Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture and Crime

Article excerpt

Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture and Crime. James 0. Finckenauer and Elin J. Waring. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.303 pp. $35.00.

Russian Mafia in America, the definitive work on Russian organized crime in the United States, also makes significant contributions to the general literature on organized crime. Drawing on research conducted in cooperation with the TriState Joint Soviet Emigre Organized Crime Project, the authors investigate Russian criminal traditions, contemporary mobs, and criminal activity among Russian immigrants in the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area. They also expose connections among crime bosses and gangsters in the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Despite the difficulty, if not impossibility, of studying organized crime using criminological methods (observation, surveys, interviews, samples, and questionnaires), the authors nevertheless successfully collected a wealth of primary data. Relying on teams of investigators, attorneys, and analysts in the tri-state project, they employ tools traditionally used to investigate organized crime: intelligence reports, undercover work, telephone records, indictments, and newspaper reports. Their sources also include interviews with law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and citizens.

The major themes of the book are most interesting and provocative. Tracing its intricate history, the authors suggest that a century ago organized crime may have provided a "crooked ladder of social mobility" for Russian Jewish immigrants seeking to enter the middle class. Today Russian immigrants who engage in organized crime-and the authors make clear that only a minority of them do so-are not motivated by the prospect of upward social mobility. Many factors influence their decision, notably attitudes shaped by Soviet experience. The authors cite socialization under the Soviet system, in which the distinction between legal and illegal was blurred, the resources and the laws of the state were not respected, and "theft was not theft."

Today's Russian emigre criminals are entrepreneurs and scam artists. For example, insurance frauds and bootleg gasoline tax frauds are specialties. The actual and potential illegal markets available do not lend themselves to domination by Russians. …