The Russian Mafia
Links to a.d.sullivan & info on Susan Walsh
As with most of her conspiracy theories, Sue had plenty of material to
work with by the time she hopped on the Russian Mafia bandwagon in late
1992. The national press had already plastered headlines about the
invasion in newspapers across country, with TV media outlets only a few
months behind. The Village Voice was ripe for Sue's declaration about a
take over of the New York/New Jersey sex industry.
Nor was Sue particularly wrong in her conclusions. Other sources
confirmed the slow growing power base of elements of the Russian
underground society. One barowner said strip clubs from Paterson to
Princeton were being pressed into taking on dancers from Russian owned
But this latest Red Scare was nothing new and worse, Sue knew it. A
similar crime spree was reported over a century earlier when European
Gypsies invaded these shores, most of them originating in the same part
of the world, largely Russia and Serbia. In the years between 1870 and
1890 thousands of gypsies entered New York Ellis Island, and spread out
across the United States, carrying with them a plague of petty crime,
and seen then as threatening as the current invasion. Although these
groups wandered the nation for over fifty years, many came and went from
New York City, fighting with the street gangs there, competing with the
emerging elements of organized crime that would be commonly called "the
Mafia" later. The gypsies, however, would fade in the 1930s when the
Great Depression drove them into the cities, and police departments
struggled to contain their crimes, mostly fraud and petty theft. But it
was the gas chambers and work camps of the Nazi that ceased the threat
in American, by cutting off the when European Gypsies invaded these
shores, most of them originating in the same part of the world, largely
Russia and Serbia. In the years between 1870 and 1890 thousands of
gypsies entered New York Ellis Island, and spread out across the United
States, carrying wit
The roots of the contemporary Russian Mafia takeover, however, reach
back to the 1950s, when the traditional Mafia's power began to fade and
New York City began to see a reemergence of young street gangs. New York
established the Youth Board to contain their violence. As in the post
Civil War era, New York City had once again fallen into quilt-work of
turfs, new youth gangs taking over as new racketeering laws brought to
an end the post-prohibition power of the more organized gangs.
Organized crime never vanished, but its effect on the street slumped for
a time before heroin took over the streets, and then faded again as
Chinese, Vietnamese and South American Cartels took dominance in their
When Sue began her investigation of the Russian Mafia's influence on the
sex industry, she was already a decade behind the times. In 1984, when
she was graduating college, the Russian population of Brighton Beach had
already exceeded 30,000, almost half the total 75,000 Russian immigrants
in the United States.
During 1970s and 1980s, according to the US Immigration and
Naturalization Service, approximately 200,000 Soviet citizens, many who
were Russian-Jewish refugees immigrated to the US Although the Soviet
government liberalized its Jewish immigration policy, it is believed
that under this guise the KGB also emptied their prisons of hard-core
criminals, much like Cuban dictator Fidel Castro did during the Mariel
boatlift of 1980.
Many of these people had an insider's knowledge of crime, since survival
skills in a declining soviet union required dealing with black market
and other aspects for obtaining personal wealth. Many of these people
had used the underworld to advance in their society. In the soviet
union, private ownership was illegal. Shortages of goods created a black
market in goods and services. Networks were established, organized crime
developed so that 10 to 20 percent of banks there paid tribute to one
group or another. Many people got rich at the expense of poor, more
rural parts of the Soviet empire. A vast system of bribery and
corruption developed as did a complete system outside the legal
Many of these immigrants came to United States in order to preserve
wealth they had obtained as a result of illegal activities in the Soviet
Union, often smuggling ill-gotten goods into the united states when they
arrived. These were not farmers, unacquainted with the complicated urban
structures of crime, but people honed by the technological and
industrial societies nearer to the heart of Soviet cities. These people
brought marketable skills with them.
According to an April 1986 report by the President's Commission on
Organized Crime, the first indication of an organized crime element
among Russian immigrants came in 1975 when a gang from the Odessa region
of Russia was discovered to be involved in major fraud. The victims were
other Russians living throughout the United States. The group became
known as the Potato Bag Gang because victims believed they had bought a
sack of gold coins but actually received only a bag of potatoes.
FBI Director Louis Freeh stated that over 200 of Russia's 6,000-odd
crime gangs operate with American counterparts in 17 U.S. cities in 14
states. According to intelligence reports, members of criminal groups in
Russia are sent to reinforce and consolidate links between groups in
Russia and the United States. Russian organized crime figures are also
sent to this country to perform a service such as a gangland murder or
Often, these people had combined legal with illegal, using one to
advance the other. They got jobs in the soviet union because they knew
people or knew who to bribe. And yet, once here, did not lose their
ability to work on the shadier side of the law.
When they came to Brighton Beach, they acted in much the same fashion as
they did in their former country, resorting to the same methods, once
they discovered this, too, was a translatable skill -- if not as
socially acceptable here as it was in the Soviet Union. The Brighton
Beach area of New York City became the for Russian organized crime in
this country during the mid-1970s. There, Russian criminals developed a
working relationship with the La Cosa Nostra (LCN) which allowed them to
establish fuel tax fraud schemes in certain areas of New York.
Outsiders, who did not quite understand this social behavior, started
calling these people: the Russian Mafia. This was particularly true of
the Christian missionary groups who began to invade Russia under the
more liberal era of Mikel Gorbachev. As with most missionaries of every
era, these simple-minded Christians could not make the distinction
between the real criminals and those people who simply used criminal
methods to survive, between those people in the former soviet block who
set up the systems that bought and sold goods, and those people who
In 1986, when Sue was still writing epics about how to remove metal from
ore, the New York Police Department began to examine the habits of the
Russians. before the disbanning its Russian desk a few years later, the
police would look to see if this criminal enterprise had spread to other
The Odessa Mafia is considered the dominant Russian organized crime
group in the United States. This group established itself in the
Brighton Beach area of New York City between 1975 to 1981. In the early
1980s the Odessa Mafia sent two sub-groups to San Francisco and Los
Angeles with their leadership remaining in Brighton Beach. The San
Francisco Bay Area Odessa Mafia group, unlike their southern
counterpart, appear to be highly structured and well organized.
While the police agreed that Brighton Beach have a significant criminal
element imported from Russia, few could agree that its organization fit
the pattern of organized crime in the past.
By the time Sue returned to the sex industry in 1989, the Russian Mafia
was big news with reports appearing in such publications as The New York
Times The Nation, Vanity Fair and even the Institutional Investor and
Readers Digest. Indeed, this attention only increased during the next
three years. The flow Soviet refugees increased following congressional
enactment of the Lautenberg Amendment in November 1989, which allows up
to 50,000 Soviet refugees to enter the U.S. each year. This was followed
by thpublications as The New York Times The Nation, Vanity Fair and even
the Institutional Investor and Readers Digest. Indeed, this attention
only increased during the next three years. The flow Soviet refugees
increased following congressional enactment of the Lautenberg Amendment
in November 1989, which allows up to 50,000 Soviet refugees to enter the
U.S. each year. This was followed by the adoption in May 1991, of
Russia's first law granting its citizens the right to immigrate and
travel freely. In February, 1992, the California Department of
Justice/Bureau of Investigation said Russians gangs had set up shop in
California, including branches in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose,
Sacramento, and San Diego.
In early 1993, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported there
were over 5,000 organized crime groups operating in Russia. These groups
were comprised of an estimated 100,000 members with a leadership of
18,000. Although Russian authorities have currently identified over
5,000 criminal groups in that country, Russian officials believe that
only approximately 300 of those have some identifiable structure.
CIA Director R. James Woolsey said that organized crime syndicates from
Russia, Asia, and Africa are forming alliances with traditional Italian
and Latin American organizations. Although Russian organized crime
activity the United States has been expanding for the past 20 years, its
most significant growth has occurred during the past five years. In
August 1993, the FBI reported there were 15 organized crime groups in
the United States with former Soviet ethnic origins and feared they
might be trafficking in nuclear weapons.
On March 4, 1993, a Russian emigre was arrested for petty theft. The
Burbank Police Department recovered two kilos of cocaine and $2,200 in
cash from the emigre's vehicle. It was later learned the emigre was also
involved in shipping stolen vehicles to Russia.
On May 1, 1993, a Russian emigre was arrested for immigration
violations. Information from the Immigration and Naturalization Service
indicates that the emigre was involved in smuggling cocaine from the
U.S. to Russia through his import/export business in Southern
California. This emigre had spent 13 years in a Russian prison.
Five members of an Armenian organized crime group in Los Angeles were
convicted in 1994 for extortion, kidnapping, and attempted murder. They
forcibly detained and threatened victims and their families with great
bodily harm unless they paid the suspects money. This group is believed
to have extorted the Armenian community in the Los Angeles area for the
last 13 years.
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno named Russian organized crime groups in
the United States a priority target for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Russian organized crime groups in the former Soviet Union also
transferred huge amounts of money, ranging from several thousand to
millions of dollars from bank accounts located in Finland, Cayman
Islands, and Europe to U.S. banks. This money is believed to come from
narcotics activity, illegal trade in arms and antiques, and
prostitution. Money is also stolen from the Russian government.
In New York, the LCN and Russian organized crime figures formed working
relationships in areas of fraudulent fuel tax schemes. Colombian cocaine
distributors also formed an alliance with organized crime groups in
Russia to import large quantities of cocaine into that country. These
ties became evident after a 1.1 metric ton shipment of cocaine was
seized in St. Petersburg, Russia in February 1993.
From the mid 1960's to the 1980's, approximately 35 million people were
incarcerated in Soviet prisons. Approximately 28 to 30 million Russian
inmates were tattooed. According to criminologist A. G. Bronnikov, who
has studied tattoos of Russian prisoners for 30 years, inmates wore
tattoos only after they had committed a crime. The more convictions a
criminal received, and as the terms of incarceration became more severe,
the more tattoos a convict would have. Tattoos spell out lives of crime
and establish the hierarchy of inmates. According to Bronnikov, at the
top of the hierarchy are pakhans or organized crime bosses. The pakhans
use the second level of the echelon known as the "authorities," (also
known as enforcers, fighters, or soldiers) to carry out their orders.
The "men" are the hard laborers and are the third level in the
hierarchy. The lowest category are the "outcasts." These individuals are
basically slaves to the upper levels of the echelon.
The tattoos present a picture of the inmate's criminal history.
According to Bronnikov, "Tattoos are like a passport, a biography, a
uniform with medals. They reflect the convict's interests, his outlook
on life, his world view." A prisoner with an incorrect or unauthorized
tattoo could be punished or killed by fellow inmates.
Members of Russian organized crime groups are violent but violence is
usually employed for specific reasons such as eliminating competition
and informants or punishing those who abscond with funds. They are much
like the LCN and not like street gangs who use indiscriminate violence.
In such an atmosphere, with Sue's imagination, the Russian Mafia fit
well into Sue's plans, and allowed her to create headlines that
eventually led her into her research for "Redlight." But several sources
claimed, some of what Sue claimed was clearly exaggerated.
Ridgeway Gets in Wrong