Trial May Turn Tables on Russian Mob Boss

By Thibault, Andy | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 9, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Trial May Turn Tables on Russian Mob Boss


Thibault, Andy, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


****THE FBI HOPES TO NAIL THE ALLEGED BOSS OF THE BROOKLYN-BASED MAFIA, CHARGED WITH EXTORTION.****

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - The FBI believes it has severed the head of Russian organized crime, an enterprise that has bilked billions of dollars from consumers, businesses and the government since the 1980s.

Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, 56, the purported head of the Russian mob, is on trial for extortion. In the lore of Brighton Beach, a section of Brooklyn that is home to more than 50,000 Russian emigres, Mr. Ivankov is either Russia's answer to John Gotti, a glorified car thief, or a deeply religious freedom fighter.

The Russian mob poses a new challenge for law enforcement. It is more sophisticated and even more brutal than traditional ethnic mobs.

As Gotti, the jailed Gambino family crime boss, said on a wiretap: "We Italians will kill you, but the Russians are crazy. They'll kill your whole family."

The trial here is just part of the federal government's assault on Russian organized crime. Russian mob defectors told a Senate subcommittee last month that Russian hockey players have been targets of extortion and threats of violence.

FBI Director Louis Freeh and Central Intelligence Director John Deutch also testified at a recent hearing that organized crime in Russia is undermining the government and poses a threat to the United States as well.

The Russian mob is responsible for the largest health care fraud in U.S. history - a $2 billion medical scam - which caused insurance rates to go up for all of California's subscribers. Two Russian brothers set up fake medical clinics and billed insurance carriers for tests and operations that either never took place or were unnecessary.

In New York, a gasoline-tax theft scheme netted a joint operation of the Russian and Italian mobs $12 million a week. Russian mobsters in Brooklyn have been responsible for 42 murders and 24 attempted murders over the past 15 years, said New York City police Detective Ralph Cefarello, a member of the department's newly formed Russian squad.

"They'll beat you - they'll hurt your family," the detective told The Washington Times. "They're not beyond coming to you if you go to the police, and showing you a picture of your wife and kid in Russia. They're not going to threaten you at that point - they're just going to show you a picture."

Mr. Ivankov, who spent about 10 years in a Siberian labor camp before reportedly bribing a judge and fleeing to the United States in 1992 with a faked exit visa, is one of the FBI's prime Russian mob targets. To the FBI, he is the most powerful "vory v zakone", or thief-in-law, in the United States, sent here to do for the Russian mob what Frank Costello did for the Italian Mafia in the 1930s and '40s - organize a crime commission to arbitrate disputes and share spoils.

Thieves-in-law are the Russian equivalents of Mafia godfathers, and they also have a centuries-old code of behavior. They are not supposed to work, use telephones or get married.

Mr. Ivankov broke at least two of those rules. Phone wiretaps by the FBI have been used as evidence against him, and he is also accused of arranging a fraudulent marriage to skirt immigration laws.

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