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Growing Threat of Russian Organized Crime

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 47 Issue: 2 Dated: February 1999 Pages: 66-68
G P McGovern
Date Published
3 pages
This article reviews the history of organized crime groups in Russia and describes the threat of these groups in the United States as a result of the immigration of Russian and other eastern European criminals.
Russian organized crime in the United States made its debut during the late 1970s. This was due in part to pressure from the Nixon administration on the Soviet Union to, as a show of good faith, reduce its hard-line stance on immigration. As a result of this liberalization, approximately 200,000 Russian-Jewish refugees immigrated to the United States. Analysts believe that, like Fidel Castro in the 1980s, the KGB also emptied some of its prisons of hardcore Russian criminals. Although the term "Russian organized crime" does refer to groups coming from Russia, it also refers to criminal gangs from the Baltic Republics, Georgia, Chechnya, Azerbejian, and parts of eastern Europe. The first Russian criminal group to emerge, the Odessa Mafia, is still the dominant group. It was identified in a major fraud investigation in the late 1970s. This group established its base of operations within the Brighton Beach area of New York City, which later became known as "Little Odessa." In the early 1980s, the Odessa Mafia expanded into San Francisco and the Los Angeles area. Two other groups that also appeared on the west coast are the Armenians and Chechens. According to the FBI, there are approximately 200 Russian criminal gangs operating in 17 cities in 14 States. These groups are involved in credit card and insurance fraud, health-care fraud schemes, and large-scale auto theft rings. They are also involved in the more traditional crimes of prostitution, extortion, drug running, and money laundering. One of the most unnerving crimes that the Russians are apparently involved in is trafficking in nuclear weaponry and material. The Russians have also shown a propensity for violence almost unequaled in the United States. Criminal bosses have in the past brought in assassination brigades from Russia for contract killings. Members of Russian organized crime have no fear of American law enforcement or the prison systems. Law enforcement professionals must continue the trend of pooling resources and information in an effort to thwart Russian organized crime. 7 references