
Mafia on a hierarchical basis
similar to that of the Italian
With this new control
Marat proceeded to develop and
operate one of the United
most lucrative tax evasion scams
motor fuel tax scams became the
largest and most publicized frauds
involving Russian émigrés.
These motor fuel tax
frauds involve the perpetrators
selling and reselling gasoline and
diesel fuel without paying the
required excise taxes.
performing these scams would end
up costing the government an
estimated one billion dollars
annually in lost tax revenues.
Criminal elements had
been ripping off the government of
tax revenue for years.
It was the Russian
however that took these scams to
In 1982 the federal
government changed the
responsibility of tax collection
from the individual dealers to the
This change in tax collection gave
the Russians, especially Marat,
the opportunity to make large sums
of illegal money by pocketing tax
There are two different
types of motor fuel scams.
Daisy Chains are the
first of these two.
Daisy Chains involve the
creation of several licensed fuel
companies all cooperating together
to make the scam work.
One of these companies
purchases fuel and then begins to
move it throughout all the
companies, known as the dummy
companies, in bogus transactions.
The fuel itself never
All the dummy companies
file invoices with the government,
along with fraudulent tax
exemption forms, stating that the
companies had bought and sold the
fuel and had paid the required
Of these individual dummy
companies one was marked as the
The burn company was the
business responsible for paying
the taxes, which were never paid.
Instead when authorities
began to inspect the company these
burn companies, which were no more
than just a post office box and a
corporate principal, would go out
of business without paying the
Authorities would subsequently be
left with a complex mountain of
paper work that would lead to a
dead end burn company.
A second but equally
effect motor fuel tax scam
involved home heating oil.
Home heating oil is
virtually identical in chemical
composition to diesel fuel.
Both diesel fuel and home
heating oil are designated as
number two fuel at refineries.
When home heating oil is
purchased with the intent of
reselling it as home heating oil
the fuel is not taxed.
However when the number
two fuel is purchased for resale
as diesel fuel it is taxable.
Russian émigrés found
ways of taking advantage of this
Russian émigrés would
purchase number two fuel with the
stated intent of selling it as
home heating oil, allowing them to
bypass taxation on it.
After purchase the home
heating oil the Russians would
sell the fuel as diesel fuel.
They would sell it at
prices that include state and
federal taxes, yet they would
pocket these tax revenues.
These scams would cause
problems not only because of the
lost profits for state and federal
governments but also for every
legit fuel business in the area.
Many honest business men
were forced to go under or join
with the Russians; of course they
were forced to pay a Mob Tax on
Eventually even big time
dealers like Power Test, a
dealership on Long
Island, were forced
to unite with the Russians or fold
Through this partnership
with illegal fuel distributors
Power Test rose quickly in the
market and eventually was able to
purchase Getty Oil from Texaco,
who was forced to sell their East
Coast marketing operation of Getty
Oil due to antitrust actions.
Authorities would later bring
these men to justice.
Through the motor fuel
tax scams, Marat was able to make
the Russian Mafia a multi-million
dollar a year business.
With all this extra cash
following in it was not long
before the Italian Families took
Marat was able to
negotiate a deal with the Italian
In the end the Russian
were allowed to continue their
operations while paying a Mob Tax
to the Italians, in return the
Italians would run protection for
the Russian operations.
Because of this
negotiation and his skill with
people Marat was given a high
position of honor among the
Italian Families, symbolically
making him a made man and
untouchable as long as he was
under their protection.
The Russians under Marat
had become an extremely wealthy
and therefore a very powerful
force in New
it was truly a golden age for the
While the Russians, under
Marat, were making millions of
dollars a week from the illegal
gasoline scams, law enforcement
agencies were doing a lot of
nothing about the growing wealth
and power of the Russians.
Federal and local law
enforcement agencies were
following traditional patterns for
dealing with émigré crime.
It was a common practice
that the first generation of
émigré crime was centered in the
ethnic ghetto where the criminals
would prey upon the local émigrés.
Only after going through
these growing pains would law
enforcement agencies begin to take
action against émigré crime.
Because of this the
Russians were considered one of
the lowest priorities for law
A Senate Subcommittee on
Investigations in 1989, years
after Marat had established the
power and financial base for the
Russians, did not include the
Russian Mafia a top priority.
Furthermore the FBI and
other agencies continued their
pursuit of Italian Mobsters.
The Federal law
enforcement agencies gravely
misunderstood the nature of the
The nature of Russian
criminals is unlike that of any
other, including the famed
Sicilian Mafia and Chinese Triads.
“Immigration from the
Soviet Union brought to America’s
shores many people for whom crime
[is] but ordinary behavior.”
Upon arriving in America
many of these criminals hit the
ground running, instead of setting
up shop in the ghettos to extort
money out of their honest émigré
These criminals were all
ready masters of counterfeiting
currency, credit cards, federal
documents, ATM cards, and a
municipal of frauds including the
motor fuel tax frauds.
Russian émigrés were no
strangers to violent crimes
Since 1981 more than
seventy murders and attempted
murders involving Russian émigrés
had been committed.
Many of these homicides
appear to have been well planned
and, in some cases, assassins or
hit-men were used to commit the
Friedman is quoted in the
article “The Red Menace” as
the Mafia [La Costa
Nostra] uses violence to
surgically, the Mafiya
Crime] will kill the
enemy, his wife, his
children, his friends,
both as a theatrical
warning to competitors
and for the sheer joy of
This criminal nature was
the result of growing up in one of
the most violent police states in
history, the USSR.
Soviet life went hand in
hand with paper work.
Everyone was assigned
their jobs, their living quarters,
cars, even consumer good and
groceries were all recorded via
If an individual wished
to move to a new location it would
require permission via paper work
from multiple parties including
the leaders from the residents
current region, the new region and
anyone else thought to be of
importance related to the event.
With this ever present
mountain of paper work required
for the smallest details of one’s
life, Soviet criminals were forced
to master the bureaucracy.
They also quickly became
masters at forgery and
counter-fitting bringing these
traits with them to America.
addition to these skills the
Russians brought with them pure
contempt for the American judicial
system where everyone is innocent
until proven guilty.
The transition from the
Soviet secret police that would
routinely use violence as a means
to obtain a wanted individual,
violence and torture to
interrogate them, and violence to
punish them; to the friendly
neighborhood patrol man in the
United States that was forced to
read the Miranda Rights to
arrested individuals was an easy
The American justice
system was non-threatening and
inefficient in the eyes of the
Russians; the United
was viewed as a big candy store
for Russian criminals and they
came to get their share.
Though this combination of their
skills and attitude imported from
Russian criminals were able to
pounce upon the unsuspecting
Americans in the early years after
their initial arrival.
Marat Balagula was
considered the King of American
Bootlegging due to his enormously
successful motor fuel tax scams
and its intricate vertical
contained ocean going tankers,
several terminals, more than a
hundred gas stations all operated
by loyal Russians, a fleet of gas
trucks, truck stops including the
With this extensive system Marat
was able to eliminate any middle
man allowing for a maximization of
Though as events usually
turn out Marat’s criminal
activities would eventually catch
up with him and result in his fall
from power and ensuing arrest.
In 1986 Marat was
approached by Robert Fasano, a
small time crook who had all the
materials to create several credit
cards including over two dozen
numbers each with their own six
figure authorization code.
Marat partnered with
Fasano and provided the additional
material to create the cards.
Fasano then, with some of
Marat’s henchmen went shopping;
after a extensive shopping spree
of nearly three quarters of a
million dollars Fasano was
arrested by Secret Service agents.
Fasano agreed to wear a
wire tap to a meeting with Marat.
At this meeting, recorded
on tape, Marat implicated himself
in the credit card scam.
After trial Marat fled
the country only days before his
For three years Marat ran
from law enforcement agencies
traveling through over thirty six
countries; eventually being
arrested at Frankfurt,
He was sentenced to eight
years in prison and an additional
ten for his part in the gas
With Marat out of the picture the
scene was open to who ever had the
brass to try and take command of
the intelligent and brutal Russian
criminals in Brighton
In May 1991 Emile
Puzyretsky, one of Agron’s former
associates, was eating breakfast
at a local restaurant in Brighton
While eating, a man
approached Puzyretsky and shot him
fifteen times in the face and
After shooting the gunman
then got down on all fours to
recover every last bullet shell on
the floor and under tables where
other patrons were staring
unbelievably at the carnage.
Upon later questioning by
the police not one soul in the
restaurant came forward with any
No one at the scene wanted to be
labeled a stukatch, or
snitch, which would entitle a
visit from the gunman, Monya
Monya had worked for
Agron but chose rather to pursue
his fortune in the cocaine
smuggling business which
subsequently got him locked up for
six years in an Israel Jail.
Upon his release Monya returned to
Brighton Beach and immediately
went about making a name for
himself, by eliminating old
‘comrades’ who would pose
potential problems for his planned
takeover of Brighton Beach.
Monya quickly set up a
team of experienced criminals,
which became known as Monya’s
Brigade, and located headquarters
in the local night club, Rasputin.
From there Monya took
charge of a large portion of Brighton
Money was coming from
everywhere, gems, drugs,
extortions, and fuel scams.
However Monya never could
claim complete control of Brighton
like his predecessor Marat had.
Instead Monya was faced
with another old ‘friend,’ Boris
Neyfeld, the most ruthless and
feared of Agron’s henchmen.
Boris Neyfeld after the
death of Agron had attached
himself, rather conveniently, to
He served with Marat
until 1986 when Marat fled the
country to escape federal
Since then Boris had
established himself as a power
through an elaborate heroin
smuggling operation and
involvement in gasoline frauds.
Boris’ heroin operation was unique
in that it controlled the product,
heroin, from the source in the Far
East to the streets of New
thus eliminating any middle man
and maximizing profits.
Boris’ heroin ring was
bringing millions of dollars worth
of heroin into the United
on each flight.
Boris Neyfeld disliked
Monya Elson and his attempt to
take over Brighton
The two powerful and
dangerous leaders declared war on
each other; the battlefield was
the streets of New
York City and Brighton
For the next several
years Monya and Boris exchanged
hit attempts on each other’s life
and slaughtered dozens of Russian
thugs in the process.
No one seemed to be able
to gain the advantage over the
Each side began to import
Russian thugs in from Russia
With the fall of the
Soviet Union came a relaxation of
travel restrictions to and from
Many of these men would
come in to the United States
perform a job for a set amount of
money then fly back to Russia as
soon as the job was completed and
the foreign criminal was paid.
This became to most effective way
of doing business.
Imported criminals would
accept a smaller payment than
local criminals and after the job
was done they would leave the
country causing problems for law
enforcement who tried to track the
actions of Russian Mobsters.
so many immigrants coming and
going it was difficult for
Immigration and Naturalization
Services to identify criminals and
Between 1980 and 1989
Immigration and Naturalization
Services returned a mere 180
émigrés with criminal records.
This was further hampered
by the absence of cooperation from
Soviet authorities who failed to
supply information on known
While this inconclusive
civil war was raging in Brighton
and criminals were funneling in
and out of the United
a new threat was coming.
A true vory had
been dispatched, from Moscow,
with the goal of conquering those
Russian criminals who had
emigrated only a generation
Yaponchik meaning “Little
Japanese,” arrived in the United
in March of 1992, during the chaos
of Monya’s and Boris’ civil war.
quickly became a citizen of the United
through a rapid marriage and
Instead of entering in
the bloody turf war that was
raging between Monya and Boris,
Ivankov went about securing
connections all over the United
and the world.
Yaponchik was solidifying
his power base.
He aspired to monopolize
the Russian drug trade.
In doing this, the
combination of the incomes from
the gasoline scams and drug
trafficking was enormous.
connections with elements of the
Russian Mafia in many American
cities including Miami,
and the Tri-State area.
Ivankov also secured a steady
supply of Cocaine, which was
beginning to blow up as the drug
of choice back in Russia,
from the Colombians.
Attempts at securing
connections for business reasons
and alliances were made a great
deal easier due to Ivankov’s
relationship with powerful vory
back in Russia.
These connections alone
offered him enough cash to put
down even the stiffest resistance
from those who did not wish to be
“Much as Lucky Luciano
did with the American mafia
sixty-odd years ago, Yaponchik is
turning an assortment of unruly
and loosely articulated Russian
gangs on American soil into a
modern, nationwide crime
Kirillovich Ivankov was the man
sent to wrangle up the Russian
criminals in the United
a decision made by his fellow vory
Ivankov was the founder of one of
most powerful gangs, Solontsevskaya.
Members of the gang would
pose as cops and with forged
arrest warrants would search and
rob homes of wealthy Russian
Yaponchik was arrested in 1981 and
sent to the Gulag prison camps to
serve a fourteen year sentence, he
was released early in 1991.
Some suspect the
possibility of a bribed judge and
powerful politicians allowed the
After his release Ivankov was sent
to perform his assigned duty of
bringing all the Russian criminal
gangs together under his
Monya Elson was one who
the few who resisted Ivankov’s
Even with money coming
from the fuel scams and other
illegal businesses, Monya was no
match for Ivankov and fled the
scene after realizing the futility
of fighting him.
With men like Monya
leaving the scene and others like
Boris offering no resistance,
Ivankov was successful in his
conquest of the Russian Mafia in New
York City and across
Many of the older Russian
Mobsters had joined with Yaponchik
without any resistance, the
majority of them being too old and
wise to Ivankov’s reputation and
connections to fight a impossible
With a powerful man in
charge and all the national and
international connections Ivankov
boosted things looked bad for law
enforcement as they struggled to
get a hold of things and begin the
The greatest problem
facing law enforcement was the
fact that they considered the
Russians to be set up on the same
hierarchical system as the Italian
In certain cases, like
with Marat Balagula, this was true
but as a whole the Russian Mafia
is far different.
La Costa Nostra uses its
structure as a means to support
This means that the
Italian Families hierarchical
structure is continuous, and crime
is used to carry out its
objectives and maintain its power.
Russians, however, create
floating structures on an
as-needed basis to enable them to
carry out crimes.
come first, and the necessary
structure to take advantage of
those opportunities follows.
Russian mobsters could be shooting
at one another on Friday but that
next Monday they could be
cooperating together on a drug
Russian criminals would
get together for a job, after the
job was completed they group would
disband completely or a few
individuals might stay together
for another job.
This lack of structure
and concrete links between
mobsters made it extremely tough
for law enforcement agencies to
combat the Russian threat.
Law enforcement agencies
got a great ally in their fight
against the Russians through
several events, Operation Red
Daisy in 1992, the creation of the
York and Washington
Russian units and the
Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré
Organized Crime Project were all
key to combating the threat posed
by the Russian Mafia.
Prior to the creation of
the FBI Russian Mafia offices in Washington
there had been one strong effort
by law enforcement to stop the
Daisy Chains, which were taking
billions in tax revenue from state
and federal governments.
Operation Red Daisy was
launch on November 22, 1992; with
hundreds of agents armed with
arrest warrants officers
confiscated evidence, froze assets
and arrested bootleggers across
the country, even as far south as
Though this operation was still
handicapped; many of the agents
still preferred to go after the
Italian Mobsters that were working
in league with the Russians.
Despite this Operation
Red Daisy was by far the greatest
success story against the
This effort to begin the
fight back got a large boost from
the appointment of James Moody to
Chief of the FBI’s Organized Crime
Moody was one of the few
agents in Washington
who felt that the
Russians were more of the threat
than anyone thought; though many
obstacles faced Moody in his
attempts to convince his
colleagues of this.
All these obstacles
seemed to melt away with the
capture of David Shuster, which
was described in some detail in
the beginning of this paper.
This event also led to
the cooperation between Russian
and American authorities who began
to pool their intelligence
services in their fight against
Russian organized crime.
With the obstacles gone and the
backing of then Attorney General
Janet Reno the FBI set up a
Russian organized crime subsection
at its Washington D.
headquarters in 1993.
Moody had little success
in setting up a FBI Russian
Organized Crime task force in New
Yet with the public
beginning to cry out about the
ever increasing violence the
Russians were using things had to
The turf war between
Monya and Boris was beginning to
take its toll on the residents of
News paper articles began
to print reports of gangland
shootings or Russian émigré slain
An article entitled
“Émigré and Son Shot to Death in Brooklyn”
is an example of this violence.
The article discussed the
murder of a 49-year-old Russian
émigré with connection to
organized crime and his
26-year-old son were found dead in
the hallway outside their
The gun man fired twenty
bullets; several were fired at
their heads, killing the two men
at around 1:30 AM.
the violent ways of the Russians
would prove helpful in jump
starting the law enforcement
response to the ever increasingly
The New York City FBI
office specifically created to
combat the Russian Mafia threat
was created in May 1994 under the
code name C-24.
Yet with few informants and little
knowledge of the workings of the
Russian Mafia the FBI had little
knowledge of how far behind they
Law enforcement agencies
fighting the Russian Mafia were
given a huge boost to their fight
with the release of the Tri-State
Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized
Crime Project Report.
Work began on March 1st
1992 by a combined effort from New
York State Organized Crime Task
Force, the New York State
Commission of Investigation, the
New Jersey State Commission of
Investigation and the Pennsylvania
It offered a wealth of information
describing the Russian Mafia,
their workings both as an
organization or lack thereof and
of the types of crimes most
affiliated to Russian émigrés.
The report discusses the
fact that the Russian Mafia is not
traditionally organized like the
La Costa Nostra, “like liquid
mercury on a countertop, they
operate mainly as individual
specialists or in fluid groups
that occasionally unite to commit
Though there has been times when
the Russian Mafia was more
structured such as when Marat
Balagula was running Brighton
or also in the case when Ivankov
consolidated much of the power in
the Russian Mafia under himself.
Armed with a new
determination under the leadership
of James Moody, a better
understanding of the Russian Mafia
and its dealings with the
publication of the Tri-State Joint
Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime
Project Report in 1994 and lastly
a willingness to cooperate with
unexpected allies such as the
Russian Federation the law
enforcement agencies of the United
States were ready to begin their
fight back against the Russian
Their first objective was
obtaining Vyascheslav Kirillovich
Ivankov proved to be a
very tough man to catch or even
keep track of.
As habit of Ivankov
whenever he ‘smelled’ the
authorities nearby he would go
into hiding for days.
This uncanny ability to
evade authorities was aided in the
fact that Ivankov was forced to
travel a lot to maintain old and
get new connections.
eventually got a break when the
Canadian Police helped supply
information that would lead to
agents obtaining wiretaps on
The case was finally
broken when two brothers,
Alexander Volkov and Vladimir
Voloshin both involved in
organized crime themselves
approached the FBI asking for
protection from Ivankov and
offering information against him.
The two brothers were in
debt to Ivankov for $3.5 million
and Ivankov had already murdered
their father, having him stomped
to death in a Moscow
The two men helped authorities get
the information they needed to get
Ivankov and on June 8th
1995 FBI agents pulled a sleeping
Ivankov from the bed of his
mistress in Brighton
He was tried and
sentenced to nine-and-a-half-year
arrest of Ivankov signaled the
beginning of the fight back
against Russian émigré crime.
Russian émigré crime had
evolved several times since their
arrival in the
during the 1970s.
From an assembly of
individual gangs terrorizing local
in the early 1980s to a powerful
group that preferred violence as a
means to get what it desired under
the leadership of Evsei Agron.
Again Russian organized
crime changed after Agron’s death.
The Russian Mafia became
a wealthy and powerful
transformation came under the
command of Marat Balagula.
Marat had taken Agron’s
group of dangerous thugs and
created a multimillion dollar
venture through his adaptation of
the motor fuel tax scams.
After Marat was arrested
after fleeing authorities for
years, the Russian Mafia broke
down and began to fight a bloody
During this time Ivankov,
a powerful vory, came to America
to bring these gangs under his
At this same time law
enforcement agencies began to
With the publication of
the Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré
Organized Crime Project, the
success of Operation Red Daisy in
1992, and the creation of the
York and Washington
Russian units law
enforcement agencies began a
successful fight back against
The arrest and sentencing
of Ivankov kept the unification of
Russian émigré from happening.
If this was allowed to
occur then it could have created
an extremely powerful crime
organization that might have
proven unstoppable by law
enforcement agencies everywhere.
Law enforcement has
reorganized since their early
stumble against Russian émigré
crime and is now fighting a
successful battle against them.
Soviet Jails, Little Daunts Them.”
New York Times, June 4
Toting Cattle Prod.” New York
Times, June 4, 1989, p.
James O., Elin J.
Russian Mafia in America:
Immigration, Culture, and Crime.
Northeastern University Press,
Robert, Red Mafiya: How the
Russian Mob Has Invaded America.
Little, Brown and Company, 2000.
William, The New Ethnic
Mobs: The Changes Face of
Organized Crime in America.
Free Press, 1996.
“City of Lost Illusions:
Killings Stun Soviet Émigrés.” New
York Times, January 14,
“Russian and Chinese
Crime Groups Are Among the Most
Organized.” New York Times,
August 24, 1986, p.
Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized
in the Tri-State Area, 1994
Tri-State Area, 2008.
May Share Intelligence Services.”
New York Times, October 19, 1992,
Federico, The Russian
Mafia: Private Protection in a
New Market Economy.