A number of law enforcement sources report a dramatic increase the past two years in the number of Ukrainian and Russian immigrant women recruited into slavery and sexually exploited in the New Jersey and New York area.
White slavery rings have thrived on the exploitation of women and children from developing countries for years.
Young Asian women have been a commodity for decades. However, rising unemployment, poverty and a weakened social structure have caused newly independent countries-Ukraine and Russian in particular-to become the latest targets for recruitment of women and children into sexual slavery and as indentured servants. Trafficking in women and children is a form of modern-day slavery and a phenomenon that is growing and constantly changing either in form or in its level of complexity.
More often than not, these women are forced into prostitution. Many are beaten or murdered if they refuse to cooperate.
The full scale of the problem remains unknown because few women are able or prepared to report what has happened to them to the police.
And trafficking in women continues to be a considerably under-reported offense throughout Europe and the United States.
When a woman or child is trafficked or sexually exploited, they are denied the most basic human rights, and in the worst case, they are denied their right to life.
Law enforcement sources report a dramatic increase in this problem over the last two years in the New Jersey and New York areas. These women are recruited, managed and transported by Russian Organized Crime (ROC) syndicates into the United States, and other countries, and used primarily as sex slaves, go-go dancers and indentured household workers.
$6 Billion a Year Industry
Why are Russian Organized Crime (ROC) syndicates involved in the trafficking of women and children? Because prostitution and the trafficking in human beings has become a $6-billion-dollar-a-year business of choice for Russian organized crime. Why that business flourishes in the United States deserves closer scrutiny.
The tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania has long been one of the top areas in the United States for the relocation of Russian émigrés.
Along with bringing hard working and upright émigrés, this relocation brought the ROC syndicate and other small time criminals to the area as well. In the former Soviet Union, personal wealth, privilege, dachas, and diamonds rested on control of goods and services illegally diverted from the State and changed for other illegally diverted goods ad services in vast and complex patterns of bribery, corruption and blackmail. The ROC came here well schooled in bureaucratic circumvention and with the ability to adapt governmental services for private gain.
Common criminal activities committed by ROC include burglary, credit card forgery, theft, auto theft, insurance and medical fraud, fuel tax fraud, arson, prostitution and narcotics trafficking. The ROC syndicates conduct the most sophisticated operations ever seen in the United States, based on their access to expertise in computer technology, encryption techniques and money-laundering facilities that process hundreds of millions of dollars. It obtains money and power through criminal conduct, then infiltrates our legitimate society.
Skills, Education and Training
Law enforcement finds that ROC members tend to be highly educated, and therefore, are very resourceful and sophisticated in their methods of operation.
It is reported that organized crime syndicates from Russia, Asia and Africa are forming alliances with traditional Italian and Latin American organizations, creating a formidable threat to international peace and stability. A great number of ROC gang members are former KGB agents or operatives who are skillfully trained in assassination techniques. To make use of this "talent," other crime syndicates now hire ROC gang members to conduct their contact killings.
While ROC continues to grow in Russia, their operations outside Russia could be categorized into three main classes:
Hard penetration: In some countries, such as Poland, Austria, Israel, United States and Canada, it has moved in with a clear goal of establishing itself as a dominant criminal force. In these cases, it has joined forces with local organized crime.
Soft penetration: Here they have adopted a more delicate technique. Mostly, because of the threat posed by local law enforcement agencies, or because there is some reason or opportunity to mount a major push.
Service penetration: Here they provide key criminal services to other gangs, whether money-laundering or assassination.
A Global Problem
Organized crime is not just a serious problem for the United States, but for every country. Since the fall of communism, Russia now plays an important role in organized crime all over the world. For instance, Israel is currently one of the top locations for ROC and Russian émigré relocation.
Israeli police are worried about serious crime among such immigrants, who how represent about one in every four residents in the city of Neatly. Israeli police reports that 90 percent of the prostitutes in Israel are there from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus-many of them brought over by organized prostitution rings. Moreover, violent felonies have doubled since Russians started coming en masse in 1989.
In Russia, a country already suffering from political and economic disaster, it is reported that an estimated 80 percent of the private enterprises and commercial banks are forced to pay a tribute of 10 to 25 percent of their profits to organized crime. They use the banks to launder money and avoid paying taxes desperately needed by government and military personnel in Russia not being paid for months.
To further cripple the economy, these crime group dominate economic sectors, such as petroleum distribution, pharmaceuticals and customer products distribution. According to Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, ROC controls 40 percent of Russia's gross national product. As long as money is not being paid into the government, money will not be paid out to workers in the form of salary and pension entitlements.[PAGEBREAK]
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.[PAGEBREAK]
Highway to Despair
The road of Russian, Ukrainian, or Belarussian woman into the sex industry is fairly typical. It begins with an ad in the newspaper, or an unexpected meeting on the street with a proposition to work abroad as a maid, secretary, showgirl, nanny or waitress. An ad that appears in a Ukrainian newspaper usually read, "Seek pretty woman, under age 40, slender, educated, to work in modern office setting; $600/month; documents and transportation provided."
The women are frequently lured with promises of high-paying jobs and marriage. Although the concept of trafficking is rather straightforward, the methods employed by traffickers are varied and reflect ingenuity in attempting to thwart detection by law enforcement.
The women are often provided with fraudulent visas and passports and taken to another country. Upon their arrival they are informed that the job no longer exists, but they are still indebted to the agent for the trip, which usually costs them between $5,000 and $20,000.
Since many countries have imposed stricter border controls and entry requirements the possibilities for legal migration have decreased. Therefore, many women, eager to escape poverty or political and social insecurity, and not aware of the dangers of illegal migration, find it worth paying this hefty fee to try their luck, only to find themselves exploited by traffickers.
Because of the government's stricter entry controls or requirements, the traffickers exploit the potential for profit in l=illegal migration. They can supply the victims with services such as fraudulent travel documents, transportation, guided border crossings, accommodation and job brokering.
Nina Karpacheva, deputy of the Ukrainian Parliament's Commission on Human Rights, reports that up to 85 percent of Ukrainian women involved in prostitution abroad are forced into this business against their will. She said that thousands of Ukrainian women have been turned into "white slaves" in many countries, particularly in Greece, Turkey, the United States, Israel, Germany and the Netherlands.
Because sex trafficking is now a recognized criminal problem in the United States, a bill was recently introduced which is the United State's first step toward dealing directly with the victims of traffickers as well as providing government-level support.
Law Enforcement's Challenge
Although police agencies throughout the United States have been investigating these criminal acts over the last few years, one of the difficulties they encounter in investigating and prosecuting these types of cases is that informant development and investigation of crimes within any immigrant community is extremely difficult.
Having lived in a society ruled by an oppressive government, Russian and Ukrainian émigrés tend to be inherently distrustful of government and are more generally reluctant than most other émigré groups to speak with or seek assistance from law enforcement. The voluntary cooperation from these émigré communities is frequently minimal.
Another problem that is often encountered is that when law enforcement officials have made an arrest and have the cooperation of a victim, the case will usually take six months, if not longer, to go to trial. By this time, the victim has either been deported or cannot be located. Therefore, traffickers go free.
During the course of our investigations in the Northeastern United States, we have located a number of go-go bars, massage parlors and escort services that "employ" Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian women. We also found that New Jersey has more go-go bars and "juice bars" than any other state. Many of these bars actually engage in promoting prostitution on premises. It is not uncommon for go-go bar owners to offer the services of a girl, or two, to politicians or city officials in exchange for future considerations.
The trafficking in women and children is a problem of corruption, organized crime and law enforcement. Because trafficking in women brings huge profits but carries little risk for those who organize it, the rewards are great. This encourages criminal groups to expand their business. Their sophistication has posed grave challenges to legislative and law enforcement authorities, and their violent nature has rendered their victims extremely vulnerable.
Trafficking in women and children is a global human rights issue that requires a comprehensive response from government and non-government organizations around the world. These organizations have to work on a parallel level to develop anti-trafficking programs.
As one of the leading law enforcement consulting groups, our goal at PMC International is to assist law enforcement, victims, and organizations in fighting trafficking.
In order for our efforts to be successful, law enforcement officers should become familiar with this type of victimization, and investigate suspected abuses. If they are unsure of what steps to follow, they should contact the nearest Immigration and Naturalization Service Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or a state investigative body dealing in organized crime.
If an arrest is made of a suspected prostitute, they should interview her to determine if she is a victim of trafficking.
It remains apparent that the investigation of Russian organized crime and trafficking in women is a critical component of a law enforcement strategy.
Any law enforcement response must include civil sanctions, which allows prosecutors to seize and forfeit illegal proceeds generated or assets used by an enterprise in their criminal activity, and criminal punishment.
Sgt. Walter Zalisko is a former Monmouth County (N.J.) undersheriff and founder of PMC International, a police consulting firm. He serves as a member of the Governor's Advisory Council. Zalisko is fluent in Ukrainian and Russian and is an authority on Russian Organized Crime, having investigated Russian crime syndicates throughout New Jersey and New York.