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Russian Organized Crime: The Foundation for Trafficking

May 01, 2000  |  by Walter Zalisko

Prior to the mid-1980s, few law enforcement agencies had taken notice of the growing problem of Russian crime. As Russian crime increased, law enforcement agencies across the nation realized they had a problem and needed to address it.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are now taking the activities of ROC seriously. ROC is spreading rapidly to states like California, Colorado, Illinois, and Florida.  One of the reasons for this rapid spread is because ROC in New York-New Jersey area is forced to pay a "tax" to the La Cosa Nostra (LCN) crime syndicate on the profits they make on illegal activities, such as the fuel tax scams.

It is believed that in other states the LCN is not exacting a "tribute or tax" on such scams.

There are over 12,000 crime groups in Russia-triple what it was in 1992-with no sign of slowing down. These groups are getting stronger and stronger and using Russia as the base for their global activities.

Currently, there are about 30 ROC syndicates operating in the United States. Many of these ROC groups in the United States continue to have strong ties to organized crime groups in Russia and Ukraine. Each one has its leader, and they often fight amongst each other to fain control over the lucrative business. While there is no formal "godfather," there was one individual who was sent from Russia to control all Russian organized crime in the United States and Canada. He is Vyacheslav Ivanko, currently serving a nine-year federal prison sentence in New York for extorting plot, it was reported that he wired $400,000 to a Denver bank for the purchase of a house and a new Mercedes Benz for his ex-wife and sons.

To further illustrate the magnitude of the ROC problem, just recently, billions of dollars have been channeled through the Bank of New York in the last year.

This is believed to be the largest money laundering operation every uncovered in the United States and for a while received major attention in the mainstream media. As a result of a federal investigation. Both of these employees are senior officers in the bank's European division and are both married to Russian businessmen.

One of these individuals is believed to have controlled one of the accounts. As one government official stated, "We have a penetration of a major U.S. organization by Russian organized crime, and we are concerned about the possibility the organized crime syndicates from Russia and other countries could infiltrate financial markets and institutions in Europe and United States."

These bank accounts have been linked to a major ROC figure identified as Semyon Yukovich Mogilevich. He is involved in a wide range of criminal activities from arms trafficking and extortion to prostitution. British law enforcement authorities report in one classified report that Mogilevich is "one of the world's top criminals, who has a personal wealth of $100 million." He is part of a new trend of Russian mobsters masquerading as crack capitalists. There is no doubt that he controls much of the Russian economy, government and police.

Corruption Hampers Efforts

The law enforcement community around the world, in its fight against organized crime, is hampered in its efforts by the corruption of police in Russia and Ukraine. ROC has for decades been successful in controlling and being able to corrupt police officers and government officials. But then again, an officer who earns an average of $135 a month in a newly independent country will find the temptation hard to resist. During one of my visits to Ukraine to train police officers, I noticed that the commander of the local police Organized Crime Bureau had a large quantity of U.S. $100 bills in his possession.

I estimate it to be approximately $5,000. When I asked how he got the money, all he said was, "Do you think that on our salary you can support a family?"

The currency exchange rate in Ukraine was 4:1 at that time. So, he had approximately 20,000 Ukrainian dollars. The source of his pocket money remains a mystery.

Trafficking: The Problem

The fastest growing international trafficking business is the trade in women, whereby women seeking a better life, good marriage, or a lucrative job abroad unexpectedly find themselves in situations of forced prostitution, sweatshop labor, exploitative domestic servitude, or battering and extreme cruelty.

The trafficking in women and children is recognized as a serious worldwide problem as evidenced by the first United States and Ukraine Trafficking in Women Conference held in New Jersey in July 1998. The intensive 15-day training series provided participants with practical skills, networking opportunities and access to U.S. and international resources.  The conference was sponsored and organized by Vermont-based Project Harmony, a not-for-profit educational exchange program and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

PMC International-a police management consulting firm-co-founded by this author and Patricia Kotyk-Zalisko, Esq. facilitated the conference. Patricia is a former New Jersey State deputy attorney general and assistant county prosecutor/director.

Trafficking, according to U.S. Senate Resolution 82 on Trafficking, involves one or more forms of kidnapping, false imprisonment, rape, battering, forced labor, or slavery-like practices which violate fundamental human rights.

The United Nations ahs estimated that 4 million people, both men and women, are trafficked annually.

Women in Ukraine and Russia face major unemployment, in light of the fact that they are more highly educated and ready to work. Roughly 80 percent of the total number of unemployed citizens are women. Naturally, this situation forces women to look abroad for employment, and therefore allows criminals to exploit them.

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