The Sextant Christopher Newport University’s On-Line History Journal

Vol. 9, Fall/Winter 2012-13

 

 

 

The Russian Mafia in New York City: Ascent to Power

 

Timothy Coddington

 

 

IN 1992, WITHIN THE FIRST DAYS after the fall of communism, James Moody, Chief of the Federal Bureau of  Investigation Organized Crime Section, received an unexpected phone call.  The call was from the new Russian Federation’s First Deputy Minister of the Interior, Mikhail Konstantinovich Yegorov.  Yegorov wanted immediate cooperation between the Russians and Americans in combating the Russian Mafia [Русская мафия, Russkaya Mafiya]. [1]  Despite the history between the two nations each agreed that something had to be done.  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 York.  An accomplice and Shuster were known to be hiding in Moscow, Russia.  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 States.  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.[2]  This operation was the first of many cooperative actions between the United States and the Russian Federation in combating the Russian Mafia worldwide. 

          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 business.  The Russian Mafia is reportedly one of the most wealthy, violent and truly international criminal organizations in the world with a presence throughout Russia, Eastern Europe, the Far East and The United States.  Through a combination of complex white-collar crimes and a lack of police action in the early years, the Russian Mafia in New York City 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 millennium.  Agencies have been combating elements of the Russian Mafia across the United States, Europe and throughout the Russian Federation.  The Russian Mafia is a powerful criminal organization that willingly, almost an eagerly, uses violence.  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 States.”[3]

          Most mafia sources relate to the more culturally popular La Costa Nostra, or Italian Mafia Families, of New York City.  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 Russians. 

Robert 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 original information.  Her book The Soviet Way of Crime, published in 1986, was one of the first comprehensive looks at the Russian Mafia.  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 States.

          To understand the Russians and their unique style of organized crime one must step back and examine the origins of Russian organized crime.  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.[4] The Soviet Gulag was the government agency that administered penal labor camps.[5] The term Gulag became popular for describing the prison camp system in the Soviet Union.  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 Union.  Over twenty camps were in this region alone, with “Camp 6” specifically devised for the most dangerous criminals.[6]  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 brotherhood. 

          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” or “thieves-in-law.”[7] One of the most powerful organizations in Russia, they primarily operated in the prison camps, even dating back to the time of the Czars.[8] The vory brotherhood evolved into a unique fraternity with a ritual of initiation. 

This ritual of initiation was completed with a newly inducted vory choosing his nickname after being initiated.  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.[9] If, for example, a vory had two cigarettes, he was expected to share them with everyone.  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.[10]

          An example of vory commitment to the brotherhood can be seen in their common attitude towards women.  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.  Historian Frederico 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.”[11] 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 [gangsters], gained 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 streets.[12] Results of this change included the loss of the influence of the old vory and the further erosion of the old strict code of behavior.  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.  Eventually these criminals and their associates made their way out of the Soviet Union and into new territory, including the United States.

          In the 1970s then President Richard Nixon entered into talks with the Soviet Union about increasing trade between the two Super Powers.  Nixon, in return, asked the Soviets to show their good intentions by allowing the emigration of oppressed Soviet-Jews.[13]  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.[14] 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 Beach, which became the center of Russian émigré life in New York.

The 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 Beach.[15] In this flood of Soviet-Jewish émigrés came many criminals.  Some of these criminals were looking to make it in America, the land of Democracy, while others were products of a purging of the Soviet prison system.  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.[16]

          This mixed group of émigrés in Brighton Beach 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.  These professional 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 dollars.  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.[17] Gangs like the Potato Bag Gang ravaged the population of Brighton Beach 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 Beach and New York City opposed much of the early law enforcement action.  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.[18]  A second contributing factor to the scarcity of police action was the simple fact that few police actually patrolled the Brighton Beach area, and of these patrolmen, just one spoke Russian.[19] 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 criminal enterprises.

          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.”[20]

Brokhin was supposedly a prominent Russian-Jewish dissident, author and filmmaker who immigrated in November of 1972 during the Nixon years.[21] 

This 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.[22] The two men enjoyed great success in the theft and smuggling of precious gems.  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.[23]

          The two men interviewed dozens of Gulag-hardened thugs to the root out the facts of Brokhin’s murder.  Despite facing contempt from the unshakeable Russian criminals—some of who had done time in prisons in the Arctic Circle—Campanella and Drubin discovered many alarming facts. 

Most distressing was that many police officers in Brighton Beach were on the payroll of the Russians.  Off duty cops were paid nightly to act as bodyguards, bagmen and chauffeurs.[24] Campanella also identified at least four hundred Russian émigrés suspected of belonging to a dozen different crime groups.[25]  Campanella documented his findings and sent them off to NYPD Internal Affairs, but the findings were ignored.  The entire event and the intelligences were all buried.[26] This proved the last significant effort against Russian organized crime in Brighton Beach.

          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 Beach area.  Furthermore the article stated that this syndicate might have links to the USSR syndicates and even to KGB, the Soviet Union’s premier security, police, and intelligence agency.[27] Without a doubt there was something brewing in Brighton Beach.

          Of the early gangs in Brighton Beach there emerged one group of émigrés that become dominate, this group was under the leadership of Evsei Agron.  Evsei Agron immigrated to the United States 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.[28]  Agron quickly established himself as top dog in Brighton Beach 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.[29]  Agron valued fear above honor.  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.        

Of these individuals there was Emile Puzyretsky who was involved with Russian organized crime and one of Agron’s more frightening enforcers.  Other people Agron employed around him included the Neyfeld brothers, Boris and Benjamin.  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 Beach 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 hand.  After the episode dozens of witnesses vouched for Benjamin’s record of events justifying the homicide, the case was dropped.[30]

          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 Beach.  He realized that not all the émigrés were hard working Jews making an honest living.  Wilson discovered that many professional thieves and hit-men were living in Brighton Beach.  The Genovese and other Italian Families soon hired Russians to do their dirty work.  Eventually Wilson arranged a meeting between the Genovese higher-ups and Agron.[31] 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 York City. 

          Things were going well for Agron, his gang and the Russian Mafia in general; they were ruling Brighton Beach 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 payroll.  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 way.[32] On May 4th, 1984 Evsei Agron was found dead in the hallway outside his apartment at 8:35 A.M.  There were two bullet holes in his right temple, another professional hit.[33] 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.

Departing 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 States history. 

          Marat Balagula immigrated to the United States 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 advisor.  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.[34] 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 Families.  With this new control Marat proceeded to develop and operate one of the United States most lucrative tax evasion scams ever. 

The 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.  Russian émigrés 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 another level.  In 1982 the federal government changed the responsibility of tax collection from the individual dealers to the distributors.[35] This change in tax collection gave the Russians, especially Marat, the opportunity to make large sums of illegal money by pocketing tax revenues. 

          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 moves locations.  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 taxes.[36] Of these individual dummy companies one was marked as the burn company.  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 taxes.[37] 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.  [38]  Russian émigrés found ways of taking advantage of this situation.  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.[39]

          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 their profits.  Eventually even big time dealers like Power Test, a dealership on Long Island, were forced to unite with the Russians or fold up.  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.[40] 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 notice.  Marat was able to negotiate a deal with the Italian Families.  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 York City; it was truly a golden age for the Russians. 

          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 enforcement.  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.[41]  Furthermore the FBI and other agencies continued their pursuit of Italian Mobsters.  The Federal law enforcement agencies gravely misunderstood the nature of the Russian criminal.

          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.”[42] 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 neighbors.  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 either.  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 crime.[43] Robert I.  Friedman is quoted in the article “The Red Menace” as saying:

 “While the Mafia [La Costa Nostra] uses violence to punish enemies surgically, the Mafiya [Russian Organized Crime] will kill the enemy, his wife, his children, his friends, both as a theatrical warning to competitors and for the sheer joy of bloody, tyrannical violence.”[44]

          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 paper work.  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.[45]  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.[46]

In 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 one.  The American justice system was non-threatening and inefficient in the eyes of the Russians; the United States was viewed as a big candy store for Russian criminals and they came to get their share.[47] Though this combination of their skills and attitude imported from the USSR, 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 integration.  Marat’s operation 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 residential diner.[48] With this extensive system Marat was able to eliminate any middle man allowing for a maximization of profits.  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 sentencing.  For three years Marat ran from law enforcement agencies traveling through over thirty six countries; eventually being arrested at Frankfurt, Germany international airport.  He was sentenced to eight years in prison and an additional ten for his part in the gas bootlegging scams.[49] 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 Beach. 

          In May 1991 Emile Puzyretsky, one of Agron’s former associates, was eating breakfast at a local restaurant in Brighton Beach.  While eating, a man approached Puzyretsky and shot him fifteen times in the face and chest.  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 information.[50] No one at the scene wanted to be labeled a stukatch, or snitch, which would entitle a visit from the gunman, Monya Elson.  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.[51] 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 Beach.  Money was coming from everywhere, gems, drugs, extortions, and fuel scams.  However Monya never could claim complete control of Brighton Beach 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 Marat Balagula.  He served with Marat until 1986 when Marat fled the country to escape federal sentencing.  Since then Boris had established himself as a power within Brighton Beach through an elaborate heroin smuggling operation and involvement in gasoline frauds.[52] Boris’ heroin operation was unique in that it controlled the product, heroin, from the source in the Far East to the streets of New York City, thus eliminating any middle man and maximizing profits.  Boris’ heroin ring was bringing millions of dollars worth of heroin into the United States on each flight.  Boris Neyfeld disliked Monya Elson and his attempt to take over Brighton Beach.  The two powerful and dangerous leaders declared war on each other; the battlefield was the streets of New York City and Brighton Beach.[53]

          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 other.  Each side began to import Russian thugs in from Russia itself.  With the fall of the Soviet Union came a relaxation of travel restrictions to and from the Soviet Union.  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.[54] 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.[55]

With so many immigrants coming and going it was difficult for Immigration and Naturalization Services to identify criminals and return them.  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 criminals.[56]  While this inconclusive civil war was raging in Brighton Beach and criminals were funneling in and out of the United States a new threat was coming.  A true vory had been dispatched, from Moscow, to America with the goal of conquering those Russian criminals who had emigrated only a generation earlier. 

          Ivankov, nicknamed Yaponchik meaning “Little Japanese,” arrived in the United States in March of 1992, during the chaos of Monya’s and Boris’ civil war. 

He quickly became a citizen of the United States through a rapid marriage and divorce scheme.  Instead of entering in the bloody turf war that was raging between Monya and Boris, Ivankov went about securing connections all over the United States 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.  Ivankov secured connections with elements of the Russian Mafia in many American cities including Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, Boston, Toronto and the Tri-State area.[57] 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 conquered. 

          “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 corporation”[58]

 Vyascheslav Kirillovich Ivankov was the man sent to wrangle up the Russian criminals in the United States, a decision made by his fellow vory and himself.[59] Ivankov was the founder of one of Moscow’s 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 citizens.[60] 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 early release.[61] After his release Ivankov was sent to America to perform his assigned duty of bringing all the Russian criminal gangs together under his leadership. 

          Monya Elson was one who the few who resisted Ivankov’s planned takeover.  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 the United States.  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 battle.  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 fight back.

          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 Families.  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 its business.  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.  Criminal opportunities come first, and the necessary structure to take advantage of those opportunities follows.[62] Russian mobsters could be shooting at one another on Friday but that next Monday they could be cooperating together on a drug deal.  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 FBI’s New York and Washington D.C.  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 D.C.  and New York City 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 Florida.[63] 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 Russians. 

          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 section.  Moody was one of the few agents in Washington D.C.  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.[64] 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.  C.  headquarters in 1993.  Moody had little success in setting up a FBI Russian Organized Crime task force in New York City.  Yet with the public beginning to cry out about the ever increasing violence the Russians were using things had to be done.  The turf war between Monya and Boris was beginning to take its toll on the residents of Brighton Beach and New York City.  News paper articles began to print reports of gangland shootings or Russian émigré slain execution style.  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 apartment.  The gun man fired twenty bullets; several were fired at their heads, killing the two men at around 1:30 AM.[65]       

 Eventually the violent ways of the Russians would prove helpful in jump starting the law enforcement response to the ever increasingly dangerous situation.  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.[66] Yet with few informants and little knowledge of the workings of the Russian Mafia the FBI had little knowledge of how far behind they were.

          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 Crime Commission.[67] 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 a crime.”[68] Though there has been times when the Russian Mafia was more structured such as when Marat Balagula was running Brighton Beach 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 Mafia.  Their first objective was obtaining Vyascheslav Kirillovich Ivankov. 

          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.  United States eventually got a break when the Canadian Police helped supply information that would lead to agents obtaining wiretaps on Ivankov.  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 train station.[69] 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 Beach.  He was tried and sentenced to nine-and-a-half-year jail term.[70]

 The 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 United States during the 1970s.  From an assembly of individual gangs terrorizing local residents of Brighton Beach 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 organization.  This second 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 in Germany, after fleeing authorities for years, the Russian Mafia broke down and began to fight a bloody civil war.  During this time Ivankov, a powerful vory, came to America to bring these gangs under his control.  At this same time law enforcement agencies began to regroup.  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 FBI’s New York and Washington D.C.  Russian units law enforcement agencies began a successful fight back against Russian émigrés.  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. 

 


Bibliography

 

Adams, Nathan.  “Menace of the Russian Mafia.” Reader’s Digest, August 1992, 33-40.

 “After Soviet Jails, Little Daunts Them.” New York Times, June 4 1989, p.  38.

Dunn, Guy, Major Mafia Gangs in Russia in Russian Organized Crime: A New Threat?.  Ed.  Phil Williams, London: Frank Cass & Company, 1997.

“Émigré and Son Shot to Death in Brooklyn.” New York Times, January 13, 1992, p B3.

“Extorionist Toting Cattle Prod.” New York Times, June 4, 1989, p.  38.

Finckenauer James O., Elin J.  Waring.  Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture, and Crime.  Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

Friedman, Robert, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.

Handelman, Stephen, Comrade Criminal: Russia’s New Mafiya.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

“I.N.S.  Is Unable to Screen Felons.” New York Times, June 4, 1989, p.  38.

Kleinnecht, William, The New Ethnic Mobs: The Changes Face of Organized Crime in America.  New York: Free Press, 1996.

May, Clifford D..“U.S.  Officials Tell of Russian Émigré Crime Group in Brooklyn.” New York Times, February 15, 1983, p.  25.

Mitchell, Alison.  “City of Lost Illusions: Brooklyn Killings Stun Soviet Émigrés.” New York Times, January 14, 1992, p.  B1.

Raab, Selwyn.“Reputed Russian Crime Chief Arrested.” New York Times, June 9 1995, p.  B3.

Raab, Selwyn.  “Russian and Chinese Crime Groups Are Among the Most Organized.” New York Times, August 24, 1986, p.  E6.

Rosner, Lydia, The Soviet Way of Crime: Beating the System in the Soviet Union and the U.S.A..  Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey, 1986.

Sterling, Claire, Thieves World: The Threat of the New Global Network of Organized Crime.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Steven E.  Alford, “The Red Menace,” Houston Chronicle, May 14, 2000, [found on Factiva] http://0-global.factiva.com.read.cnu.edu/ha/default.aspx (accessed March 18 2008). 

Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project.  Russian-Émigré Crime in the Tri-State Area, 1994 Tri-State Area, 2008.

 U.S.  and Russia May Share Intelligence Services.” New York Times, October 19, 1992, p.  A6.

 U.S.  Officials Tell of Criminal Group Among Russian Émigré’s in Brooklyn.” New York Times, February 15, 1983, p.  B3.

 Varese, Federico, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New Market Economy.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

 

 

Contents

Introduction

 


Coddington

Garmon

Grozbean

Hilleary-Nasser

King

Keene

Viar

Judkins

Plarr
Ruble
Shaughnessy
Buxbaum
Herbert
Porter

 

 

 

 

 



[1]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 87.

[2]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 90.

[3]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994),  35.

[4]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 124.

[5]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 123.

[6]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 124.

[7]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 123.

[8]James O.  Finckenauer and others,eds., Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture, and Crime (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), 75.

[9]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 150.

[10]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 147.

[11]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 151.

[12]Federico Varese, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New MarketEconomy.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 150.

[13]William Kleinnecht, The New EthnicMobs: The Changes Face of Organized Crime in America.  (FreePress, 1996), 271-287.

[14]William Kleinnecht, The New EthnicMobs: The Changes Face of Organized Crime in America.  (FreePress, 1996), 271-287.

[15]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 16.

[16]Steven E.  Alford, The RedMenace, Huston Chronicle, May 14, 2000, [found on Factiva]http://0-global.factiva.com.read.cnu.edu/ha/default.aspx (accessed March 182008). 

[17]William Kleinnecht, The New EthnicMobs: The Changes Face of Organized Crime in America.  (FreePress, 1996), 271-287.

[18]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 84.

[19]Clifford D.  May, U.S.  Officials Tell of Russian Émigré CrimeGroup in Brooklyn New York Times, February 15, 1983, p.  25.

[20]Clifford D.  May, U.S.  Officials Tell of Russian Émigré CrimeGroup in Brooklyn New York Times, February 15, 1983, p.  25.

[21]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 75.

[22]Nathan Adams Menace of the Russian Mafia, Readers Digest (August 1992),33-40.

[23]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 78.

[24]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 79.

[25]Selwyn Raab, Russian and Chinese Crime Groups Are Among the Most Organized,New York Times, August 24, 1986, p E6.

[26]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 79.

[27]U.S.  Officials Tell of CriminalGroup Among Russian Émigré’s in Brooklyn, New York Times, February 15, 1983,p.  B3.

[28]James O.  Finckenauer and others,eds., Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture, and Crime (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), 75.

[29]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 24.

[30]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 24-26.

[31]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 29.

[32]Extorionist Toting Cattle Prod, New York Times, June 4, 1989, p.  38.

[33]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 54.

[34]James O.  Finckenauer and others,eds., Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture, and Crime (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), 77.

[35]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 11.

[36]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 12.

[37]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 12.

[38]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 12.

[39]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 12.

[40]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 49-50.

[41]Claire Sterling, Thieves World: The Threat of the New Global Network ofOrganized Crime.  (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 163.

[42]Lydia Rosner, The Soviet Way of Crime: Beating the System in the SovietUnion and the U.S.A..  (Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey, 1986), 29.

[43]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 19.

[44]Steven E.  Alford, The RedMenace, Huston Chronicle, May 14, 2000, [found on Factiva] http://0-global.factiva.com.read.cnu.edu/ha/default.aspx(accessed March 18 2008).

[45]William Kleinnecht, The New EthnicMobs: The Changes Face of Organized Crime in America.  (FreePress, 1996), 271-287. 

[46]William Kleinnecht, The New EthnicMobs: The Changes Face of Organized Crime in America.  (FreePress, 1996), 271-287.

[47]After Soviet Jails, Little Daunts Them, New York Times, June 4 1989,  p38.

[48]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 51.

[49]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 61-64.

[50]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area, 1994),57.

[51]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 98.

[52]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 100-101.

[53]Alison Mitchell City of Lost Illusions: Brooklyn Killings Stun SovietEmigres, New York Times, January 14, 1992, p.  B1.

[54]I.N.S.  Is Unable to ScreenFelons, New York Times, June 4, 1989, p. 38.

[55]Alison Mitchell City of Lost Illusions: Brooklyn Killings Stun SovietEmigres, New York Times, January 14, 1992, p.  B1.

[56]I.N.S.  Is Unable to ScreenFelons, New York Times, June 4, 1989, p. 38. 

[57]Selwyn Raab, Reputed Russian Crime Chief Arrested, New York Times, June 91995, p.  B3.

[58]Claire Sterling, Thieves World: The Threat of the New Global Network ofOrganized Crime.  (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 16.

[59]Stephen Handelman, Comrade Criminal: Russias New Mafiya.  (NewHaven: Yale University Press, 1995), 260.

[60]Guy Dunn, Major Mafia Gangs in Russia inRussian Organized Crime: A New Threat? Ed.  Phil Williams(London: Frank Cass & Company, 1997), 65-67.

[61]Selwyn Raab, Reputed Russian Crime Chief Arrested, New York Times, June 91995, p.  B3.

[62]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 32. 

[63]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 73.

[64]U.S.  and Russia May ShareIntelligence Services, New York Times, October 19, 1992, p.  A6

[65]“Émigré and Son Shot to Death in Brooklyn, New York Times, January 13, 1992, pB3.

[66]Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America.  (Boston:Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 89.

[67]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 2.

[68]Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project, Russian-Émigré Crimein the Tri-State Area (Tri-State Area,1994), 31.

[69]Selwyn Raab, Reputed Russian Crime Chief Arrested, New York Times, June 91995, p.  B3.

[70]James O.  Finckenauer and others,eds., Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture, and Crime (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), 113.