Saturday, September 22, 2007

Robert Friedman Red Mafiya Jewish Mafia or Russian mafia 3/6

5
RED TIDE
In May 1991, while eating breakfast at the National restaurant in Brighton Beach, Emile Puzyretsky was shot nine times in the face and chest. Fifteen diners wit­nessed the execution. "Ya nechevo ne znayu," they all told detectives, "I don't know anything"—even though the killer had carefully rummaged around the restaurant floor on his hands and knees, looking for the spent cartridges, some of which had become lodged under their tables. The reason for their silence was simple: no one in the restaurant wanted to be branded a stukatch, a snitch, and risk a sur­prise visit from the killer—Monya Elson. After a six-year absence, the fearsome hit man had returned to Brighton Beach to claim his warm spot in the Russian mob.
"There are a lot of rumors in Brighton Beach that I killed Puzyretsky," Elson said with a laugh. "You can say that I killed him to take care of business."
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Elson had spent most of his years away stewing in filthy, ovenlike Israeli jails, to which he had been sentenced in 1984 after his effort to seek fame and fortune in the cocaine smuggling business had not gone as planned. Being marooned in an oppressive, flea-infested tent city for con­victs in the barren, lunarlike Negev Desert was hardly what Elson had in mind when he set out to claim his place in the criminal hierarchy. To make matters worse, he heard stories about his contemporaries in Brighton Beach making big names for themselves in the Russian underworld. He yearned to return "home" to Brighton Beach and establish himself as one of the most respected men in the Russian mobs' power structure. Prison did bestow on Elson one piece of good fortune: he became the cell mate and body­guard for convicted spy Shabtai Kalmanovitch, cementing a criminal alliance that would pay big dividends for both men.
On August 19, 1990, Elson was released from jail, bursting "with a lot of ideas" about bringing some order to the mobocracy that ruled Brighton Beach. But first, he had some unfinished business to attend to in Moscow. Elson had learned while in prison that a well-known Russian hood had been spreading word that Elson was a musor, a rat. Supposedly, Elson had exposed some Russians running an international gun ring, a charge that, though he vehe­mently denied it, had circulated rapidly throughout the criminal grapevine. Elson was furious that his reputation was being maligned. "If he doesn't like one word that comes out of your mouth, you're dead," says an acquain­tance of Elson's. "I said, 'Hey Monya, you can't kill people for that.' He said, 'Yes I can! "'
"He said I was a musor." Elson recalled of the man who was bad-mouthing him. "I wanted to kill him. He thought that because I was a Jewish guy, and I had presumably left Russia forever, that it would be okay to play with Monya."
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As soon as he arrived in Moscow Elson quickly tracked down the malefactor and, with a single swing of an ax, hacked off his arm, leaving him to bleed to death. "Half the criminals will think I killed for revenge," Elson remarked. "The other half will think that maybe he knew something, and I killed [him] to shut his mouth." Citing an old Russian proverb, Elson explained his motive as: "Revenge is the sweetest form of passion!"
His business in Moscow complete, Elson, then thirty-nine, returned at last to Brighton Beach. This time, he knew precisely what he wanted to achieve, and he knew how to do so. He quickly assembled a team of experienced hit men, master thieves, and extortionists—a group the FBI dubbed "Monya's Brigada"—and dispatched them to take over a large swath of Brighton Beach. He established his headquar­ters in Rasputin, where he received $15,000 a week from the Zilbers and a percentage of the raucous cabaret's revenues. "I was the new epicenter for Russian organized crime," Elson boasted. "Before, it was bullshit! It wasn't fucking so tough."
Elson's braggadocio had a deadly bite. One of his first deeds was to murder Puzyretsky, who had been employed to defend a large Russian bootlegging combine that com­peted with the Zilber brothers for dominance in the gaso­line business. Elson then methodically slaughtered many of the Zilbers' rivals, propelling the three men to the top of the Russian criminal pyramid.
This was Monya's golden age — a few short years between 1990 and 1993. With a small army and his savage determination, he seemed unstoppable, extorting and killing with impunity. "Monya was a nut," said Gregory Sta-siuk, the investigator for the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. "On one wire, Elson said to a tardy loan shark victim, 'You are making me so crazy, I don't know whether I should come over and kill you now or later.
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"Monya loves to kill," said a Genovese wiseguy. "He was a goon on a short, hot leash."
Monya's Brigada was soon becoming immensely wealthy, dealing in everything from coke to precious gems, which he allegedly smuggled from Manhattan's jewelry dis­trict to Moscow. A December 1994 secret FBI intelligence report noted that "Elson is a principal player in the control of the export of diamonds, gold and other jewelry from the United States and other countries to Russia. A carat of dia­monds can be obtained for $1,500 in New York, and sold for $10,000 in Moscow. Elson receives a kickback on every diamond and gold deal he brokers in Moscow. An unknown Austrian front company has been set up to receive the kick­backs. This concern has a permit from the Russian govern­ment to import these items. Elson believes this situation gives him leverage' with other O.C. [organized crime] players."
At least one rival Russian mobster, however, refused to accede to Elson's growing power. Boris Nayfeld, once the underling of the Little Don Evsei Agron and of Marat Balagula, had emerged as an estimable force in his own right while Elson was still confined in his Israeli prison cell. By the time Elson resurfaced in Brooklyn, Nayfeld was shuttling between Antwerp, where he lived in a luxury apartment with his mistress, and Staten Island, where he resided with his wife and children in a sump­tuous home on Nevada Avenue across from a nature preserve.
Nayfeld came to prominence by running a heroin ring of French Connection proportions. He obtained the drugs in Thailand, smuggled them into Singapore, and then stashed them in TV picture tubes and shipped them to Poland through a Belgium-based import-export company, M&S International. From there, Russian couriers from Brighton
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Beach with valid U.S. passports "bodied" the heroin into the United States through New York's Kennedy Airport. "Customs never looked," said a DEA official. "Poland wasn't an obvious transshipment point for drugs. It's not Bogota or Bangkok. They shotgunned each plane with three, four, or five couriers, all unknown to each other. They moved eight to ten kilos per flight, and it went on a good year before we caught on to it." Eventually, the couriers expanded their operations to Boston, Chicago, and elsewhere, while the drug smugglers continued to make millions of dollars a planeload.
In New York, part of the drugs was sold to Sicilian mobsters out of a dive in Coney Island, while another fac* tion of the ring dealt the heroin to Hispanic customers out of the S&S Hot Bagel Shop, next to Katz's Delicatessen on East Houston Street in Manhattan. The DEA was impressed with the sophistication of the mobsters' busi­ness. "What's unique," said one official admiringly, "is that these guys were actually controlling it from the source to the street."
Elson, however, viewed his rival's expanding empire with displeasure. "I knew when I got out of jail that Biba [Boris Nayfeld's nickname] would still be in the ballpark. He would be a fucking problem," Elson said derisively. "Everybody said Biba, Biba. Biba Shmeeba. I said he was a piece of ass. He's a fucking nobody. And somebody sent word to Biba that I'm cursing him. And I said yes, I want to meet the motherfucker. He was a piece of shit] For this rea-son, I declared the war! I said, he cannot be what he wants to be! He's a musor in his heart. He wanted to be some­body. He was never nobody. You know to be a godfather you have to have leadership qualities. He don't have any qualities."
Nayfeld responded to these taunts with a $100,000
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contract on Elson, setting the stage for a massive gangland war. "They were like two gunslingers," said Stasiuk, "who had to prove themselves top gun."
On a frigid night shortly before the Russian New Year in January 1991, Elson's men taped a powerful bomb under the muffler of Nayfeld's car. The following afternoon, Nayfeld drove the car to Brooklyn to pick up his children at school. As the engine idled, the youngsters piled into the backseat. Just then, a maintenance man pointed to an object hanging from the chassis. The bomb, which was designed to have been activated by heat from the muffler, had become dislodged and failed to explode. "It could have taken out a city block," said an assistant U.S. attorney.
Nayfeld wasted no time in seeking revenge. On May 14, 1991, Elson was speaking with some friends on the corner of Brighton Beach Avenue and Sixth Street in front of the Cafe Arabat, a Russian mob haunt. At exactly 3:00 P.M., a hit man sauntered up and pumped five dumdum bullets into Elson's belly. "I never lost consciousness," Elson insisted. "I wanted to shoot this guy. You can't imagine how hot and painful the wound was. But I saw the guy, a black man, run away. I was going to shoot him. I didn't have the strength to shoot him." A friend rushed Elson to Coney Island Hospital. "The bullets made two holes in my stom­ach. My liver was severed. My pancreas was shattered. One bullet lodged in my left kidney and exploded." Doctors removed the kidney, along with twenty feet of intestine. "If I had gotten there twenty seconds later, I would have been on a slab. They put me on a stretcher and I lost conscious­ness."
Elson developed peritonitis. "There was a lot of puss in my pancreas, which was abscessed. There was a lot of puss in my stomach. And the doctors said to my wife: 'He's going to die now.' And they put a tube into my heart." Elson
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claims he was pronounced dead and wheeled into the morgue, but when "I heard 'morgue,' somehow I reacted. I twitched my toe as if to say I'm alive. They put me back in ICU. Then I had an operation. They told my wife I had a fifty-fifty chance; if I survived the first forty-eight hours, I might live. ... I spent twenty-eight days in intensive care; my wife was advised to say her farewell to me."
Elson recovered and quickly made another attempt at getting even with Nayfeld. One of Nayfeld's paid assassins, Alexander Slepinin, was a three-hundred-pound, six-foot-five-inch veteran of Russia's Special Forces, who had served in Afghanistan during the war against the Mujahedeen, the Islamic fundamentalist rebels. Nicknamed the "Colonel," he had tattoos of a panther and a dragon on his upper torso, signs that he was a veteran of the Gulag. He was an expert in a variety of martial arts, and kept a large collection of swords and knives, which he used to dismember his victims in his bathtub before disposing of the body parts. He car­ried a business card that said he specialized in the tech­niques of mortal combat.
On a June morning, three shooters, including Elson, according to eyewitnesses and police officials, ambushed Slepinin as he sat in his 1985 Cadillac Seville on a residen­tial street in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn. "He started crying, the big motherfucker, and admitted that Nayfeld had paid him to kill me," Elson snorted gleefully. Breathing convulsively, Slepinin "asked for forgiveness."
"We are not in the church," growled one of the hit men.
The enormous man tried to squeeze his bulk through the passenger door, but was shot three times in the back, the bullets carefully aimed to ensure that his death would be agonizing. Thrashing and moaning, he continued to beg for his life, but two bullets to the back of the head finished off the Colonel. "He was huge, big, and mean," Elson said.
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"He was a monster, a cold-blooded killer. The FBI has to give me an award."
A few months after the Colonel was butchered, Elson received a tip that Nayfeld was planning to attend a meet­ing in a trendy part of Moscow. Elson's informant knew the exact time and location of the conclave, as well as Nayfeld's route to and from the gathering. Elson gave the contract to kill Nayfeld to Sergei Timofeyev, who was nicknamed "Sylvester" because of his resemblance to film star Sylvester Stallone, and his lieutenant Sergei "the Beard" Kruglov, two of the most vicious gangsters in Moscow. According to Elson's informant, Nayfeld's car was supposed to pass a high-rise apartment tower that was under renova­tion. Because its windows were covered with cardboard, an Olympic marksman, hired by Timofeyev and Kruglov, had to take aim at Nayfeld as his car approached the building by squinting through a peephole. But Nayfeld must have had a premonition, for at the last moment he pulled a hasty U-turn and disappeared into traffic. "It was Biba's miracu­lous escape," said a still bewildered Elson. "He had a lot of miracles."
As did Elson. On November 6, 1992, Elson arrived in Los Angeles's Plummer Park, a meeting place for Russian emigres who gambled their welfare checks and drank cheap vodka. Elson, who was there to meet a friend, suddenly decided to return to his car to retrieve something he had forgotten. As he walked back to the parking garage, a black man crept up behind him and shoved a pistol against the base of his skull. Elson heard the click of its trigger, but the weapon jammed. "Can you imagine if the gun went off?" Elson asked. "My brains would have been scrambled eggs." Elson spun around and wrestled the man to the ground, kicking away the gun. The assassin grabbed it back and, this time, successfully fired it repeatedly, backpedaling until he
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was able to escape. Elson was hit in the left hand, severing a tendon. At the hospital, he gave a fictitious name, and told detectives that he had fought off a mugger who was trying to steal his $75,000 Rolex watch. He later slipped out of the hospital without paying his bill and traveled to Arizona for painful reconstructive surgery. Before he left Los Angeles, however, another would-be assassin attempted to place an explosive inside his car. "The shnook couldn't figure out how to wire the bomb," says a law enforcement source. "The device exploded in the man's hands, blowing them off."
As the Elson-Nayfeld war raged on, dozens of gangsters were massacred. Some were gutted like sheep; others had their throats cut. Some were castrated with crescent-shaped knives; both the implements and the body parts became favorite gangster souvenirs. Though Elson and Nayfeld tried to enlist other influential gangsters to their respective sides, neither could gain a decisive advantage, and the bombs and bullets continued to explode from Brighton Beach to Moscow.
At one point Rafik Bagdasaryan, nicknamed Svo, a mighty vor from Soviet Armenia, tried to intervene on Nayfeld's behalf. Svo was known as the diplomat of the Russian underworld, and he was so highly respected that, when he was poisoned to death in prison some years later by Chechen gangsters, his body was flown from a secret military airstrip near Moscow to his native home in Yere­van, the capital of Soviet Armenia. Svo's funeral was held with a degree of pomp usually reserved only for members of the Politburo. His countrymen thronged his coffin, and the streets were showered with rose petals. Mob bosses and politicians came to pay their last respects. Lights were turned on for forty-eight hours in Yerevan, where the power supply was erratic at best.
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Seeking to put an end to the deadly struggle, Svo tele­phoned Elson's vaunted ally, the Beard. "I love you like a son," said Svo. "I know you had a meeting with Monya in Yerevan, and I had a meeting with him in Yerevan. And Monya spoke about killing Biba. I'm asking you like my son, I like Biba, and please don't get involved in this."
The plea went unheeded. Elson learned from another informant about the impending arrival in Moscow of Shlava Ukleba, who worked for Nayfeld as an international heroin trafficker. On a blistering cold day, Ukleba's hotel room was rocked by a thunderous explosion, which obliterated five adjoining rooms. "But nobody was hurt. It was wintertime, and Ukleba ran out of the rubble in his underwear. He ran all the way to Austria," chortled Elson.
Then, on July 26, 1993, as Elson, his wife, and his twenty-five-year-old bodyguard, Oleg Zapivakmine, were emerging from a black Lexus in front of the couple's Brook­lyn apartment, a car careened toward the curb. The trio was sprayed with a "Streetsweeper" shotgun and Uzi subma­chine gunfire. Elson, who was carrying a briefcase with $300,000 in watches and jewelry from New York's dia­mond district, was shot in the back and thigh. His wife, Marina, bolted from the Lexus and hid in a crawlspace, behind two garbage cans. A masked man leapt from the attacker's vehicle and pumped two shotgun blasts into the cowering woman from several yards away. Seventeen pel­lets tore through her face, throat, chest, and shoulder.
An all-out gun battle ensued with shotgun pellets pep­pering the entire length of the seventy-five-foot apartment house, penetrating neighbors' cabinets and walls. "It was like the Persian Gulf War," Elson recalls. More than a hun­dred rounds were exchanged between the hit team and Elson and Zapivakmine, who was only lightly grazed in the stomach.
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Incredibly, the two men managed to fend off their assailants. "You missed me! You missed me! You missed me!" Marina shrieked all the way to the hospital. "She had seventy stitches," Elson says. "You won't believe how many bullets and pellets she has in her chest." To this day, Marina has so many bullet fragments lodged in her body that she sets off metal detectors at airports.
Marina had been deliberately targeted. "We know she joined Monya on killing sprees," observed the DEA's Louis Cardenelli. "Our CIs [confidential informants] said that's the only way you could hit a woman." Moreover, if she had survived her husband, Cardenelli added, Marina had the authority to order Monya's Brigada to exact a swift and ter­rible revenge. (Mrs. Elson refused to comment.)
Having learned of the shootout, Major Case Squad detective Ralph Cefarello raced to the hospital. "Elson was laying there waiting for the docs to work on him, and I'm trying to question him," Cefarello recalled. "He played his usual game. He said politely, 'I'll tell you anything. I want to know who did this to me. But I didn't see the shooters.' Before exiting the room, Cefarello brushed by Elson's bed, intentionally pulling off the bed sheets. The gangster was stark naked. The word MONYA, framed by two green bands, was emblazoned around Elson's penis.
"I had a kid in uniform who spoke Russian standing guard. They had no way of knowing he was Russian-speak­ing. As soon as I left the room, Elson turned to his wife and said, 'Don't tell these pigs a thing!'"
A short time after the incident, the FBI visited their bullet-marred apartment complex. Zapivakmine was sitting on their front porch, carefully surveying the street. In a confidential report of the meeting, the FBI wrote, "Elson indicated that he knew who was behind the shootings. Elson was particularly angry because of the shooting of his
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wife, and he stated that he would not rest until he gets his revenge. He said that his revenge will not occur in the United States but will happen somewhere overseas."
Unbeknownst to Elson, his bodyguard had been warned in advance of the shooting. A representative of the People's Court—the authoritative group of Russian orga­nized crime leaders in Brighton Beach—told Zapivakime that Elson was going to be killed because he had committed too many unauthorized murders and extortions. They cautioned him not to interfere, according to a classified FBI report, but Zapivakmine ignored the admonition and had seriously injured a member of the "Streetsweeper" hit team who was brought to the same Coney Island hospital that was treating the Elsons. Two weeks later, Zapivakmine was shot in the back of the head while changing a flat tire in Brooklyn.
With Zapivakmine's execution, the balance of power began to shift. "Elson had very capable guys that he brought in as reinforcements from Israel and the former Soviet Union," said a Russian wiseguy. "But every week, one of them would get their heads blown off by a shotgun blast. Even Monya realized it was time to get out."
However, it was not Boris Nayfeld who finally con­vinced Elson to flee to Europe in November 1994. The force behind the "Streetsweeper" incident, the man who posed the first serious challenge to Elson's hegemony and had more resources than any other Russian gangster who had come before him, was Vyascheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, and the dreaded vor had come to the United States from Moscow to take over the Russian Jewish mob in America.
Ivankov had begun his outlaw career in the back alleys of Moscow in the early 1960s. By age fifteen, he was a cocky, bare-knuckled street brawler who beat up people for
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the fun of it. His hooliganism eventually attracted the attention of a large criminal organization headed by a noto­rious gangster named Gennadiy "the Mongol" Korkov, who specialized in turning Soviet star athletes and martial arts masters into extortionists. Under Korkov's tutelage, Ivankov was trained to shake down black marketeers, bribe-taking bureaucrats, and thieving store managers—all of them underground millionaires who could hardly risk reporting thefts to the State. Ivankov's crew invaded their homes, dressed as Soviet militiamen, armed with forged identification papers and search warrants. This "militia" would confiscate the victim's valuables, inventory the goods, and order the owner to show up in court the next day for further questioning. Of course, the merchandise would disappear along with Ivankov. A sophisticated racke­teer for his day, the Mongol also added intelligence and counterintelligence wings to his operations, a lesson Ivankov would not forget.
With a taste for theatrics, the young Ivankov set out to build a mystique around himself. He expropriated the name of the legendary Russian bandit Yaponchick, which literally means "the little Japanese" in Russian. The original Yaponchick, whose given name was Mishka Vinnitsky, ran the seamy Jewish underworld in the pre-revolutionary Black Sea port of Odessa. Yaponchick and his gang became folk heroes when they joined the Red Army during the Rev­olution. Gang members tattooed their chests with the com­munist Red Star. Instead of being rewarded for their revolutionary zeal, however, they were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks soon after the war. (Yaponchick has since been the subject of many books and films, most notably Benya Kirk, a 1926 Soviet, Yiddish-language, silent film written by Isaac Babel.)
Ivankov's own career was temporarily derailed in 1974,
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when the manager of a Moscow cafe complained to the real militia about his extortion demands. An entire detachment of Soviet militiamen was dispatched to apprehend Ivankov, who was found hiding in his car in a Moscow suburb. A sen­sational gun battle ensued, and Ivankov made a daring get­away. The shoot-out only enhanced his growing legend as a social bandit who stole from the wealthy parasites living off the workers. Ivankov also distinguished himself for his bravado, for while the U.S.S.R. had plenty of common criminals, they virtually never used weapons against the authorities.
Ivankov quickly became the target of one of the biggest manhunts in Soviet history. After six months on the run, the weary brigand finally turned himself in, claiming that he was not a criminal at all, but a paranoid schizophrenic. The more serious charges against him were dropped, and he was sentenced to five years in a Soviet psychiatric detention hospital. Eventually wearying of feigning mental illness, Ivankov asked to be retested and was subsequently sent to a penal colony. There he was quickly inducted into the brotherhood of the vor v zakonye.
After he was released from prison, Ivankov went back to work for the Mongol, becoming his senior associate. Dur­ing the next two years, Ivankov committed hundreds of extortions and armed robberies, leaving behind him a long trail of mayhem and acts of mindless savagery. In 1981, for example, Ivankov and his crew broke into the apartment of a well-to-do black marketeer, brandishing their weapons. Handcuffing the terrified man to a bathroom radiator, Ivankov threatened to douse him with acid if he didn't pay back an alleged debt. With a gun jammed to his forehead, he was forced to sign a promissory note for 100,000 rubles; Ivankov then stole a Dutch Masters painting, a stamp col­lection, and 3,000 rubles. Ivankov was arrested for the
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home invasion in 1982 and charged with robbery, aggra­vated assault, and extortion, for which he was sentenced to fourteen years in a maximum security prison camp in Siberia. Because several of those arrested with him were famous Soviet athletes who had turned to crime, the authorities saw to it that the case received no publicity.
Back in prison, the despotic Ivankov once again became the top vor, enforcer, and kingpin. He stabbed one inmate in the back and clubbed a prison guard over the head with a metal stool. After several of his victims died, he was placed in a brutal punishment cell for a year. But the murders did not add time to Ivankov's prison sentence, because in the code of the "Zone," or the Gulag, the victims had brought their deaths on themselves by failing to obey the code of ethics of the thieves-in-law.
Even from prison, Ivankov was able to maintain control over the vast Vladivostok region in the Russian Far East, and increased his criminal power by establishing business enter­prises as far away as Moscow, from which he received regu­lar and substantial income. Once, with the help of two Russian accomplices from Toronto, he persuaded several major Russian banks and investors to buy $5 million worth of shares in a phony Siberian gold mining company. (One of the Russian banks sent a hit man to Toronto to terminate Ivankov's co-conspirators, but the Mounties arrested him.)
While Ivankov served out his sentence in the frigid wastelands of the U.S.S.R.'s vast penal colonies, major changes were taking place behind closed doors in Soviet crime and government. As early as the mid-1980s the KGB had notified the gray cardinals around Politburo boss Kon-stanin Chernenko that the Soviet Union's socialist econ­omy was doomed; chronic corruption, inefficiency, and the enormously expensive arms race with the United States had bankrupted Lenin's revolution. The KGB recom-
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mended two options: one was a first-strike nuclear attack against the West, which was seriously considered by xeno­phobic elements who couldn't bear the prospect of losing the Cold War. The second option was to loot the bountiful motherland of its remaining wealth.
During Gorbachev's reign, the KGB began to hide com­munist party funds abroad, according to top-level Western and U.S. intelligence sources. The KGB consequently set up some two thousand shell companies and false-flag bank accounts, some as far away as Nevada and Ireland. Over the next eleven years, perhaps as much as $600 billion was spirited out of the country, in the greatest looting of a nation in world history. No matter what happened to Russia during a political transition from communism to a quasi-market economy under perestroika, the party bosses had effectively guaranteed that they would continue to control key state resources and property. Stealing such a massive amount of wealth, however, turned out to be a larger job than anyone had expected. The KGB ran out of people to sequester assets, so they expanded their operation to the criminal Mafiya, explained Richard Palmer, a twenty-year veteran of the CIA, whose final assignment was as a station chief in the former Soviet Union from 1992 to 1994.
In its haste to stash party funds, the KGB modernized the relatively small Soviet Mafiyas, which had previously been based along neighborhood, regional, and ethnic lines. They were outfitted with everything from the latest high-tech computers to sophisticated communications gear. After communism crumbled, many KGB men, military officers, and government officials went to work for the emerging Mafiya organizations. Young Russian entrepre­neurs sporting MBAs from the best schools in Russia and the West also swelled their ranks.
By the early 1990s, organized crime in the Soviet Union
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had evolved into a diabolical troika consisting of gun-wielding mobsters and vors; nomenklatura types and the black marketeers that tailed them like pilot fish; and many current and former members of the government, military, and security services. Nevertheless, vors like Ivankov still represented the pinnacle of organized crime. Like made guys in the American La Cosa Nostra, Russia's eight hun­dred thieves-in-law held varying degrees of position and power depending on their abilities. A vor could reign over a region as vast as Siberia, with a representative or supervisor {smotryashchiy) accountable to him in every regional city in which he had influence. A vor might control many Mafiya groups simultaneously, head an association of gangs, or lead a single gang. Some thieves-in-law might be part of the sup­ply group [obespechenie) or the security group {bezopas-nosti) in a Mafiya organization.
By the mid-1980s, there were nearly nine thousand criminal gangs in Russia with 35,000 members. During "pri­vatization," the period when the government put every­thing from the great oil and gas giants to hotels in downtown Moscow up for sale, organized crime and the Russian government continued their mutually beneficial relationship. The criminals needed export licenses, tax exemptions, below-market-rate loans, business visas, and freedom from arrest and prosecution for their crimes. All of this and more was available from corrupt bureaucrats, espe­cially since inflation had wiped out the savings of everyone in Russia who wasn't participating in the grab. A dozen or so "oligarchs" took over vast state properties and became among the wealthiest men in the world. As for law and order, police officers, for example, who didn't steal or take bribes were unlikely to be able to feed their families. A sur­vey of Muscovites conducted in September 1994 by the Russian Academy of Sciences revealed that 70 percent of
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the respondents would not ask a Moscow police officer for help when threatened by a crime.
Soon nine leading Mafiya organizations controlled more than 40 percent of Moscow's economy. (Some experts say the figure is at least 80 percent.) Practically every business, from curbside kiosks to multinational corporations, paid protection money. "In 1917 we had the Bolshevik revolu­tion, and all the rules changed," a Russian banker declared. "In the late 1980s, we had a Mafiya revolution, and the rules changed again. If you're a businessman you can either pay the mob, leave the country, or get a bullet through your brain." Russian criminal groups penetrated virtually every level of the government, from Russia's parliament, the Duma, to President Yeltsin's inner circle. Even the immense arsenals of the Soviet armed forces were plundered.
But in the gold rush years of the late 1980s and early 1990s, competition for the Soviet Union's booty inevitably led to gangland turf wars. The Chechen Mafiya, which had always been a powerful force in Moscow's turbulent under­world, called in reinforcements from their mountain redoubt in the republic of Chechnya. Relentless as the Golden Horde that had thundered across the Russian steppes and sacked the city in the Middle Ages, the group came close to gaining control over the city's rackets, leaving the formerly dominant Jewish, Georgian, Armenian, and Slavic mobs in disarray. Corrupt Soviet oligarchs started preparing their departure in order to avoid the carnage.
Ivankov's panicky colleagues desperately concluded that they, too, needed additional troops and that, more importantly, it was time to spring the powerful vor from jail. Ivankov's release was scheduled for late 1995, but in early 1990 two of the nation's most powerful mafiosi orchestrated a letter-writing campaign in support of his early parole. One of them, Otari Kvantrishvili, was a
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brawny, forty-six-year-old native of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. A national sports hero, Kvantrishvili had been a wrestler on the Soviet Olympic team, an all-European champion wrestler, and chairman of the presti­gious Russian Athletes Association, a government-sponsored union. In the late 1980s, he set up the Twenty First Century Association, ostensibly as a charity to aid needy Russian ath­letes. Although the association also established banks, casi­nos, and other enterprises, in fact, "this notorious company has never had any legitimate business interests and was structured only as a front to conceal proceeds of extortions of Russian businessmen" and other crimes, as a secret FBI report revealed.
Ivankov's other powerful patron was Joseph Kobzon, the dapper, sixty-year-old Russian pop singer. A cultural icon, Kobzon was a household name to generations of Rus­sian music lovers. He frequently brought Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to tears at public functions with his soul­ful renditions of patriotic ballads. But for decades, Kobzon had been using his star persona to hide a sinister criminal identity. According to the CIA, Kobzon was Russia's "crime Czar"; a secret FBI document described him as the "spir­itual leader" of the Russian Mafiya in Moscow, who was "highly respected . . . because of his intelligence, contacts, shrewdness and ability to help when [organized crime] groups get into trouble. Not just anyone can gain his assis­tance, however; only high-level [mobsters]. He settles dis­putes between groups and belongs to no particular organization."
"Kobzon," says the FBI's James Moody, "is definitely one of the most influential criminals in Russia. He is very, very high-ranking. And very dangerous."
In the crime-addled Soviet Union, Kobzon's true status as a top crime boss didn't dissuade the Soviet government
116 RED MAFIYA
from appointing him to the Russian Olympic Committee, making him the dean of the School of Popular Music at Moscow's Music Academy, as well as Moscow's minister of culture, among other prestigious positions. The singer has twice been elected to the Duma. During his first stint in the late 1980s, he was formally introduced to the U.S. Senate by New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg. Kobzon was elected to the Duma a second time in 1998 from a tiny, impoverished autonomous district in eastern Siberia near Russia's border with Mongolia, despite never having lived there—or even campaigning there during the election. Vladimir Grishin, the rival candidate, claimed that Kobzon's campaign manager doled out 100 million rubles in donations to local charities, 35 million rubles to a local hospital, and allegedly promised additional cash and a new fleet of buses for the district if he were victorious. Grishin filed fraud charges with the Central Election Commission, but nothing ever came of it.
One of Kobzon's most lucrative activities, however, was smuggling arms. For example, he was allegedly able to help maneuver a corrupt Russian Defense Ministry official, Vik­tor Atiolkin, into the top job at the Rossvoorvzheniya, the only government agency that can authorize the export of weapons from Russia. "This position can greatly assist OC figures in arranging sales of tanks, rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles and possibly even nuclear materials," explains the FBI report. In one instance, Kobzon brokered the sale of surface-to-air missiles to Iran, accord­ing to a federal wiretap affidavit and a top investigator for U.S. Customs who specializes in the Russian mob.
Thanks to the efforts of Kvantrishvili and Kobzon, Pres­ident Gorbachev and Supreme Soviet Chairman Boris Yeltsin received hundreds of additional letters from famous Russian scientists, artists, and politicians asserting that
RED TIDE 117
Ivankov had been successfully rehabilitated. Even the war­den of his Gulag prison grudgingly acknowledged that Ivankov "is not the worst inmate." To assure his release, the judge handling Ivankov's case was bribed by Semion Mogilevich, the Budapest-based don who has been impli­cated in laundering billions of dollars through the august Bank of New York; other payoffs went to a former Russian minister of internal affairs and an unidentified state prose­cutor, according to classified FBI reports, U.S. court docu­ments, State Department records, and interviews with senior U.S. and European law enforcement sources.
The campaign succeeded and Ivankov was freed in Feb­ruary 1991. His liberators quickly put him to work at their most critical task: to destroy the barbarians at the gate, the Chechen Mafiya invaders. Ivankov duly mounted an awe­some offensive, employing a brigade composed of hundreds of hardened criminals. In typical Ivankov fashion, he went above and beyond the call of duty, wantonly massacring rival gangsters. His methods were, as always, cruel. Car bombings rocked the capital, casualties mounted, and the bloodbath became so violent that it began frightening away Western investors. Ivankov's excesses were infuriating the very politicians who had helped free him, for while stem­ming the Chechen tide, he had become a liability. "Ivankov had big problems," says the DEA's Cardenelli. "He had to leave. The Chechens were coming to kill him. Friends in the government told him that they wanted an end to the high-profile gangland war."
As a result, in early 1992 the Bratsky Krug, or the Cir­cle of Brothers, the ruling council of the vors, is said to have ordered Ivankov to "Go to the New Land and invade America!"
6

INVASION OF AMERICA
Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov's arrival in America on March 8; 1992, was tantamount to the coming of a great white shark. He was met at JFK airport by an Armenian vor who handed him a suitcase packed with $1.5 million in cash. Swiftly setting up offices in Brighton Beach, Ivankov recruited two "combat brigades" led by an ex-KGB officer and composed of 250 former athletes and Special Forces veterans of the Afghanistan war. He put the combat brigades on a $20,000-a-month retainer to kill his enemies, collect tribute from legitimate businesses worldwide, "arbi­trate" disputes among Russian businessmen, and establish "an international link closely connecting thieves-in-law to the United States," according to a classified FBI document.
"When Ivankov came into town, I never saw such fear," remarked a Genovese wiseguy.
Soon after Ivankov appeared in New York, Alex Zilber,
120 RED MAFIYA
still one of the most powerful forces in Brighton Beach, asked one of his Genovese partners to arrange a sit-down with him. The mobster offered to have the Italians kill Ivankov, but Alex pleaded with them not to go to war. "I'll be okay here in Brighton Beach," he said, "but they'll take me out in Russia [where he had extensive business inter­ests]. Let's pay him." Ivankov celebrated his new partner­ship in Rasputin by hosting a lavish champagne party there.
The Old Guard of Russian Jewish gangsters had little choice but to cooperate with Ivankov. He was regarded as a prolific moneymaker, and many ranking members of the Brighton Beach mob were by then aging, quasi-legitimate businessmen who no longer had the fortitude for an extended gangland war. And as the Zilber brothers realized and hit man Moyna Elson soon discovered—resistance was futile. The "Streetsweeper" shooting, which precipitated Elson's flight, "put the fear of God" into the Old Guard, commented Elson's lawyer, James DiPietro. "We were amateurs compared to Ivankov and his men," observed Brighton Beach-based Jewish gangster Vladimir Ginzberg. "We had a criminal past, but not so rich like them."
Indeed, much of the fear that Ivankov inspired was due to the fact that he came invested with the full backing of Moscow's most powerful crime lords. Made affluent and powerful by the fall of communism, their gangs had grown unprecedently large and fierce, and enjoyed a wealth of resources in the corrupt former Soviet Union that dwarfed that of even the most significant Russian mob operations in the United States. Now, as perestroika bloomed, the Mafiyas based in the former Soviet Union began to reach across suddenly unrestricted national boundaries, sending their soldiers and bosses like Ivankov out around the globe to either reconnect with or conquer their comrades who had emigrated a generation earlier.
INVASION OF AMERICA 121
In fact, in the post-perestroika years, thousands of Rus­sian thugs were easily slipping into the country. The under­staffed and ill-equipped Immigration and Naturalization Service seemed helpless to stop them. Ivankov landed in the United States traveling under his own name, with an official foreign-travel passport. His visa, good for two weeks, had been obtained directly from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. He was sponsored by Manhattan-based ship­ping magnate Leonard Lev, a fifty-eight-year-old emigre who had started his career in time-honored fashion as a master pickpocket in Kiev before becoming a partner in Marat Balagula's gasoline operations and the Odessa restau­rant.
Lev's Park Avenue company controlled a massive fleet of deepwater ships in Panama, which the government sus­pected of smuggling everything from coke to the latest model Ford Bronco, and of obtaining American visas for any number of mafiosi. "Bullshit," said Lev about the alleged smuggling. "I move chicken parts." If a ship's captain smug­gled contraband, he was completely unaware of it, he told me.
Lev had created a "film" company called Twelve-LA, and wrote the U.S. embassy requesting a visa for Ivankov, saying he was a film consultant. Then Lev helped the recently arrived Ivankov enter into a sham marriage so he could apply for a green card and, after that, U.S. citizen­ship. Over drinks at the Odessa, Lev introduced Ivankov to an aging Russian lounge singer. She agreed to marry the vor for $15,000, getting her first installment from Lev in a cig­arette box stuffed with $5,000 in crumpled greenbacks. Part of the deal was to get a quickie divorce in the Domini­can Republic after Ivankov got his Social Security card.
Ivankov's criminal domain in the New World rapidly expanded into gambling, prostitution, and arms sales, as
122 RED MAFIYA
well as participation in gasoline tax fraud. In Brighton Beach, he had shrewdly placed reliable members of the Jewish Organizatsiya's Old Guard like Lev as prime facili­tators, using their knowledge about the American banking and criminal justice systems to obtain crooked lawyers, gov­ernment contacts, passports, visas, and green cards.
"Ivankov brings with him the tradition of hard-core Russian criminals' dedication to their own authority and their experience in deception and corruption practiced under Communism," commented a classified FBI report. "While not abandoning extortion, intimidation and murder, Ivankov also incorporates more subtle and sophisticated modern methods which enable cooperation with other groups, the exploitation of weaknesses in legal and financial procedures, and the use of current Eastern European and Eurasian political and economic instability to further his empire."
In Miami, Ivankov allegedly took over a hidden share of Porky's, a strip club where he "was shown great homage" by the club's owner, Ludwig "Tarzan" Fainberg, a Russian crime lord, said U.S. intelligence sources, and also entered into a deal to provide heroin and money laundering services to the Cali cartel in exchange for cocaine, which was ear­marked for Russia. In Denver, he obtained a hidden interest in a sprawling Russian restaurant from Vatchagan Petrossov, an Armenian vor, who was Ivankov's international drug adviser, asserts the FBI. Ivankov also bought large parcels of real estate in the Rocky Mountains. In Houston, he pur­chased a used car dealership for money laundering. In New Jersey, he met with Russian bankers about possible deals in Thailand, Brazil, and Sierra Leone, where he wanted to steal diamonds. Ivankov was fascinated with the complexi­ties of Western banking, and listened intently as the bankers explained to him the intricacies of a financial instrument
INVASION OF AMERICA 123
known as American depository receipts. In Manhattan, meanwhile, financial wizard Felix Komorov became his chief money launderer, according to the FBI.*
Outside the borders of North America, the cagey vor constantly traversed Europe, the Middle East, and Eurasia as restlessly as a nomad, keeping close links to his own for­midable organization in Russia, which the Circle of Broth­ers allowed him to maintain. "It seems like I go from meeting to meeting, flying around," he wearily told an asso­ciate over a government wire. In the summer of 1994, Ivankov presided over two Appalachian-style sit-downs in Tel Aviv with his son Eduard, where dozens of gangsters gathered at the plush Dan Hotel to discuss their invest -
* Komorov, who headed a vicious extortion ring, also allegedly ran a com­plex advance fee scheme in which five Russian-American "salesmen" were sent to a trade show in Moscow in 1992, where they sold nonexistent elec­tronic equipment and foodstuffs to some twenty Russian enterprises It worked in this manner In January 1992, according to a classified FBI report, a number of Russian and Ukrainian emigres affiliated with a major Eurasian crime group "established an agreement with a scientific center in Russia for the use of the facilities and a bank account They also established a front company and a respective commercial bank account in New York City The bank account was opened with a false New York State driver's license The address was a mail drop Seized documents revealed approxi­mately thirty other bank accounts associated with the New York front com­pany False identities of prominent U S citizens were used to open the accounts and establish short-term credit for the fraud scheme in Russia
"Five persons acting as representatives of the front company subse­quently perpetrated an advance fee scheme at a business exposition in Moscow," says the FBI report "They sought out buyers of computer equip­ment and consumer goods, offering low prices More than 20 Russian enter­prises were victimized, making advance payments of over $6 million to the scientific center account The front company then transferred the money to their other accounts without fulfilling contract obligations The FBI and MVD [The Russian Internal Affairs Ministry] have traced $1 million of the illicit proceeds to New York City"
Of the five "salesmen," one accepted a plea bargain and received a five-month jail term Two others cooperated with the government and entered the Federal Witness Protection Program Another "salesman" was captured by the Russian authorities and imprisoned, and a fifth is still waiting to be sentenced in New York Komorov was never charged
124 RED MAFIYA
ments in the Jewish state, according to U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources. During his global travels he also recruited the most intelligent, ruthless, and boldest young Russian criminals for his U.S. operations. Wooing them with promises of the "good life," according to a classified FBI report, he opened bank accounts for them and pro­vided credit cards and automobiles for their use. Ivankov himself "seems always able to reenter the United States undetected after each trip," declared an FBI report.
Ivankov also reinforced old relationships with leaders of various Eurasian criminal underworld groups, such as the Budapest-based Mogilevich organization and the Solnt-sevskaya family, Moscow's mightiest criminal enterprise, which had more than 1,700 members. Its neighborhood stronghold in the suburbs of southern Moscow was where the communists released criminals when they were freed from the Gulag. These hoodlums and their offspring grew into tough mob leaders who flourished during perestroika when they seized more than eighty commercial companies, prime real estate, hotels, and other property. The Solnt-sevskaya organization is divided into ten- to twelve-member combat brigades, which are headed by criminal avoritets. Each unit controls assigned banks and business concerns in Moscow and the suburbs. At the same time, the group has a shared fund, or an obshchak, to which all brigades allocate money on a regular basis. When friction arises, members of several brigades come together to negotiate.
With other crime groups, however, Ivankov battled for territory. He was particularly determined to dominate the nascent Russian trade in cocaine, a drug that had quickly soared in popularity among the nation's nouveaux riches. Two Russian criminals stood in his way. One was the Geor­gian vor Valeri "Globus" Glugech, the first gangster to set up large-scale drug importation to Moscow from suppliers
INVASION OF AMERICA 125
in the United States, a venture that made him a wealthy man. Ivankov invited Globus to visit the United States in early 1993 and "offered" to buy out his operation, a pro­posal Globus refused. In March 1993, Globus was shot to death by a sniper outside a discotheque he owned in Moscow. Three days later, his principal lieutenant, Anatoly Semionov, was gunned down in front of his Moscow apart­ment. Two weeks after that, another top aide, Vladislav Wanner, was killed at an open-air gun range in Moscow. At a May 1994 sit-down in Vienna, the heads of several Rus­sian organized crime groups officially awarded Ivankov the remnants of Globus's drug business.
The next Russian drug kingpin to fall was Elson's friend Sergei "Sylvester" Timofeyev, who directed his mob's activities from Cyprus. Timofeyev and Ivankov had had a long-standing beef. Ivankov had an illegitimate son, Viktor Nikiforov, also known as Kalina, who had become a thief-in-law and a powerful figure in the Moscow underworld while his father was in prison. Just before Ivankov was released, Kalina was murdered. Most underworld figures believed Sylvester had ordered the hit, although no one could prove it.
Typically, however, Russian gangsters do not let their personal animosities stand in the way of their business, and the two men continued to make deals. In July 1994, Sylvester and Ivankov completed a drug transaction, after which Sylvester complained that he had been shortchanged by $300,000. A few weeks later Sylvester traveled to New York to work out the dispute with Ivankov. The meeting ended with the two cursing and shouting at each other, Ivankov accusing Timofeyev of having murdered Kalina, as well as assassinating his friend Otari Kvantrishvili outside a Moscow bathhouse. One month after the altercation, Sylvester was blown apart in Moscow by a car bomb placed
126 RED MAFIYA
in his Mercedes, and he had to be identified by his dental records.
Ivankov also nurtured his high-level contacts with cor­rupt Russian government leaders, as well as with former leaders of Russian intelligence and military services. He employed high-profile former foreign government officials as his international "diplomats." One such figure was Tofik Azimov, the former principal representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the European Economic Community. Azi­mov was handpicked by Ivankov to provide a "legitimate" front for Atkom, a "consulting firm" that allegedly laun­dered tens of millions of dollars out of a $10,000-a-month office suite in Vienna. The city is popular with Russian mobsters because of its strict banking secrecy laws, its three-hour flight time from Moscow, and its abundance of corrupt state bureaucrats. The money laundering operation was, in fact, directed by Ivankov's son Eduard, who "con­ducts a wide array of financial and banking transactions throughout Central and Western Europe (including Eng­land) in an effort to launder proceeds of Ivankov's illegal activities," according to the FBI. Atkom employed two female secretaries, a former member of the Austrian Spe­cial Forces who worked as an armed bodyguard, and a Russ­ian emigrant and an Austrian citizen who did nothing but process banking transactions and money transfers, accord­ing to a classified Austrian police document. Azimov came in handy when two Solntsevskaya crime lords had to leave Russia because of attempts on their lives; it was he who arranged for the mobsters' visas through Atkom. As stunned FBI officials later learned, the Russian gangsters were even welcomed into the country by Viennese police officers with gifts of semiautomatic Glock pistols "for self-defense."
Within just a year after he arrived in the "New Land,"
INVASION OF AMERICA 127
Ivankov had succeeded in extending his insidious influence from Austria to Denver to the icy Baltic republics. His orga­nization was visionary, well managed, efficient, wealthy, merciless, and expanding. He muscled into Russia's oil, alu­minum, and arms businesses. Tens of millions of dollars of illicit proceeds was laundered through the U.S. banking system. He frequently used front companies, through cooperation or extortion, to facilitate money laundering and the sponsorship of "business associates" for visas to enter the United States. It was said by his associates that he could provide millions of dollars in credit to finance a deal with a single phone call. His vast power was "propelled by a network of influential contacts and seemingly unlimited funds," said a classified FBI report. "Ivankov is a shrewd and respected leader over a group of ruthless members knowledgeable in business, financial, legal, and government operations. In addition to extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking, Ivankov is suspected of not only arranging numerous murders but bragging about them."
By January 1995, Ivankov and the Russian mob had grown so bold that they even convened a summit in the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico, at the San Juan Hotel and Casino. Shortly before the rendezvous, Toronto-based Russian crime figure Joseph Sigalov was overheard on a Royal Canadian Mounted Police wiretap boasting that he was going to Puerto Rico "with Yaponchick [Ivankov] ... to discuss who we will kill, fuck!" Known by his gangland friends as Mr. Tomato because of his oversized head, Sigalov was the publisher of Exodus, an influential Orthodox Jewish newspaper in Toronto sponsored by the Chabad movement, which was active in resettling Russian Jewish refugees. Sigalov also owned a bakery and was a venture capitalist.
Robert Kaplan, Canada's solicitor general in charge of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian
128 RED MAFIYA
Security Intelligence Service (the nation's CIA) from 1980 to 1984, and a member of Parliament for twenty-five years until he stepped down in 1993, was Sigalov's business adviser for thirteen months beginning sometime in 1994. Kaplan said that charges that Sigalov was a mobster were "ridiculous . . . and hard to believe. ... It was never an issue for me while I was working for him . . . because there was nothing reported about it then or said about it. No one in the community said this is someone to stay away from and no one did say that. He was very active in the Russian Jew­ish community in Toronto, which was rapidly growing," adding that Sigalov helped the emigres join synagogues and rediscover their religion.
But Sigalov's good deeds and legitimate business affairs were little more than a cover for international heroin smug­gling, arms trafficking, and extortion. In one incident, Ivankov ordered Sigalov and Vyacheslav Sliva, the godfa­ther of Russian organized crime in Canada, to have their henchmen visit the mayor of Kharkov in Ukraine. The thugs not only strong-armed the mayor into paying protec­tion money to operate the city-run casino, but for good measure also took over control of Ukraine's state-spon­sored lottery, according to the RCMR
Sigalov and Ivankov were joined at the Puerto Rican con-calve by the elite of the Russian underworld: along with Joseph Kobzon and mob leaders from Georgia, St. Peters­burg, Miami, and Brighton Beach were Viktor Averin and Sergei Mikhailov, heads of the Solntsevskaya organization. Although the Puerto Rican meeting was supposed to be a discussion about "who we will kill, fuck," the mob bosses seized the occasion to express their ire at Ivankov. They were incensed over his reckless behavior, accusing him of gratuitously murdering dozens of Russian cops, customs offi­cers, and tax police in his unbridled quest to dominate Rus-
INVASION OF AMERICA 129
sia's drug trade. The violence was attracting too much atten­tion from the law and ruining everybody's business, they complained. When they patiently tried to work out an equi­table division of the drug spoils, an implacable Ivankov sim­ply refused. Miraculously, the mobsters did manage to agree on several mutually beneficial rubouts without a quarrel.
Not surprisingly, Kobzon offered a far different version of the events in Puerto Rico to a Russian newspaper. He claimed that he had traveled to the Caribbean to enjoy an old-fashioned vacation with several family members and close friends, including Valery Weinberg, publisher of the Manhattan-based Novoye Russkoye Slovo, the largest and most influential Russian-language daily newspaper in Amer­ica. With a circulation of some 180,000, it reaches nearly every Russian emigre home in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut, where more than 300,000 now live. The paper is unique among the dozens of Russian publications in America for its routine glorification of the Russian mob and its vilification of U.S. law enforcement, especially the FBI, further contributing to the alienation of an emigre group that has bountiful enough reasons to sus­pect authority. The paper's editorial slant has helped to keep the emigre community insular and suspicious. Never­theless, in March 1999, Weinberg received the prestigious "outstanding leadership" award for his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry from the UJA-Federation, a large, nationwide Jewish philanthropic organization. Weinberg's wife, Lilly, is the UJA's New York Russian division chairwoman. The awards dinner was held at Manhattan's luxurious Plaza Hotel and the featured speaker was Senator Charles Schumer, the junior Democratic senator from New York, who said that "as you better yourselves, you better Amer­ica. Those who say you should close the doors to immigra­tion should come into this ballroom." The ballroom included
130 RED MAFIYA
Weinberg's friends, some of whom have used business suc­cess and philanthropy to, in effect, launder their question­able pasts, and rub shoulders with the unwitting elite of the American Jewish community.
Weinberg's philanthropy extended to writing character references for Kobzon after the United States State Department revoked Kobzon's visa and banned him from entering the country in June 1995 because of his Mafiya ties. Although Weinberg says he never met Ivankov or any other mobster while vacationing in Puerto Rico, Kobzon recalled socializing with the engaging vor. "When he recited [Russian poet Sergei] Yesenin by heart, I thought, 'well, this is a swell guy.'"*
"We spent a wonderful time with our families," Kobzon went on. "I have a photograph where we are all together in Puerto Rico," recounted the singer, who favors pancake makeup, eyeliner, and a thick black toupee shaped into a pompadour. "We spent days on the beach. In the evenings we relaxed. We had a daily regimen. We went to restau­rants—then to the casino. . . . This was all in one hotel. And that's how it lasted for several days straight. Then Slava Fetisov [the former NHL superstar and now a coach for the New Jersey Devils] came to see us for two days. Then Anzor Kikalishvili [who succeeded Otari Kvantrishvili as president of the mobbed-up Twenty First Century Associa­tion, which helped Ivankov win his early release from the Gulag] called from Miami and said: 'Guys, it's very dull here. How is it where you are? Can I join you for a day?'
'"Come, Come.' So he came for a day."
FBI agents monitoring the summit loitered around the
* Disillusioned with the Russian Revolution and his failed marriages to the American dancer Isadora Duncan and to Sophia Tolstoy, Yesenin committed suicide in 1925 His poetry celebrated peasant life and nature
INVASION OF AMERICA 131
hotel wearing paisley shirts, trying to look inconspicuous, and filming as much as they could from behind potted plants. After the Russians departed, agents scoured Kob-zon's hotel room for incriminating evidence and retrieved a matchbook in a wastepaper basket with Ivankov's name and Brooklyn phone number on it. They also discovered that calls had been placed to Ivankov's cell phone from Kobzon's
hotel room.
This is what the FBI was reduced to. Scrounging around Kobzon's room, looking for clues, and picking up matchbooks out of garbage cans. The FBI had inaugurated its Russian organized crime unit only some eight months earlier. Already playing a bad game of catch-up, it was ill prepared for the tidal wave of Russian criminals unleashed on the world by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Apart from what it learned from a few scattered prosecutions, the bureau was still largely in the dark about how this new Red Menace operated, who controlled it, and steps that might be taken to stop it. The FBI did realize, however, that it had to act fast.
Unfortunately, the chronically turf-jealous FBI barely cooperated with the government's other investigative bod­ies who were also investigating the Russians, such as the INS, the IRS, and the DEA. To make matters worse, local police forces were kept almost completely in the dark. (In 1999, relations between the influential FBI office in New York and the Manhattan district attorney's office—which were conducting separate investigations into money laun­dering charges at the Bank of New York by the Russian mob—became so hostile that the bureau announced that any agency that got in its way would be slammed with

*In the summer of 1999, Kobzon's suite of luxury offices at the Intounst Hotel inside the same building that houses the Twenty First Century Asso­ciation was bombed Kobzon escaped injury
132 RED MAFIYA
obstruction-of-justice charges, according to the New York Times.) The FBI preferred to operate independently, poring over wiretap transcripts of suspected mobsters, tailing sus­pects, recruiting informants, and generally trying to gather intelligence on the burgeoning Russian Mafiya.
Despite Ivankov's flagrant, multinational criminal activ­ities, during his first years in America, the FBI had a hard time even locating him. "At first all we had was a name," says the FBI's James Moody. "We were looking around, looking around, looking around, and had to go out and really beat the bushes. And then we found out that he was in a luxury condo in Trump Towers" in Manhattan.*
But almost as soon as they found him, he disappeared again leaving nothing but vapor trails for the FBI to follow. "Ivankov," explained an FBI agent, "didn't come from a walk-and-talk culture," like Italian gangsters who take walks to discuss family business so they can't be bugged or overheard by the bureau. "As soon as he'd sniff out the feds, he'd go into hiding for days at a time," a trait that made him harder to keep tabs on than Italian mobsters.
"He was like a ghost to the FBI," says Gregory Stasiuk, the New York State Organized Crime Task Force special investigator. Stasiuk picked up Ivankov's trail at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, the Trump-owned casino that the real estate magnate boasted was the "eighth wonder of the world." The Taj Mahal had become the Russian mob's favorite East Coast destination. As with other high rollers, scores of Russian hoodlums received "comps" for up to $100,000 a visit for free food, rooms, champagne, cartons of cigarettes, entertainment, and transportation in stretch
*A copy of Ivankov's personal phone book, which was obtained by the author, included a working number for the Trump Organization's Trump Tower Residence, and a Trump Organization office fax machine.
INVASION OF AMERICA 133
limos and helicopters. "As long as these guys attract a lot of money or spend a lot of money, the casinos don't care,' a federal agent asserted. Russian mobsters like Ivankov proved a windfall for the casinos, since they often lost hun­dreds of thousands of dollars a night in the "High-Roller Pit," sometimes betting more than $5,000 on a single hand of blackjack. "They're degenerate gamblers," says Stasiuk. Although the FBI still couldn't find Ivankov, Stasiuk man­aged to tail him from the Taj Mahal to shipping mogul Leonard Lev's sprawling home on a dead-end street in Far Rockaway, Queens, and on another occasion, from the Taj to the Paradise Club, a notorious Russian mob haunt in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, then managed by godfather Marat Balagula's youngest daughter, Aksana, the onetime aspiring optometrist.
So wily did Ivankov prove to be that the FBI couldn't gather enough evidence against him to convince a federal judge to grant a wiretap. The Canadian Mounties eventually came to the bureau's aid, for they had recorded numerous conversations between Sliva and Ivankov plotting various crimes. The grateful feds used the recordings to win a court-authorized wiretap to listen in on his multiple tele­phones, which provided the fullest picture yet of the vor's world.
In one monitored phone conversation, Ivankov was barely able to conceal his rage when a colleague in Russia described how several mob associates were shot to death in an ambush in downtown Moscow by a rival gang. In another transatlantic call, an accomplice told Ivankov that two deputy mayors in Moscow who were on Ivankov's payroll were becoming too independent-minded. "They are trying to get involved in politics and they are fucking wanting to get rid of us," complained Ivankov's comrade. "These peo­ple are our tribe."
134 RED MAFIYA
"I'm trying to solve the problem with the deputy mayor," Ivankov brusquely replied.
In another call, an underworld confidant told Ivankov that he had an Israeli gangster "beaten severely" for trying to cheat him on a diamond deal.
"It's not enough just to beat him . . . this fucking ani­mal," Ivankov growled.
When Ivankov learned that a piece of property in Russia he had coveted was taken over by a rival mob, he screamed, "No fucking way! I'll fuck them all, the living and the dead!"
Ivankov had many prosaic conversations about the phi­losophy of the vors with Moucheg (aka Misha) Azatian, an imposing enforcer type who lived in Los Angeles. The code of the vor—which Ivankov called "human law"—was pure, honest, and uncorrupted by politics. He ridiculed the polit­ical pretensions that were the foundation of perestroika, declaring that it was merely a cynical plot devised by the ruling class to control the populace. After perestroika "they'll invent something different, again and again, and this is an endless process," he told Misha. "But in any case, everything is fine, brother. We live according to human law. And according to the law of our mini-state, everything is done in an honorable and honest way. And that's it."
"Of course, brother," Misha replied. "There is nothing better than human law, and that's the only important thing in the world."
"Of course, conscience and honor—that's the only law we keep," Ivankov reminded him.
The FBI got particularly lucky in the autumn of 1994 when Bank Chara in Moscow collapsed under suspicious circumstances, costing its depositors more than $30 mil­lion. Some $3.5 million of the money had been invested in Summit International, a New York investment house that
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had been founded by two of Chara's Russian board mem­bers, Alexander Volkov and Vladimir Voloshin. The Sum­mit executives were no strangers to organized crime. Volkov, Summit's president, is a thin, wiry, chain-smoking ex-KGB officer with a noxious temper. Voloshin, Summit's VP, is a member of the Lyubertskaya crime family in Moscow, where he had once mixed up a target's address and torched the wrong apartment, as well as its female inhabitant. Their unlicensed Wall Street investment firm was actually a giant Ponzi scheme, preying mostly on Rus­sian emigres who were promised up to 120 percent per annum returns on phony companies with names like "Sili­con Walley." To cover itself in a cloak of fiscal respectability, Summit entered into a contract with Prudential Securities vice president Ronald Doria to serve as its financial adviser. (Doria was later terminated by Prudential, and took the Fifth, refusing to testify, during a National Association of Securities Dealers arbitration hearing.) Between 1993 and 1995, Volkov and Voloshin took in $8 million from investors, spending nearly the entire sum on their own lav­ish entertainment: beautiful women, long weekends in the Caribbean, and gambling junkets to Atlantic City. In one night alone, Voloshin lost $100,000 at Bally's Hotel; he cov­ered it with his investors' money.
In the spring of 1995 Bank Chara's new president, Roustam Sadykov, flew to New York to ask Summit's direc­tors to return the bank's missing funds. When the men refused, Sadykov turned to Ivankov to collect the debt. "This should be fairly simple," Ivankov told an accomplice over a government wire. "If you call the men and use my name that makes people do what they are supposed to do." When Ivankov and two henchmen paid a visit to Summit's Wall Street offices, Volkov and Voloshin fled in terror to Miami. But Ivankov's men caught up with them when they
136 RED MAFIYA
returned to Manhattan, kidnapping them at gunpoint from the bar of the Hilton Hotel and forcing them to sign a con­tract promising to pay one of Ivankov's associates $3.5 mil­lion. "You understand who you are dealing with?" snarled Ivankov to the Summit officials. As an inducement to honor their commitment, Voloshin's father was stomped to death in a Moscow train station.
Unbeknownst to Ivankov, however, the pair had informed the FBI of the extortion. Voloshin had initially flown to San Francisco to implore members of the Moscow-based Lyubertskaya crime family, which had a modest con­tingent in California, to help him rid himself of Ivankov, but when they declined, Voloshin and Volkov were left with the FBI as their only recourse.
On the morning of June 8, 1995, a squad of FBI agents yanked a sleepy-eyed Ivankov from his mistress's bed in Brighton Beach. They found a gun in the bushes outside the apartment and $75,000 in cash on the kitchen table. One of the documents that was seized contained the name of a Russian banker who was hiding in the United States with his wife and children. Although the FBI would have pre­ferred to arrest Ivankov on bigger charges, and had been trying to gather evidence to assemble a racketeering case against him, they had no choice but to arrest him for extor­tion before he could kill the Russian bankers. As he was being led into the FBI building, a defiant Ivankov kicked and spit at reporters. "I eat my enemies for dinner," he sneered.
Ivankov might actually have avoided conviction had he shown his six co-defendants that same degree of loyalty he demanded from them. Incarcerated at the Manhattan Cor­rectional Center awaiting trial with his underlings, Ivankov tried to bully them, dictating which attorneys they should hire, and instructing them how to subordinate their defense
INVASION OF AMERICA 137
strategy to his. He warned that anyone who did not follow his orders would be his "enemy for life."
Still, there were rebellions. One day, Ivankov and his cohorts gathered in a tobacco-filled day room at MCC to figure out how to spin incriminating wiretap conversations. According to FBI interviews with Ivankov's gang, Yakov "Billy Bombs" Volovnik, a nervous cokehead, who had a prior conviction for his role in a Russian mob jewelry theft ring, pleaded with Ivankov for funds to hire a decent attor­ney. Ivankov refused, ordering him to get the money from Leonid Abelis, the man who had been in charge of the day-to-day operations of the extortion plot.
"I have no money to spare," complained the six-foot, 220-pound, thirty-seven-year-old Abelis, a former machin­ist in Russia. "I'm paying for my own lawyer. I have my own family to think about."
"What, I do not have a family?" Ivankov angrily replied.
When the hulking Abelis started to rise from his chair, the 150-pound, five-foot-four-inch, fifty-seven-year-old vor grabbed him by the shoulders and growled, "Sit down, you whore! I will settle everything with you shitheads!"
Billy Bombs pulled the men apart, warning them not to quarrel in prison where they were undoubtedly under sur­veillance.
Ivankov spared no expense for his own defense, hiring Barry Slotnick for a sum of $750,000. The fee was under­written by the sale of property in upstate New York owned by shipping magnate Leonard Lev; the proceeds were routed through a company in Monrovia, Liberia, according to a U.S. Customs agent. (Lev denies that he had anything to do with the defense costs and, in fact, didn't even con­trol the property at that time.) Whatever the case, Ivankov left his co-defendants to fend for themselves. But Abelis— who had fought with Ivankov over money—believed that
138 RED MAFIYA
he was being set up by Slotnick and Ivankov as the fall guy, and turned state's evidence. Billy Bombs Volovnik quickly followed suit.
Still, the government's case had holes. Ivankov had carefully insulated himself by generally staying on the side­lines while his henchmen made the extortion threats, invoking his name to induce terror. Furthermore, the Sum­mit executives scarcely fit the role of sympathetic victims. Not only had they stolen millions of dollars from their Russian-American clients, but according to court testimony, they had also taken more than $30 million from Russian banks before coming to America.
Slotnick, who had just concluded a long mental compe­tency hearing for his client Genovese crime boss Vincent Gigante, seemed unprepared during the crucial opening stages of Ivankov's trial. He unconvincingly tried to portray the Russian godfather as a kind of Robin Hood who was guilty of nothing more than defending Bank Chara from greedy career criminals. Indeed, Slotnick argued, Ivankov was a Russian national hero who had been defying commu­nism since grade school, spending half his life in the Gulag rather than being forced to sing the "Internationale."
But Abelis's testimony proved devastating. Not only did he establish Ivankov as the mastermind of the Summit extortion, but for good measure, he described Ivankov's shakedown of the Rasputin nightclub. After a five-week trial, the jury took just three hours to convict Ivankov and his associates of extortion. Voloshin and Volkov went into the Federal Witness Protection Program. In a subsequent trial, Ivankov and Leonard Lev were convicted for conspir­ing to arrange the sham marriage that allowed Ivankov to stay in the United States.
At the sentencing for the second case, Slotnick's part­ner, Jay Shapiro, compared Ivankov to Soviet Jewish
INVASION OF AMERICA 139
refuseniks, Jews in Nazi Germany, and Alexander Solzhen-itsyn. ("To use his [Ivankov's] name in the same sentence as Solzhenitsyn is a sacrilege," the FBI's Raymond Kerr later remarked.) Ivankov was nevertheless smacked with a nine-and-a-half-year jail term for the two convictions. "Let them put me on the chopping block—let them crucify me on a cross," snarled Ivankov. "I'm tough. I will survive!"
In many respects, Ivankov does survive. Not only did he pave the way for the Russian Mafiya's second wave to invade America, putting in place a significant web of busi­nesses and criminal relationships, a legacy that could later be exploited by other mobsters, but, according to several North American law enforcement agencies and Italian crime bosses, Ivankov continued to run a sophisticated crime empire from the federal prison in Lewisburg, giving orders in ancient dialects like Assyrian and using criminal codes the FBI has yet to master. "The FBI, the MVD, the FSB [the former KGB] have stolen my life from me," he told a Russian newspaper. "I have a list of who committed these crimes—both on the side of Russia and on the side of the FBI. ... I know who all these people are. And I warn them that they will answer for their crimes."
In the winter of 1999, Ivankov was found with heroin in his cell and traces of the narcotic were detected in his urine. He was transferred to a maximum-security wing at Allenwood Federal Penitentiary.
7
TARZAN

In the middle of Miami's shabby warehouse district near Hialeah Race Track stood a squat, windowless one-story I building. As its name implied, Porky's was a strip club, though it was much seedier than its namesake in the movie of the same title. In its dimly lit corridors, working-class Cuban men from the nearby rough-and-tumble neighbor­hoods pawed topless dancers, or received jiffy blow jobs for a few dollars a pop. In a filthy, dungeonlike office, away from the ear-splitting disco music and the smoky bar where strip­pers solicited lap dances, Rocky, the forty-two-year-old day manager, remembered better days, when Porky's was run by a brawny Russian gangster known as Tarzan. "Ivankov was here surrounded by three goons," Rocky told me. "I saw Ivankov with my own eyes. Did Ivankov and Tarzan know each other? Oh, yeahl Did they do business together? No question. The Russian mob came in all the time."
142 RED MAFIYA
Porky's was once a howling, hedonistic beacon for Russ­ian wiseguys from Tashkent to Brighton Beach. Gangsters craving sultry young, $l,000-a-night Eurasian prostitutes, Colombian cocaine, and Soviet-era weapons knew Porky's was the place to come to. Recreational drugs, bootlegged boxes of Philip Morris cigarettes, and stolen bottles of ice-cold Stolichnaya vodka could be procured just as easily. The club was abuzz with so much Russian mob activity that even local policemen jokingly referred to it as Redfellas South.
Rocky pointed out a memento from Tarzan's glory days: a framed photo of the club's most famous stripper, mega porn star Amber Lynn, who charged $25,000 a week to per­form. "The regular dancers [at Porky's] didn't get paid," said Rocky, who was once a bodyguard for one of the biggest Colombian drug lords in Florida and had emptied a thirty-round Mac-10 clip into a nightclub during a gangland dis­pute. "They worked on tip money, much of which I suspect was kicked back to Tarzan." Adorning the wall was also a promotional flyer for Porky's fourth anniversary party, fea­turing a photo montage of Tarzan fondling a series of exotic dancers. In one shot, he leered directly into the camera, while two big-haired, blond strippers pressed their enor­mous bosoms into each side of his face. Rocky said the flyer used to hang in the office next to a photo of Tarzan's four-year-old daughter. "Tarzan doesn't care about anyone except himself. He has no loyalty to anyone. One night he cut the commissions the girls get on drinks. They went bal­listic. I said, 'Wait till the end of the shift. They are threat­ening to go on strike.' He backed off. I said, 'Why do you always have to screw everything up?' He was a piece of shit!"
On a September day at the tail end of Hurricane Floyd, when rain was still soaking the blacktops, I took a taxi to
TARZAN 143
the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami to inter­view Tarzan. His real name is Ludwig Fainberg, and he was, until the feds nabbed him, the flamboyant ringleader of the South Florida Russian mob. When I got to the prison, the guards relieved me of my passport, my keys, and a pack of chewing gum. "It'll cost us $2,000 to unjam a lock from that gum if an inmate gets ahold of it," I was told by way of explanation. After passing through a metal detector and two machines that monitored my hand, which had been coded with incandescent ink, I was led to a large, open rec­tangular room where prisoners in gray jumpsuits silently waited for their lawyers and guests.
In a glass-walled cubicle at the back of the room, I spot­ted Tarzan, a huffy, thirty-eight-year-old man with a grim glare, slumped over a brown Formica table. He used to have wild, acid-rock-size hair, but it was shorn now; he once took pride in a steroid-enhanced, muscular physique, but when I saw him he looked like a deflated inner tube. He slammed a thick document down on the table. It was his indictment, and it was a heavy load. Conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin. Weapons trafficking. "It says, 'The U.S.A. vs. Ludwig Fainberg,'" he griped. "Who can fight the U.S. gov­ernment?" He sounded like an adolescent. "I already spent a million dollars on lawyers," he said.
Tarzan first became conspicious in Miami in the early 1990s. He had all the makings of a successful mobster: he was greedy (he held numerous fund-raisers for various charities and the state of Israel, pocketing 85 cents of every dollar, according to the DEA; Tarzan is adamant that he never stole from Jewish charities); he was ruthless (he once forced a woman to eat gravel); and he was ambitious (he once brokered a complicated negotiation involving the transfer of a Russian military submarine to Colombian nar-cotraffickers).
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In Russia, Tarzan told me, dishonesty is a trait that's bred in the womb. Deprivation teaches Russians to be cun­ning predators—it's the only way to survive, he said. Americans, on the other hand, are trusting souls. Their rules, Tarzan figured, were made to be broken.
Ludwig Fainberg was born in Odessa in 1958. When he was three, his family moved to Chernovtsi, a small city in western Ukraine. He sang in a national boys choir, and was trained in a boxing program set up by the Soviet military. "When I was a kid everything that I did made people laugh," he said. His inspiration was a Soviet comedy team that was similar in style to that of the Three Stooges. His stepfather, who manufactured Persian rugs and thick fur hats for a Soviet factory, was a dealer on the burgeoning black market. He'd trade rugs and fur caps for choice cuts of meat, some of which he'd barter for hard-to-get items, such as theater tickets. Then he'd trade the tickets for something more valuable—fresh vegetables.
One day in 1972, when Ludwig was thirteen, his par­ents announced that they were moving the family to Israel, where they hoped to increase their already considerable wealth. Ludwig, who had never known the family to iden­tify with Judaism in any way, was confused. "Jew" was just something stamped on their passport, he thought, signify­ing their ethnic group. To him, being Jewish simply meant having certain privileges. "Jews were the richest people in town," he told me. "Jews had cars, Jews had money, Jews lived in nice apartments. We were comfortable. My mother had nice clothes and jewelry. We took a vacation once a year to Odessa, a stunning city with a boardwalk and gorgeous beaches. It was filled with mobsters and entertainers. It was a city with a Jewish flavor."
In Russia refuseniks—Jews who had denounced com-
TARZAN 145
munism and were denied an exit visa—were sometimes accorded a touch of grudging respect. But in many cases Jews like the Fainbergs, who left for economic reasons, were despised. When Ludwig's teachers learned that he was moving to Israel, he was forced to stand in front of the six-hundred-member student body and denounced as a traitor. On the way home, he says, he was beaten by class­mates. "Why do we have to be Jewish," Tarzan cried to his parents.
Before leaving, the Fainbergs converted their money into gold and diamonds, stashing some in shoes with false bottoms and hiding the rest in secret compartments of spe­cially built tables and chairs, which they shipped to Israel. There, Ludwig lived on a kibbutz. According to his friends, that's where he got his nickname—he bestowed it upon himself after jumping off the fourth floor of a building to attract attention.
Tarzan, who soon stood at six feet one, joined the Israeli navy and applied to the elite Navy SEALS commando unit. But he washed out during basic training, and served the remaining three years of his service in the main weapons room of a destroyer. He wanted to be an officer but failed the exam. "I did not have enough brains," he told a reporter. "It was a very difficult exam."
In 1980, a restless Tarzan moved to East Berlin. He had one Russian friend in the city who had official-looking med­ical diplomas—just one of the many varieties of forged documents the Russian mob had for sale. The friend asked Tarzan if he wanted to be a doctor, too. "Are you crazy?" Tarzan said incredulously. "Do you think I want to kill patients?" He settled for a dental technician's license, but his gross incompetence got him fired from seven jobs in a row.
Like many young Russian emigres in East Berlin, Tarzan
146 RED MAFIYA
joined a mob crew. He specialized in credit card fraud and counterfeiting. Then the brawny lad decided to try his hand at extortion. Working for a mob group run by the notorious Efim Laskin—who had sold weapons to the Red Brigades — Tarzan was ordered to nab a German banker. Tarzan and two accomplices accosted the banker as he ate lunch at an expensive restaurant and forced him into the trunk of their car. But when the man swore he could get no money until his bank opened after its lunch break, the hapless extor­tionists agreed to release him, and arranged to meet him at the bank at four o'clock. Moments before the rendezvous, Tarzan stepped out of the car and walked to a nearby pillar for a smoke. Suddenly, a group of rival gangsters in four Mercedes-Benzes pulled up in front of the bank and beat his accomplices severely. A terrified Tarzan fled all the way to Brighton Beach.
Tarzan found Brighton Beach to be an unsavory haunt for murderers and thieves. "It was the Wild West," he recalled. "I took my gun everywhere." His fortunes improved markedly when, soon after arriving in Brooklyn, he married Maria Raichel, a wastrel Russian Mafiya princess. Her grandfather, her ex-husband, and her brother-in-law were all known by the same sobriquet— Psyk—the Russian word for "psycho." Her grandfather earned the name after he cold-bloodedly stabbed a man to death in Russia. Her first husband, Semion, and his brother Naum eventually became big-time extortionists, and ran their own crew; but because of their irrational behavior they were shunned by other Russian gangsters. Semion, for instance, threw a Ukrainian prostitute into a bathtub and threatened to toss in an electric appliance until she promised him a share of her earnings. Then, for good mea­sure, he forced her to give him a blow job. The woman sub-
TARZAN 147
sequently told her tale to the cops and Semion was arrested. A few days later, she received a long-distance phone call from a deep-throated man who told her that someone wanted to speak to her. "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, they will kill me!" a voice cried. It was the woman's three-year-old child, who was living with rela­tives in Ukraine. The woman dropped the charges. "He's an evil, horrible person," says a New York City detective who worked on the case.
Although Tarzan had married into mob royalty, the rela­tionship had its downside. Maria wanted him to live off the fortune left behind by Semion, who was serving a seven-year prison sentence in Germany for extortion. She bought Tarzan $3,000 tuxedoes for nights on the town, and expected him to stay home and watch game shows. He felt like a sissy and found refuge in the criminal exploits of Gre-cia Roizes. Their families had been close friends in Cher-novtsi, and later in Israel. In Russia, Roizes had spent three years in a prison in Siberia for hitting someone so hard in the stomach that his guts came through a recent medical incision. Now he headed one of the most feared Russian crews in Brighton Beach and owned a wholesale furniture store with branches in Coney Island, Italy, and Russia. (The DEA and a knowledgeable figure in the Genovese under­world say that the store fronted a heroin business that involved the Gambinos, the Genoveses, and a host of Russ­ian mobsters.)
Tarzan helped Roizes's crew with torch jobs and extor­tion, and soon developed an interest in furniture. After a young couple in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, refused to sell their wholesale furniture store to Roizes for a fire sale price, they permanently disappeared. Tarzan claims that he was shocked when they vanished, but he happily took over their business.
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Inevitably, the Russian mobsters crossed paths with their Italian counterparts. By intuition, or perhaps a sure knowledge of the territory, this happened to Tarzan on a day when an old woman walked into his new store and asked to buy a cheap bedroom set on credit. "This ain't a bank, lady," a clerk named Vinny curtly replied. Tarzan overheard the conversation and gave her the set for free. He even loaded it on his truck and drove it to her house. Tarzan said that he felt sorry for her, and that besides, he liked catering to old people and "kibitzing" with them.
The following day, a powerfully built Italian man saun­tered into a video store that Tarzan ran and introduced him­self only as Frankie. "I'm the son of the old woman," he said, offering Tarzan coffee and pastries. "I owe you. Any­thing you want is yours."
Tarzan says he was awestruck. "You could feel his power," he recalled. "He was the kind of man who wouldn't take no for an answer."
Over the next few years, if the rent at Tarzan's video store was raised by the landlord, he'd call his friend Frankie, and it would be taken care of. When an Italian extortionist tried to shake down Tarzan, Frankie's boys had him pistol-whipped in front of his wife. "They are going to find you in a car cut in little pieces," the wife shrieked at Tarzan.
Tarzan claimed he never knew the identity of his Ital­ian patron until one day in 1987, when he saw a picture of him in the tabloids. The papers identified him as the late Frank Santora, a notable in the Colombo organized crime family, and reported that he had been shot twice at close range outside a dry-cleaning store on a quiet Brooklyn street.
Soon, many of Tarzan's friends were coming to grief:
TARZAN 149
Vladimir Reznikov, one of Brighton Beach's most success­ful professional killers, was shot to death in front of Marat Balagula's popular restaurant and nightclub Odessa. Then Tarzan lost his crewmate Alexander Slepinin—the three-hundred-pound, six-foot-five-inch tattooed hit man known as the Colonel who was brutally executed by Monya Elson. "My mother loved the Colonel," Tarzan gloomily recalled.
Fainberg decided he should move to a safer neighbor­hood. In 1990, he left his wife and Brighton Beach behind, and headed south.
In America, Miami had become the Russian mob's second city. Like Brighton Beach, it had a large Russian immigrant population. In the early 1970s, the Miami Beach Police Department began to notice that an inordi­nate number of Russian emigre taxi drivers were commit­ting criminal acts. These Russians didn't fit the cops' preconceived notion of crooks, however. "They were always neatly dressed and very clean-cut and gave the appearance of wanting to fit in and learn the American way of life," says a federal law enforcement report, writ­ten in 1994. Gradually, the Miami police learned that these taxi drivers were involved in many of the same crimes that had made the Italian Mafia so powerful: extortion, narcotics, gambling, and prostitution. "They were a very tight group of criminals who had a code of silence that even the threat of arrest could not break," the report added.
By the 1980s, the Miami Beach police noted that crimes involving Russian criminals were growing craftier; their schemes, more involved—well-organized narcotics trafficking, burglary and counterfeiting rings, and sophisti­cated bank and jewelry frauds. Even as the Russian mob-
150 RED MAFIYA
sters graduated to white-collar crime, a continuing influx of Russians allowed them to control the streets. "Russian Organized Crime is a new and serious threat to South Florida," warned the 1994 report. "This is a well-educated group of active, young criminals."
By the time that Tarzan arrived in Florida, the Russians pouring in were not the taxi-driving sort. "Miami was a boomtown for the Russian mob, which came after pere-stroika with the hundreds of millions they had looted dur­ing privatization," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Fernandez. They used their vast war chest to buy row after row of pricey condominiums in North Beach, and paid tens of millions more for the gated mansions on Fisher Island, the city's most fashionable residential area. Many of the buyers were high-ranking Russian military officers and ex-KGB officials. "These were the people who held together the Evil Empire," one real estate agent said. "These were the assassins and the spies." The Versace-clad Russians loved the balmy, palm-studded tropics, where each new day brought the potential for a multimillion-dollar score. Who needed a shvitz in a century-old, grime-encrusted Brighton Beach bathhouse when wiseguys could go for a steam and a sit-down at the degage Art Deco Hotel Delano's rooftop spa, and maybe even spy a movie star? In Miami, the Russians found their ideal dacha: a base for money laundering that was also close to South Ameri­can cocaine. "Porky's became the focal point where Rus­sian gangsters could get their bearings when they came to South Florida," said Fernandez.Tarzan had opened Porky's with the help of William Sei-dle, whom he latched on to shortly after arriving in Miami. Seidle, a seventy-one-year-old, longtime Floridian, owns a hugely profitable Nissan dealership, as well as the largest Suzuki dealership in America, and is said in Russian mob

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