The Russian Mafia

Links to a.d.sullivan & info on Susan Walsh

 

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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

agencies.

 

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

former turf.

 

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

government.

 

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

extortion.

 

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

shopped there.

 

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

major cities.

 

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

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