The Chicago Syndicate: Anthony Casso to Testify Against the Russian Mafia
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Wednesday, May 15, 1996

Anthony Casso to Testify Against the Russian Mafia

Two years after defecting with a parcel of underworld secrets, a former Mafia kingpin is expected to surface publicly for the first time today to testify about the mob's alliances with Russian organized crime groups in the New York area.

Anthony S. Casso, the former acting boss of the Lucchese crime family in New York City, is scheduled to testify in Washington before a United States Senate Committee about murders and violent conspiracies arranged by American mobsters with Russian immigrant gangs, committee investigators said yesterday.

While such ties have been known to investigators in the past, Mr. Casso's testimony is expected to provide a rare glimpse from a leading Mafia figure about the links between the powerful organized crime groups.

His testimony is part of his bid for a lenient sentence on racketeering and murder charges to which he pleaded guilty in 1994.

The investigators said that another witness, a turncoat Russian criminal, would describe attempts by Russian gangsters to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Russian players in the National Hockey League. In the past, league officials and players' agents said they were concerned that Russian gangsters were concentrating on Russian athletes. But the only evidence produced thus far was in March 1994, when a Russian immigrant pleaded guilty to a charge that he tried to extort $150,000 from Alexander Mogilny, who was then a player for the Buffalo Sabres.

The Senate panel, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, is looking into the emergence in the last decade of Russian immigrant crime groups in the country, and their ties to other crime groups.

"Casso will tell how the New York mobsters used their muscle to cash in on schemes and frauds that the Russians developed, especially gasoline tax frauds and gasoline bootlegging," said a committee investigator who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"The Russians supplied the brains and the Mafia supplied the hit men," the investigator added.

Senator William V. Roth, a Republican of Delaware, the committee's chairman, said in a statement yesterday that Mr. Casso will describe violent acts carried out by the Lucchese family for their Russian confederates and how Lucchese mobsters killed a Russian partner whom they suspected of disloyalty.

Another Mafia defector, Michael Franzese, who has admitted to being a captain in the Colombo crime family, is expected to testify about multimillion-dollar gasoline excise tax frauds engineered by Russian criminals and the Colombos, investigators said.

The relationships between Russian immigrant gangs and the Colombo and Gambino crime families were established in the 1980's at Federal trials in New York and in New Jersey. But Mr. Casso's testimony will shed light for the first time on the Lucchese faction's ties with its Russian counterparts, investigators said.

Mr. Casso, 56, who was nicknamed Gaspipe, would become the highest-ranking Mafia defector to provide details of the mob's connections to Russian gangsters.

Federal and state law enforcement officials say that a small group of Russian-born criminals slipped into the country in the 1970's and early 1980's among a wave of immigrants from the Soviet Union seeking political and religious freedom. These criminals, officials say, settled mainly in Brighton Beach and nearby sections of South Brooklyn and specialized in frauds and extortion of merchants in protection rackets.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought a new and more sophisticated group of criminals with direct links to organized crime gangs in Russia and in other countries, the officials say.

According to the authorities, the new groups have established bases in southern Florida and in Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia as well as in the New York region. They are extensively engaged in international narcotics trafficking and money laundering, the authorities say.

Before changing sides, Mr. Casso was portrayed by the F.B.I. as one of the country's most treacherous Mafia leaders.

He was considered a symbol of a new breed of dangerous Mafia gangsters who emerged in the 1980's to fill power vacuums in the five mob families in the New York area.

On the run for 32 months, Mr. Casso was captured in January 1993 by the F.B.I. in a hideout in Mount Olive, N.J. Facing life without parole if convicted, Mr. Casso sought leniency by becoming a Government witness and entering the Witness Protection Program.

In March 1994, at a closed hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, he pleaded guilty to racketeering and murder charges and is awaiting sentencing.

Thanks to Selwyn Raab

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