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The Russian Mafia

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2070
  • Category: Russian

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Most people would equate organized crime groups with the Italian Mafia or Japanese Yakuza. However, the Russian Mafia groups have also recently become a formidable and influential group, similar to their foreign counterparts. These groups have been in existence since only by a few decades or so, but their influence has ranged into some of the most complex criminal activities, so much so that Federal authorities have taken cognizance of them. The paper will try to unravel the inner workings, activities of this new crime group, the Russian Mafia.

A Red Crime Wave

From the Motherland

            In the report of the National Institute of Justice under the auspices of the United States Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, the Russian crime group has merited the same notoriety as some of the more infamous criminal outfits, such as the “La Cosa Nostra” (LCN) or the Italian-American Mafia, the Hong Kong Triads and the Japanese Yakuza (NIJ, 2008). The Russian mob has its web spread out around the world, making its presence known in at least 60 countries (NIJ, 2008). Now they have stretched their criminal tentacles into the United States.


An Introduction          

            With the collapse and dismantling of the Soviet Union, the citizens that comprised the 15 republics were ushered into the concepts and principles of democratic government (Lungren, 1996). Consequently, the Russian Mafia also thrived in this new economic system, expanding its business beyond the borders (Lungren, 1996). Although the activities of the group have been under the watch of Federal authorities for quite some time, they have gained Federal notice only in the last five years (Lungren, 1996). In a report dated August 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that the 15 crime groups existing have had links with the former Soviet Union (Lungren, 1996). These crime organizations span the breadth of the Unites States (Lungren, 1996). It should also be noted that the immigrants from the former U.S.S.R are either career felons who may or may have no connections at all with the Russian Mafia (Lungren, 1996).

            Many of these crime groups operating in the United States have confirmed ties with organized crime organizations in the former Soviet Union (Lungren, 1996). These groups have become entrenched into the fabric of Russian social and political life (Lungren, 1996).

To paint a picture of how much entrenched these groups are, Russia’s Analytical Center for Social and Economic Policies, in a report to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, stated that these groups are a threat to Russian national development (Lungren, 1996). In Russia, it was estimated that about 80 percent of businesses and banks in major centers in Russia paid a portion of their profits as tribute to the mob (Lungren, 1996). To keep watch on these groups, the FBI put up a Moscow office for the purpose of monitoring Russian crime groups encroaching into American territory to avert the smuggling of nuclear weapons (Lungren, 1996).

Moving to America

            In the years between 1970 and 1980, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) put the number of Russian immigrants to the United States at 200,000 (Lungren, 1996). It is believed that the KGB, the Russian secret police, conducted a massive “eviction” of all its prisons and shipped them to the United States (Lungren, 1996). These “evictees” from the Russian penal system were convicted hardened criminals, and these felons are believed to have carried on their life of crime in the United States (Lungren, 1996). In a 1994 INS report, the immigrants preferred to stay in New York State, followed by California, Illinois, Washington, Pennsylvania, with the last being Oregon (Lungren, 1996).

            In the mid-1970’s, one area in New York, Brighton Beach, became a hub of Russian mob activity (Lungren, 1996). Russian mobsters then sought to forge alliances with La Cosa Nostra (LCN) (Lungren, 1996). This allowed them to hatch an illegal fuel tax scheme to operate in some New York areas (Lungren, 1996). In return, the LCN received a certain portion of these racket’s profits to be funnelled back to them as a form of taxation, a permit to operate, their fraudulent schemes in New York (Lungren, 1996).

The Response of the United States

            In his statement before the U.S. House committee on International Relations (1996), Federal Bureau of Investigation director Louis J. Freeh made an assessment of the crime unleashed by the Russian mob (Freeh, 1996). He testified that crimes are no longer restrained by borders, as these have been overcome by the use of technology and the threat of smuggling (Freeh, 1996). He avers that these, coupled with weapons smuggling, present a clear danger to the United States citizenry and economy (Freeh, 1996).  He goes on to list the measures that the United States has been undertaking to counter the menace of the Russian crime groups.

            Freeh (1996) believes that a most crucial step is by building front-line level relationships with law enforcement units where the crime groups are based, thereby giving them a singularity of purpose in combating crime. Freeh (1996) also aims to assist foreign counterparts in terms of training the foreign police and the United States law enforcement personnel as well. These efforts, Freeh (1996) believes, will help in curbing international and assist the FBI in tracking down the elements conducting these crimes.

Structure of the Red Crime Machine

            The Russian Internal Affairs Ministry estimated in 1993 that there were about 5,000 crime organizations operating in the country at the time (Lungren, 1996). These crime groups counted on a membership of at least 100,000 people, not counting the leaders, adding another 18,000 to the count (Lungren, 1996).  In the United States, the Russian Mafia is non-existent, only in terms of a well-organized and refined group (Finckenauer & Waring, 1998). Instead, these Soviet immigrants come under the wings of very extensive and small fluid groups (Finckennauer & Waring, 1998). Often, these groups maintain ties with their ethnic roots (Lungren, 1996). These groups may not be Russian at all, coming from a wide array of ethnic backgrounds (Touhy, 2000).  Though the groups have a form of structure to follow within the organization, these groups are not nearly as structured as the Italian Mafia (Lungren, 1996).

            These groups follow a certain structure coming their old crime days in the former Soviet Union. According to sources inside the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, the group follow one structural hierarchy as known by Federal authorities (Lungren, 1996). One particular leadership model goes this way. The purpose of this particular type of structure is the minimization of the incidents of possible contact with other parts of the organization (Lungren, 1996).


            Each boss of the groups, called a “pakhan”, has operational control of four criminal cells through a middle man, a “brigadier” (Lungren, 1996). The boss has spies in the group to make sure that the brigadier does not accumulate too much power unto himself and to ensure the loyalty of the brigadier (Lungren, 1996). At the last level are the smaller groups tasked to conduct the criminal activities of the group, including illegal narcotics, prostitution rings, and contacts for the politicians and the “enforcers” of the groups (Lungren, 1996). Another form of the leadership hierarchy is one that is insulated from the street level criminals under the wings of the crime bosses by security men and support personnel (Lungren, 1996).  These layers effectively shield the top men from the bottom level of the group.

            Strategies for the group are taken up only in the top level of the organization (Lungren, 1996). This is done to avoid the risk of detection and identification of the group, as well as keeping the identity of the bosses’ secret from the street criminals (Lungren, 1996). These structures, according to FinCEN, come from the old Soviet criminal gangs’ structure when they were still in operation the former Soviet Union (Lungren, 1996). As such, these structures may have evolved upon their move into the United States (Lungren, 1996).

            In the former Soviet Union, Russian law enforcement authorities do admit that the criminal groups do keep well-organized (Lungren, 1996). At their disposal, high-tech equipment such as computers, ample finances, efficient transportation modes, and one of the best counterintelligences networks put together (Lungren, 1996). They use these resources to conduct their “means of livelihood”, such as extortion, smuggling of weapons, illegal narcotics trafficking and black market activities (Lungren, 1996). The possibility of weapons smuggling is one of the reasons that the FBI set up the Moscow office, as mentioned earlier in the paper.

Setting up shop

            The groups that operate out of the East Coast usually keep in touch with their West Coast counterparts (Lungren, 1996). Also, Russian crime groups continually keep in touch with the crime groups in Russia (Lungren, 1996). It should also be noted that these groups, though interlinked in a network between themselves, often shift their alliance to meet certain situations as they see fit (Lungren, 1996). These groups are reinforced by the mob bosses to secure the ties and links between the groups in the United States and the Russian mobs (Lungren, 1996). FBI Director Freeh estimates that a little over 200 of the 6,000 gangs operate in at least 17 cities in the United States in 14 states (Lungren, 1996).

            Several cities in the state of California report high incidences of Russian crime activity. In the Bay Area, intelligence reports place the number of prominent Russian crime figures at around 300, including San Jose (Lungren, 1996). These figures are inclusive of Russian and Armenian organized crime organizations (Lungren, 1996). Prominent among these groups are the members of the “Odessa Mafia” (Lungren, 1996). They are considered to be the most powerful of the Russian groups operating in the United States ( Lungren, 1996).

            These groups seem to have continued with their old criminal activities in the old Soviet Union, and then some, when they were unleashed in the United States.

The Red price tag

            Russian organized crime chalked up some disturbing numbers in its criminal march in the U.S. They have been involved in a number of criminal activities affecting U.S. Citizens and immigrants (Lungren, 1996).  Among their crimes are fraud, extortion, drug and weapons smuggling, insurance fraud, medical fraud, forgery, carjacking, kidnapping, fencing, and murder (Amoruso, 2006). The fuel fraud scheme operations in New York and California have cost local and Federal coffers roughly $ 2 million in foregone tax revenue (Lungren, 1996). In 1990, U.S. Prosecutors went after 13 people involved in a $1 billion fraudulent billing scheme for medical claims (Lungren, 1996). Money laundering activities have also registered a high number. An estimated $ 1 billion was shipped out of Russia into the United States using spurious documents in 1992 to 1993 (Lungren, 1996.).


            It is believed that these groups will continue with their nefaiuros schemes in the future (Lungren, 1996). The bureaucracy that wants to stop their activities has become the haven for these groups to continue them (Lungren, 1996). With California law enforcement diverting its focus to street crimes, Russian mobs will break new ground in its criminal activities, requiring a massive effort in investigating, apprehending and prosecuting these criminal elements (Lungren, 1996). A concerted effort is needed from all sectors-legislative, executive and local and Federal law enforcement to finally break the back of the Russian crime groups bent on taking advantage of the system of the country.


Amoruso, D. (2006, August 10). Introduction: the Russian mafia. Gangters, Inc. Retrieved

June 26, 2008 from http://gangstersinc.tripod.com/Rus.html

Finckenauer, J.O. & Waring, E.J. (1998). Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture,

And Crime. Boston: Northeastern University

Freeh, L.J. (1996, April 30). Hearing on Russian organized crime. 1996 Congressional

Hearings. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from Foundation of American Scientists Database: http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/1996_hr/h960430f.htm

Lungren, D.E.  (1996, March). Russian organized crime. California Department of Justice.

Retrieved June 25, 2008 from Foundation of American Scientists Database:


National Institute of Justice. (2007, November 15). Major transnational organized crime

groups. Retrieved June 25, 2008 http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/crime/transnational-organized-crime/major-groups.htm

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