The Chicago Syndicate: Russian Mafia
Showing posts with label Russian Mafia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russian Mafia. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sidney Korshak and The Mafia's Shadow Men

In their quest to assemble fragments of the past into a coherent explanation for why things happened as they did, historians tend to take one of two paths.

Some stick to the deeds of kings, presidents and famous military commandersSupermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, agreeing with Thomas Carlyle that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." Others contend that the engines of history are really to be found in the anonymous multitudes, whose collective needs and capabilities determine the overarching economic, technological and social realities that shape the world and its future. And then there is a third notion, usually discredited but always seductive, that history is the product of a different breed of great men: the kind who plot their schemes in dark shadows and keep their identities secret. Such a man was Sidney Korshak.

For someone who never got convicted of so much as jaywalking and evaded public notice for nearly his whole life, Korshak had serious clout with powerful men. Having launched his legal career by representing the heirs to the Capone mob in Chicago, he was the kind of man who could come to Las Vegas during a Teamsters conference and have Jimmy Hoffa tossed out of the presidential suite so he could occupy it himself. His occasional mistress, Jill St. John, the 1960s Hollywood "It" girl, would reportedly turn down Henry Kissinger's invitations to the White House by saying, "Sorry, I have an invitation from someone more important." His preternatural abilities as a Hollywood fixer have been credited with enabling the production of "The Godfather," in which the non-Italian consigliere character played by Robert Duvall is thought by some to be based on Korshak. Together with men such as entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, tax lawyer Abe Pritzker and real estate speculator Paul Ziffren, Korshak represented the clean face of a dirty business, according to "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers," Gus Russo's book. He was the bridge between Mafia hoodlums and the white-collar world.

Russo, an investigate reporter who has written about the Chicago Outfit in depth before, sets out here to tell the story of the mostly Jewish lawyers who were recruited by Italian mobsters and eventually came to surpass their original paymasters in money and power. He begins in Chicago's West Side, home to Russian Ashkenazic Jews who had fled the late 19th century pogroms and were determined to protect themselves from becoming victims again. "They were always aware that their wealth and position in society could be noticed and another pogrom would ensue. Thus they worked surreptitiously, choosing to focus on the substrata of a business or event." In an era when Jews were barred from the white-shoe firms, where they might otherwise have made lucrative careers, these often brilliant men became integral parts of the Mafia's attempts to extend their westward reach into legitimate enterprises, ranging from casinos to hotel chains to real estate to the Hollywood studios. In the process, Russo contends, the underworld laid its tentacles on many great men of the more famous variety -- especially in California, where the Chicago Outfit's front men played significant roles in the careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, among others.

Drawing heavily from FBI case files and countless interviews, Russo opts for thoroughness rather than a breezy prose style to make his case. The weight of evidence can make the book slow going at times, but it adds up to a compelling picture of the exercise of power in the 20th century. As a labor negotiator who eschewed written notes and mysteriously solved seemingly intractable problems with one or two phone calls from the table of his favorite Los Angeles bistro -- often reaping sweetheart deals for management from unions that had been infiltrated by hoods -- Korshak sat at the center of a wide, corrupt and stupendously profitable web. And while it can be hard to work up much outrage over the details of labor racketeering, stock swindles and real estate fraud, the human costs of such things can be heartbreaking. Russo's chapter on the shameless plundering of the assets of imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II, presided over by a bevy of Korshak's associates, is particularly stirring.

As an exercise in history, "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" is a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the "American century." Holding back from wild-eyed conspiracy theories, Russo documents unsettling connections between yesterday's underworld and a corporate oligarchy that has never been more ascendant than it is today, partly because it has adopted some of the same schemes with a still greater degree of sophistication. The conditions that spawned Korshak and his ilk have changed considerably, but only to be replaced by the likes of Enron and WorldCom. How many new Korshaks are thriving among us now, taking care to leave behind no paper trail? People like to say that history is written by the victors. What happens when the real winners have burned all their notes?

Thanks to Trey Popp

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

High-Ranking Russian Officials Suspected of Mafia Ties, Have Warrants Issued for their Arrest by Spain

Spanish authorities have issued an arrest warrant for several high-ranking Russian officials suspected of mafia ties in the country, the Rosbalt.ru news website reported Tuesday.

State Duma deputy Vladislav Reznik from Putin's ruling "United Russia” party was among the 12 Russian citizens targeted by Spanish authorities. Several other prominent Russian officials also appear on the list, including General Nikolai Aulov, deputy director of the Federal Drug Control Service and former KGB colleague of Vladimir Putin; and former deputy chairman of the Investigative Committee Igor Sobolev.

Prosecutors claim that Reznik and Aulov both had dealings with Tambov mafia chief Gennady Petrov, who moved part of the gang's operation to Spain from St. Petersburg in 1996.

Sobolev is suspected by law enforcement agencies of informing the crime group of police actions in exchange for lavish gifts. Investigators say they have evidence of the group's involvement in arms trafficking, drug smuggling, extortion, bribery, and money-laundering.

All three men deny the charges.

Mafia leader Petrov was arrested and detained in Spain in 2008 and 2010, but released on bail on both occasions. In 2012, he received permission to leave the country for a brief visit to Russia but never returned.

Charges were filed against 26 Russian and Spanish defendants in December 2015, but they failed to attend court when requested in January of the following year.

Spain does not try defendants in absentia.

The police investigation has so far seen officers seize assets worth more 15 million euros ($17.3 million) belonging to alleged Russian organized crime groups. One of the prosecutors involved in the case, Jose Grinda, described Russia as a “virtual mafia state” in a leaked diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Madrid in 2010.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has described the prosecutors' allegations to journalists as "total nonsense," telling the Bloomberg news agency that the claims were "beyond the realm of reason."

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

An Offer We Can't Refuse - the Love/Hate Affair of the Mafia Mystique

The Mafia Mystique, Italian-Americans have love/hate affair with the dark side of their heritage.

Years ago, writing about the legacy of Mario Puzo, I said, "If there is a God and he is indeed Catholic, then Puzo is burning in hell." Before The Godfather was published in 1969, historians of organized crime in the 20th century told us that some major stars of the modern mob had names like Arnold Rothstein, Owney Madden, and Logan and Fred Billingsley. After The Godfather, the only major crime figures who got any attention were the ones whose names ended in vowels.

Thanks to this myth-mongering hack, Frank Sinatra will forever be remembered as the man who, through his fictional counterpart, Johnny Fontaine, crooned I Have But One Heart at his godfather's daughter's wedding. It is now taken for fact that Sinatra owed his comeback and hence his success not to his talent but to the Mafia; apparently they held guns to the heads of people, forcing them to buy all those Sinatra albums.

The provocative and lively An Offer We Can't Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America, by George De Stefano, a journalist and cultural critic whose work can be most often read in The Nation, has convinced me that I've been too tough on Puzo. The Godfather, the book and the movie, did, after all, succeed in reviving interest in Italian-American culture at a time when it appeared to be fading into the suburban landscape. I can only speak for members of my father's family, who rather enjoyed the attention and even reveled in the idea that they might actually be a bit feared because of their name.

For De Stefano, as for many of our generation, Francis Ford Coppola's film was an epiphany. The gay Baby Boomer son of a Neapolitan auto mechanic and a Sicilian housewife, De Stefano, by the time he was in college, had drifted far from his parents' world: "The Stones' Sticky Fingers was on my stereo and a Black Panther poster adorned my dorm room wall. My identity was radical hippie freak. My ethnic background was just that, background."

An Offer We Can't Refuse invites Italian-Americans of all backgrounds to the family table to discuss the issues of how mob-related movies and television shows have affected the very notion of what their heritage still means in the 21st century.

It's a big table. At the head is Richard Gambino, whose 1974 book Blood of My Blood -- The Dilemma of Italian-Americans was the first serious work of nonfiction written on the subject; sitting in the middle are Gay Talese, Nicholas Gage, and nearly every other prominent, second-generation Italian-American journalist; and fighting for attention down at the end of the table are third-generation would-be personas importante such as Maria Laurino, Maria Russo, Bill Tonelli, and, in the interests of full disclosure, me (I am quoted twice by De Stefano). As you can imagine, it's one heck of a noisy table.

The principal topic of discussion is not so much the Mafia, whose power most experts seem to feel is dwindling, as the Mafia's mystique. But as journalist Anthony Mancini puts it, "It's just too good a myth to abandon."

The best movies and shows about mobsters and their families -- Coppola's Godfather movies, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, The Sopranos, the late, lamented cult TV series Wise Guy -- were never really about the mob anyway; they were always about the vicissitudes of Italian-American family life and the perils of maintaining tradition in the face of assimilation, a metaphor for the American immigrant experience.

As a Russian neighbor of mine put it, "I never really thought The Godfather was about crime. I thought it was about the part where Don Corleone tells Michael he wanted something better for him than he had had."

These shows provide an answer to why the people who gave the world Dante, da Vinci, Boccaccio, Verdi and Rossini have produced so few literary artists in this country. Their grandparents might have come here without being able to write in their own language, much less English, but Coppola, Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino and several others have used their experiences to give the world the poetry that their ancestors couldn't. Don Corleone gave Michael something better after all.

But, says De Stefano, "Consider another possibility. Italian-Americans owe their high visibility in American popular culture in large measure to the very gangster image so many deplore. If the mafioso as cultural archetype were to become extinct, might Italian Americans themselves drop off the radar screen?"

In other words, if the Mafia myth peters out, does that mean the end of the Italian-American as a protagonist in our popular culture?

It's a dicey question, but after careful consideration De Stefano answers with a resounding "no." The Mafia myth, he steadfastly maintains, cannot be the last word: "Ethnicity remains a riveting, complicated drama of American life, and popular art that illuminates its workings still is needed. Italian America still has many more stories to tell."

Thanks to Allen Barra

Monday, February 29, 2016

Mafia Ties on Taxes of @realDonaldTrump is Speculated by @SenTedCruz

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speculated Donald Trump doesn't want to disclose his tax filings because he may have business ties to the mafia and donated to left-leaning organizations like Planned Parenthood. "There have been multiple media reports about Donald's business dealings with the mob, with the mafia," Cruz said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "Maybe his tax returns show that those business dealings are a lot more extensive than reported. We don't know."

Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio released summary pages of their recent tax filings Saturday. Trump has said he will release the filings once the IRS finishes auditing his returns.

Cruz pointed to S&A Concrete, which built Trump Tower, and other media reports linking the billionaire businessman to the mafia. "You guys have reported that he's done deals with S&A Concrete, which was owned by two of the big crime families in New York and that he's had involvement in Atlantic City," Cruz said. "Maybe that's what his tax returns show. We don't know."

The Trump campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment.

An ABC News investigation found Trump claimed to not know Felix Sater, a twice-convicted Russian émigré who served prison time and had documented mafia connections, while testifying in video deposition for a civil lawsuit two years ago. Sater had played a role in a number of high-profile Trump-branded projects across the country.

Cruz added conservatives should unite behind him if they don't want Hillary Clinton in the White House. "In the general election, Hillary Clinton is going to shine a light on all of this and Republican primary voters deserve to know,” Cruz said.

Thanks to Andrea Gonzales.

Monday, October 12, 2015

2008 Survey Names the Top 10 Criminal Organizations in the World

THEY trade in everything from stolen art to nuclear technology and leave rivals riddled with bullets in the streets of Moscow.

Now the worst thugs in the Russian Mafia have blasted their way to the top of the global organised crime league.

Moscow's Solntsevskaya Bratva, known as the Brotherhood, have just been named the worst criminal gang in the world in a major survey. And the planet's most famous mobsters, the "Five Families" of the New YorkMafia, barely scrape into the top 10.

The Brotherhood took over the underworld of south-west Moscow in the 1980s after godfather Sergei Mikhailov learned his criminal trade in the Siberian labour camps. Then, by linking up with other gangs, they built an empire worth tens of billions of pounds across Russia and beyond.

The survey says: "From its base in Moscow, this syndicate runs rackets in extortion, drug trafficking, car theft, stolen art, money laundering, contract killings, arms dealing, trading nuclear material, prostitution and oil deals."

Anyone who threatens the Brotherhood's business tends to end up dead.

They murdered a string of rival hoods in Moscow in the early 1990s and a bid to put Mikhailov on trial in Switzerland in 1996 had to be abandoned after several witnesses were shot or blown up.

Former FBI agent Bob Levinson says the Russian Mafia are "the most dangerous people on earth". But the survey, compiled by online men's mag AskMen, reveals that they have rivals in every corner of the world.

No 2 in the gangland top 10 are the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate, the biggest of Japan's Yakuza crime clans.

Based in the city of Kobe and run by mastermind Shinobu Tsusaka, the 40,000- strong Yamaguchi-gumi run extortion, gambling, vice, drugs and loan-sharking scams. They also take kickbacks from building projects and peddle online porn.

Third place in the poll goes to an Italian Mafia gang - but not the Sicilian Cosa Nostra or the Camorra of Naples. The little-known "'Ndrangheta", based in the southern district of Calabria, have ties to Colombian drug barons. Some believe they are responsible for 80 per cent of Europe's cocaine trade. While other Mafia gangs have been crippled by informers, the 'Ndrangheta have kept their vows of silence because the mob is built on close family ties.

Most gangs only care about cash. But the fourth mob on the list, India's D Company, have sinister ties to Islamic terror. Boss of bosses Dawood Ibrahim masterminded a wave of bombings that killed 257 people in Mumbai in 1993. Ibrahim has links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and is widely believed to be hiding in Pakistan. He is rumoured to have had plastic surgery to alter his face.

Fifth on the list are the ruthless 14K triad from Hong Kong, who trade in human beings as well as drugs and assassinations.

The Sicilian Mafia only make sixth place in the poll after a string of high-profile arrests of their bosses.

Seventh are the Chinese Dai Huen Jai gang, many of whom are veterans of Chairman Mao's Red Guards.

One of the world's most violent mobs, theMexican Tijuana Cartel, take eighth place. Turf wars between the Cartel, led by Eduardo Arellano-Felix, and other gangs have killed hundreds in recent years.

Ninth spot goes to Taiwan's United Bamboo triad.

And despite their Hollywood reputation, the five New York Mafia families are left bringing up the rear.

The Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese clans have been relentlessly harried by the FBI. Many bosses are now behind bars, including Gambino godfather Nicholas Corozzo, who was held in March.

Top 10 criminal organizations

1 Solntsevskaya Bratva

2 Yamaguchi-gumi

3 'Ndrangheta

4 D Company

5 14K

6 Sicilian Mafia

7 Dai Huen Jai

8 Tijuana Cartel

9 United Bamboo

10 The US Mafia 'The Five Families'

Thanks to Ian Brandes

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Italian-Americans' Love/Hate Affair with the Mafia Mystique

Years ago, writing about the legacy of Mario Puzo, I said, "If there is a God and he is indeed Catholic, then Puzo is burning in hell." Before The Godfather was published in 1969, historians of organized crime in the 20th century told us that some major stars of the modern mob had names like Arnold Rothstein, Owney Madden, and Logan and Fred Billingsley.

After The Godfather, the only major crime figures who got any attention were the ones whose names ended in vowels.

Thanks to this myth-mongering hack, Frank Sinatra will forever be remembered as the man who, through his fictional counterpart, Johnny Fontaine, crooned "I Have But One Heart" at his godfather's daughter's wedding. It is now taken for fact that Sinatra owed his comeback and hence his success not to his talent but to the Mafia; apparently they held guns to the heads of people, forcing them to buy all those Sinatra albums.

The provocative and lively An Offer We Can't Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America by George De Stefano, a journalist and cultural critic whose work can be most often read in The Nation, has convinced me that I've been too tough on Puzo. The Godfather, the book and the movie, did, after all, succeed in reviving interest in Italian-American culture at a time when it appeared to be fading into the suburban landscape. I can only speak for members of my father's family, who rather enjoyed the attention and even reveled in the idea that they might actually be a bit feared because of their name.

For De Stefano, as for many of our generation, Francis Ford Coppola's film was an epiphany. The gay baby boomer son of a Neapolitan auto mechanic and a Sicilian housewife, De Stefano, by the time he was in college, had drifted far from his parents' world: "The Stones' Sticky Fingers was on my stereo and a Black Panther poster adorned my dorm room wall. My identity was radical hippie freak. ... My ethnic background was just that, background."

An Offer We Can't Refuse invites Italian-Americans of all backgrounds to the family table to discuss the issues of how mob-related movies and television shows have affected the notion of what their heritage still means in the 21st century.

It's a big table. At the head is Richard Gambino, whose 1974 book Blood of My Blood - The Dilemma of Italian-Americans was the first serious work of nonfiction written on the subject; sitting in the middle are Gay Talese, Nicholas Gage, and nearly every other prominent, second-generation Italian-American journalist; and fighting for attention down at the end of the table are third-generation would-be personas importante such as Maria Laurino, Maria Russo, Bill Tonelli and, in the interests of full disclosure, me (I am quoted twice by De Stefano). As you can imagine, it's one heck of a noisy table.

The principal topic of discussion is not so much the Mafia, whose power most experts seem to feel is dwindling, as the Mafia's mystique. But as journalist Anthony Mancini puts it, "It's just too good a myth to abandon."

The best movies and shows about mobsters and their families - Coppola's The Godfather DVD Collection movies, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (Special Edition), The Sopranos, the late, lamented cult TV series Wiseguy - were never really about the mob anyway; they were always about the vicissitudes of Italian-American family life and the perils of maintaining tradition in the face of assimilation, a metaphor for the American immigrant experience.

As a Russian neighbor of mine put it, "I never really thought The Godfather was about crime. I thought it was about the part where Don Corleone tells Michael he wanted something better for him than he had had."

These shows provide an answer to why the people who gave the world Dante, da Vinci, Boccaccio, Verdi and Rossini have produced so few literary artists in this country. Their grandparents might have come here without being able to write in their own language, much less English, but Coppola, Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino and several others have used their experiences to give the world the poetry that their ancestors couldn't. Don Corleone gave Michael something better after all. But, says De Stefano, "Consider another possibility. Italian Americans owe their high visibility in American popular culture in large measure to the very gangster image so many deplore. If the mafioso as cultural archetype were to become extinct, might Italian Americans themselves drop off the radar screen?"

In other words, if the Mafia myth peters out, does that mean the end of the Italian-American as a protagonist in our popular culture?

It's a dicey question, but after careful consideration De Stefano answers with a resounding "no." The Mafia myth, he steadfastly maintains, cannot be the last word: "Ethnicity remains a riveting, complicated drama of American life, and popular art that illuminates its workings still is needed ... Italian America still has many more stories to tell."

Thanks to Allen Barra

Monday, August 03, 2015

Mafias on the Move: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories

It took the two assassins just six minutes to enter one of the finest hotels in Moscow, move past armed guards, shoot their victim in the head with silencer-equipped pistols, and make their escape. The boss of the Russian mafia's outpost in Rome was called immediately. "What, did they kill him?" he asked. "I am not surprised; he has stolen money from half of Russia."

So begins Frederico Varese's "Mafias on the Move: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories." The murdered man was a Russian who had immigrated to Italy and who was conducting what appeared to be a legitimate business—but he was actually a member of the Solntsevskaya Brotherhood, Russia's most notorious mafia.

The assassination alerted authorities that the Solntsevskaya was setting up an Italian outpost, an alarming development considering the brutality of the Russian mafia. But could an organized crime group, like a transnational business, simply open a foreign branch? This high-stakes question prompted Mr. Varese to write his book about how mafias transplant themselves to new territories.

Mr. Varese's quest leads him from Prohibition-era Manhattan to mid-century Italy to modern-day China. His presentation is academic and heavy on numbers, but it tells a compelling story that is as much about politics as crime.

Mr. Varese's definition of a mafia challenges conventional wisdom: "providers of extralegal governance . . . groups that aspire to govern others by offering criminal protection to both the underworld and the 'upper world.'"

To transplant, a mafia must "operate . . . over a sustained period outside its region of origin or routine operation." A transplantation has not necessarily occurred even if a mafia engages in transnational dealings like drug smuggling, human trafficking or money laundering.

Given these definitions, it's hardly surprising that mafias have a better chance of transplanting when economic liberalization outpaces political reform. A Hungarian authority explains that where a legal and judicial system are lacking, "it is not surprising that businessmen, some law-abiding and others not, try to defend themselves and find other non-legal or semi-legal ways to defend their interests, without legal support from the state. The defects of state law enforcement have opened the field to organized crime, and their 'violence' organizations have simply taken control of this area."

In other words, mafias thrive when there is a demand for their services. They adjudicate disputes between employers and employees, enforce agreements and punish those who do not honor their commitments. All this helps the market, whether legal or illegal, run smoothly. But demand is only half of the equation. There must also be a supply of violent people adept in offering and enforcing protection. It's no coincidence that recruits often come from organizations like the KGB, where violence is culturally ingrained.

The study is at its most relevant examining the triads in Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and their failure to transplant into the mainland. Given the shortcomings of the Chinese legal system, why haven't they permeated the People's Republic? The answer is simple: Corrupt government officials are performing mafia-like services so competently that the real mafias can't compete. Bribe-taking Communist Party cadres act as a "protective umbrella" for all kinds of businesses.

"Since any economic activity in China is subject to intrusive inspections and requires several permits, and independent courts are not effective in protecting the victims of officials' harassment, even entrepreneurs producing legal commodities, such as light bulbs, can benefit from entering into such arrangements," Mr. Varese writes. "The umbrella system ensures continued control over the economy by officials, albeit one that distorts incentives and produces significant waste."

That's not to say Chinese officials are shy about skimming from illegal activity too. Prostitution, illegal in China, is a prime example. Prostitutes are caught, judged and punished by the police under administrative law—they can be sentenced to severe fines or imprisoned without ever facing a judge. Practically, this means police protecting brothels can coerce prostitutes and brothel owners.

When any one group holds the power to establish law, judge offenders and punish them, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to uproot. It matters little whether this group is a mafia or a corrupt ruling party. Even giving citizens the vote is not sufficient to shift the balance of terror, Mr. Varese says—mafias have traded in votes, too, and politicians can gain by using thugs against their opponents.

The real key is protecting the rights and property of citizens. Where states fail in this responsibility, criminals always move in to fill the void.

Thanks to Jillian Kay Melchior

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss

Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso is currently serving thirteen consecutive life sentences plus 455 years at a federal prison in Colorado. Now, for the first time, the head of a mob family has granted complete and total access to a journalist. Casso has given New York Times bestselling author Philip Carlo the most intimate, personal look into the world of La Cosa Nostra ever seen. "Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss" is his shocking story.

From birth, Anthony Casso's mob life was preordained. Michael Casso introduced his young son around South Brooklyn's social clubs, where "men of honor" did business by shaking pinkie-ringed hands—hands equally at home pilfering stolen goods from the Brooklyn docks or gripping the cold steel of a silenced pistol. Young Anthony watched and listened and decided that he would devote his life to crime.

Casso would prove his talent for "earning," concocting ingenious schemes to hijack trucks, rob banks, and bring into New York vast quantities of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Casso also had an uncanny ability to work with the other Mafia families, and he forged unusually strong ties with the Russian mob. By the time Casso took the reins of the Lucchese family, he was a seasoned boss, a very dangerous man.

It was a great life—Casso and his beautiful wife, Lillian, had money to burn; Casso and his crew brought in so much cash that he had dozens of large safe-deposit boxes filled with bricks of hundred-dollar bills. But the law finally caught up with him in his New Jersey safe house in 1994. Rather than stoically face the music like the old-time mafiosi he revered, Casso became the thing he most hated—a rat. It broke his family's heart and made the once feared and revered mobster an object of scorn and disgust among his former friends. For it turned out that a lifetime of street smarts completely failed him in dealing with a group even more cunning and ruthless than the Mafia—the U.S. government.

Detailing Casso's feud with John Gotti and their attempts to kill each other, the "Windows Case" that led to the beginning of the end for the mob in New York, and Casso's dealings with decorated NYPD officers Lou Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa—the "Mafia cops"—Gaspipe is the inside story of one man's rise and fall, mirroring the rise and fall of a way of life, a roller-coaster ride into a netherworld few outsiders have ever dared to enter.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

These Who Killed JFK? Conspiracy Theories Will Not Die

He defected to the Soviet Union, returned to the United States with a Russian-born wife, and tried to get Soviet and Cuban visas before assassinating President John F. Kennedy. Fifty-plus years later, only a quarter of Americans are convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Instead, nearly 60 percent say there was a conspiracy to kill the president, according to a poll by The Associated Press-GfK.

Other theories cropped up almost immediately and have endured: the Soviets murdered Kennedy or the CIA, Cuban exiles, Fidel Castro, the country's military-industrial complex, even President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Warren Commission Report found in its 879-page report on the assassination that Oswald acted alone -- but it is still being criticized from all sides. The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1979 that it was likely Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy.

What did happen in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963? Who killed Kennedy? Here are a few of those theories.

ONE BULLET OR TWO?

The Warren Commission Report concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three bullets, all from the Texas School Book Depository. But disagreements persisted over whether Texas Governor John Connally was wounded by one of the bullets that had already hit Kennedy in the neck. Skeptics pounced on the single-bullet theory and got a boost from Connally himself who testified before the commission that he had been hit separately. Tapes released by the National Archives in 1994 show that President Lyndon B. Johnson thought so too. And if the men were hit at about the same time by different bullets, there had to have been a second gunman.

This year a father-and-son team Luke and Michael Haag took another look at the controversy using the most up-to-date technology and concluded on a PBS "Nova" documentary that the one bullet could have hit both men.

A SNIPER ON THE GRASSY KNOLL?

Witnesses reported hearing shots from the now famous grassy knoll ahead of the president's limousine in Dealey Plaza. In his book, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato reports that some Dallas policemen who ran up the knoll encountered people with Secret Service credentials. Who were they? The policemen let them go, and only later discovered that there were no Secret Service agents still in Dealey Plaza, said Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and author of "The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy." Conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, poured over the amateur film made by Abraham Zapruder, frame by frame, and insisted that it showed the president being shot from the front.

In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations challenged the Warren Commission's conclusions and decided that an audio recording -- from a motorcycle policeman whose microphone was stuck in the "on" position -- caught the sound of four gunshots being fired, one possibly from the grassy knoll. The finding was discounted three years later by the National Academy of Sciences which said that the noises were made after the assassination. Sabato had the recording re-examined and says the sounds are not gunshots at all, but an idling motorcycle and the rattling of a microphone.

THE MAFIA

The Mafia is a favorite culprit because the mob disliked Kennedy's brother, Robert. The aggressive attorney general had gone after James Hoffa, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters with his own connections to the Mafia. Plus the crime bosses were angry over Kennedy's failed attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro, who had closed their casinos in Havana. Some accounts have crime bosses bringing over hit men from Italy or France for the job; others accuse the CIA of hiring mobsters to kill the president.

Then there was Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who shot Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station two days after the assassination. Ruby was connected to the Chicago mob and allegedly smuggled guns first to Castro and then to anti-Castro groups. The Associated Press reported the morning of the shooting that police were looking into the possibility that Oswald had been killed to prevent him from talking.

Oswald had mob connections too. In New Orleans before the assassination, he stayed at the home of an uncle who was a bookmaker with ties to the Mafia.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that organized crime as a group did not assassinate the president, but left open the possibility that individual members might have been involved. It singled out Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante as two men with "the motive, means and opportunity," though it was unable to establish direct evidence of their complicity.

FIDEL CASTRO

The Cuban dictator had no lack of motive to want the American president dead: the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA's attempts to kill him -- with Mob help. Only two months before the assassination, Castro said: "United States leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe."

In Philip Shenon's book, "A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination," Shenon reports that a Warren Commission staff member, William Coleman, was sent to meet with Castro and was told that the Cuban regime had nothing to do with the assassination.

A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy AssassinationNot in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination


A former BBC journalist and author of "Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination," Anthony Summers, writes on his blog that he first heard the story from Coleman in 1994, though Coleman would not describe the assignment, saying it was confidential. Summers later recounted it and Coleman's denial in a 2006 article in the Times of London. Summers says Coleman brought back documents, which he said were in the National Archives.

THE SOVIETS

The country was deep in the Cold War and Oswald had myriad connections to the Soviet Union. After a stint in U.S. Marines, he had defected there in 1959, and had married Marina Prusakova, whose uncle worked for Soviet domestic intelligence. Later while in Mexico, Oswald tried to get visas for Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Plus Nikita Khrushchev's gamble to place missiles in Cuba had failed. But KGB officer Vacheslav Nikonov told "Frontline" in 1993 that Oswald seemed suspicious to the KGB because he was not interested in Marxism.

THE MILITARY-INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

Various versions have the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon or the Secret Service turning on Kennedy as a traitor and plotting his death. James W. Douglass in his 2008 book "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters," argues that Kennedy was killed because he had moved away from a Cold War view of the world and was seeking peace.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters


Oliver Stone's movie, "JFK," centers on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who conducted his own investigation of the assassination. Garrison told Playboy magazine in 1967 that Kennedy was killed not by Oswald but by a guerrilla team of anti-Castro adventurers and the paramilitary right. The CIA had plotted the assassination together with the military-industrial complex because both wanted to continue the Cold War and the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, he said.

The Warren Commission staff members who are still living say that to this day no facts have emerged undercutting their conclusions: Oswald was the assassin and neither he nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy. But the conspiracy theories are likely to linger.

Thanks to Noreen O'Donnell.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Due to Alliances Builit in Prison, Organized Crime is Alive and Well with Diversity and More Ethnicity

Organized crime is alive and well in New Jersey, despite ongoing efforts by law enforcement, in part because there are so many criminal enterprises from all over the world operating in the Garden State.

According to the FBI’s Newark Division, crimes in New Jersey are being committed by organized crime groups that span the globe including: La Cosa Nostra, also known as the Sicilian Mafia, Asian groups, African criminal enterprise groups and the Russian and Eurasian mobs.  New Jersey is also seeing crime activity from Balkan organized crime groups, which includes people who emigrated from Albania, Macedonia and Yugoslavia. In addition, the FBI is also monitoring more organized crime groups coming from the Middle East.

All of these mobs are driven to make money, but they’ll do it in different ways, according to Anthony Zampogna, FBI supervisory special agent in New Jersey and program coordinator for organized crime.

“You see La Cosa Nostra with the traditional gambling, loan sharking, extortion (and) truck hijackings. Those are some of the hallmarks of that group, but a lot of the health care fraud we see or insurance fraud (is) through Russian organized crime, and a lot of the solicitations for fraudulent investments that we see (is) emigrating from groups out of Africa,” Zampogna said.

He pointed out many ethnic mobs in New Jersey become involved in the drug trade, and frequently violence is threatened or used.

“In many cases mobs are not really any different than gangs. They use the same tactics and commit the same kinds of crimes, and we also see overlap where a lot of times they’ll work together,” Zampogna said. ”You’ll see a Russian group or an Italian group working with what is traditionally looked at as a street gang, the Bloods or the Crips.”

Many times these alliances are built in prison, according to Zampogna, where leaders of mobs and gangs will spend time together and continue the relationship once they get out.

He noted when ethnic mobs first came to this country they stuck together because they only trusted people they knew, but now they’re all branching out.

Zampogna said if you count the smaller organized criminal entities that are operating in the state, there are dozens of ethnic mobs in New Jersey.

Thanks to David Matthau.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Is the Mafia Still Alive Today?

In mid-1950s, the Italian-American criminal organization known as Cosa Nostra was enjoying the peak of its political influence and economic success. At the time, many questioned the organization’s presence. J. Edgar Hoover completely denied its existence for years. And unfortunately for the criminals describing themselves as “businessmen,” their reign atop the criminal underworld was swiftly coming to a close. Why did the power of Cosa Nostra begin to decline? Is this decline indicative of the death of the mob? And what does today’s mob look like?

The factors that led to this near cessation of overwhelming power are numerous, but two stand out as the most influential. The first is the death of omertà, the code of silence, and the resulting convictions. The second factor involved other criminal organizations pushing Cosa Nostra to the periphery as a result of competition. In spite of these factors, though, the mafia is still very much alive.

A Death in the Family

The downsizing of the mafia began in 1959 with the arrest of Joe Valachi. Valachi was associated with the Genovese family of New York, which was prominent in Cosa Nostra. Offered a deal in which he could either testify about the mafia or face the death penalty, Valachi decided to talk. In an interview with the HPR, Jeffrey Robinson, author of The Merger: How Organized Crime is Taking Over the World, claimed that this was a pivotal point in the history of the Italian mob: “He broke omertà. That’s really a very important moment because until then nobody talked … the FBI realized that they could get inside Italian organized crime.” According to Robinson, FBI agents began approaching mob figures and offer protection from prosecution in exchange for information on other mobsters. It was an overwhelmingly successful approach.

This strategy leveled serious blows to the structure of Cosa Nostra, culminating in the Mafia Commission Trials of 1987 that indicted each head of New York’s Five Families. In 1992, even John Gotti, known as “Teflon Don” because charges never seemed to stick to him, was convicted on charges related to his organized crime activities. Omertà was dead for Cosa Nostra. According to Robinson, so many people flipped that the Sicilian mafia was able to enter the scene and take control of three of the Five Families of New York. They have maintained control to this day.

Ending an Illegal Monopoly

Cosa Nostra’s peaceful cooperation with other criminal organizations also contributed to the group’s decline. Traditionally, moving onto another group’s territory ensured a war. But according to Robinson, as Russian fraudsters relocated to Miami (Colombian territory)—followed by Italians interested in the heroin market—nobody was being killed. Law enforcement soon came to believe that this was because of collaboration between the organizations. When crack cocaine became readily available, many new criminal organizations got involved, and their quickly expanding influence muscled Cosa Nostra into the periphery. This loss of total power, coupled with the end of omertà, forced the Cosa Nostra into a largely successful effort to downsize.

Several criminal organizations, such as the Russian mob and the Mexican cartels, have filled Cosa Nostra’s power void in the United States.El Narco New York University professor Mark Galeotti told the HPR that Russian operations in the United States consist mainly of fraud, including schemes that target the U.S. government. He explains, “There are millions upon millions [of dollars] being looted from Medicare and Medicaid [by Russian organized crime].” Similarly, law enforcement has largely failed in stopping the Mexican drug cartels. In an interview with the HPR, Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, argued that despite efforts by law enforcement to stop the cartels, “you still have a drug industry, you still have thousands and thousands of people working for organized crime, you still have millions of consumers of drugs, and you still have high levels of violence.” Grillo also acknowledged the success of other organizations in exporting their gangs to the United States, particularly Colombian gangs and Jamaican “posses.” These organizations may have supplanted the former power and influence of Cosa Nostra. However, despite their reduced influence, the Italians continue to operate.

Into the Modern Era

In the wake of September 11, the FBI’s focus on organized crime has decreased sharply in favor of counterterrorism operations. In a government document titled “10 Years After: The FBI After 9/11,” the FBI acknowledged that it shifted resources from criminal matters to counterterrorism. The document notes that the number of counterterrorist intelligence analysts has doubled. According to current New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton in a 2007 Policing article, “As law enforcement reacted to the aftermath of 9/11, and the United States’ federal dollars and priorities shifted, organized crime groups were able to exploit the reduction in law enforcement attention and moved aggressively to establish new ‘trade routes’ and alliances.” In a 2011 interview with CUNY TV, former New York Times reporter Selwyn Raab claimed that there were once 500 members of law enforcement working on organized crime in New York City. Now, he said, there are around 50, enabling the survival of Cosa Nostra.

According to Robinson, Italian-American organized crime has found a niche role in construction, extortion and protection rackets. In the construction industry, he explains, Cosa Nostra profits by winning bids to do contract work and then fraudulently collecting revenue for unnecessary or absent employees. According to a close friend of Robinson’s who is now in the witness protection program, five percent of all construction funds in the city of New York go to the mafia. Joseph Pistone, a former FBI agent who infiltrated Cosa Nostra in New York, told Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission, which was investigating construction bid corruption, that the mob controls the construction industry via unions. He said that the mafia bosses control unions and subsequently threaten to strike if the company doesn’t relinquish a “fee.” Robinson adds that the mafia still operates protection rackets, in which a business owner will be threatened and then asked to pay a fee for “protection” from this threat.

Despite its reduced influence, Italian-American organized crime is unquestionably alive. The death of omertà, combined with a crowded criminal market, resulted in a downsizing of Cosa Nostra’s criminal operations. It has transformed from a monopoly on the criminal underworld to another small player in a global network. Despite its diminished influence, it has successfully downsized its operations, paving the way for a sustainable, albeit smaller, operation. Cosa Nostra is not dead, and won’t be anytime soon.

Thanks to Jack Boyd.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New U.S. Policy with Cuba Could Hurt Russian Crime Syndicates in Caribbean

Following President Barack Obama's recent decision to overhaul U.S. policy toward Cuba, American national security experts see an opportunity to enhance intelligence-gathering, step up the fight against corruption and crime, and improve America's geopolitical standing.

Starting in the mid-20th century, Cold War tensions pitted the United States against its island neighbor just 90 miles south. Now, as the relationship thaws, intelligence experts are eager to explore a corner of the world that has been relatively closed off for over fifty years.

“It may seem old-school in an era of cyber warfare and drones, but the most important intel assets are still human,” said Ken Sofer, the associate director for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. “And it'll be easier to collect information when Americans in Cuba are the norm, not the exception.”

Although the U.S. and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations for five decades, the two countries' relationship has not been totally devoid of cooperation. As The Washington Post pointed out on Tuesday, the countries have worked together for years to combat the drug trade in the Caribbean. But now, with the Obama administration's reforms to Cuba policy, experts say those efforts in the drug war could become a foundation for a more collaborative partnership.

Take, for instance, the Russian Organized Crime syndicate, which operates throughout the Caribbean and is comparable to other major organized crime syndicates such as the mafia in the U.S. and in Sicily, the Triads in China and the Yakuza in Japan. According to Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell during his time as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, the ROC is involved in everything from the drug trade to human trafficking, contraband, smuggling and money laundering. Cuba, he noted, has worked surprisingly closely with the U.S. in combating the ROC.

"Our best partner in fighting that crime over the past 15 years has been Cuba,” Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told The Huffington Post. But now that U.S.-Cuba relations are improving, he said, the expectation is that the sides will work collaboratively and share intelligence more freely.

Wilkerson noted that Cuba has been more likely to pass information to the United States than the other way around. He now expects that to change.

“[The relationship] was already pretty good," he said. "It was fairly one-sided, though. It was all us and none of them. I think now we will be helping them as much as they help us. That’s the way I read it, anyway ... Any crime that’s fought and taken care of is good, in my view. So, if the Cubans do it on their watch it’s a help to us because invariably that crime would make its way to us, since we’re the bigger, richer target.”

In addition to countering the ROC's influence, better U.S-Cuban relations could help with America's efforts to push back against North Korea's counterfeiting operations and arms smuggling efforts in the Caribbean, which date back years.

Obama's new policy has the potential to help U.S. intelligence cooperation not just with Cuba, but also with the surrounding region. The Cuba embargo has been an impediment to closer operational ties between the U.S. and many countries in Latin America that dislike America's Cuba policy. Improvements to those relationships could yield fruitful intelligence and national security gains as well, said Sofer.

“The policy change on Cuba will hopefully open up new possibilities for U.S. relations throughout the region,” he said. But perhaps the biggest geopolitical boon when it comes to better relations with Cuba will come years down the road. By enhancing its standing in the Caribbean, analysts say, the United States could end up in a much better position to fend off the influence of other world powers -- namely, China.

China, the United States' chief economic rival, has been looking to expand its influence in the Western Hemisphere and has recently spotted an opening to accomplish just that -- an opportunity to join in on the financing of the Mariel port in Cuba, about 25 miles west of Havana. Wilkerson says he isn't necessarily convinced that this will be a major problem, so long as China's involvement remains limited to economic investment. The longer-term concern is that investing in the port could become a vehicle for China's military influence.

“Personally, I would have no problem with the Chinese putting money into it as long as it was development, period,” Wilkerson said. “[As long as China] wasn’t trying to get a place where they could sail their ships and put their soldiers.”

The concept of a communist country using Cuba as an entry point for influence over the West may seem like a relic of the Cold War era. But Wilkerson warned that China might decide it has the right to start sailing its vessels in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the U.S. sailing intelligence vessels in the South China Sea.

Improved relations with Cuba could negate some of this, pulling the island nation closer towards the Western Hemisphere.

As far as Cuba is concerned, with better ties to the United States come better ties with European nations as well. Thus far, companies in France, Germany and England have been hesitant to do business in Cuba out of deference to U.S. trade policy. That, too, may start to change now, aided by Cuba's own need for benefactors -- particularly as two of the island's main allies, Russia and Venezuela, are struggling economically.

But with tangible gains in these areas come risks in others. Conservatives in the United States, for example, have begun worrying that a better U.S.-Cuba relationship will result in the U.S. giving away the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which has been leased by the U.S. since 1903 and serves as a controversial prison site for many high-value detainees.

A senior Obama administration official told HuffPost, however, that the president's new policy would have no impact on the base.

Thanks to Donte Stallworth.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Top Five Conspiracy Theories on JFK Assassination

As the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination draws nearer, the debate over who actually pulled the trigger rages on. Did Lee Harvey Oswald, as the The Warren Commission Report: The Official Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, concluded, use an Italian bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to fire three shots from the Texas School Book Depository building, hitting President John F. Kennedy once in the neck and once in the back of the head? Or were there larger forces at work?

The belief that there was conspiracy to assassinate the president has only become more widespread with the passage of time.  As ABC News reports, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.” A 2003 ABC News poll showed that 70 percent of Americans believed the JFK assassination was “not the act of a lone killer,” with 7 percent believing that Oswald was not involved at all.

So what is the truth? What really happened on Nov. 22, 1963, at Dealey Plaza in Dallas? We’ll probably never know, but we can continue to speculate. Below is a list of the top five JFK assassination conspiracy theories that have been bandied about over the years.

1.) The CIA Killed JFK

The Central Intelligence Agency has always been shadowy, mysterious organization, which lends itself perfectly to a conspiracy theory involving the JFK assassination. According to the Mary Ferrell Foundation, Kennedy made an enemy out of the CIA after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. As a result of that failed operation, CIA Director Allen Dulles (who would later serve on the Warren Commission) was forced to resign and many allegedly began to see JFK as a threat to CIA interests.

As the New York Post reports, author Patrick Nolan surmises that the CIA wanted “power, self-preservation and to stop the Kennedys’ plan to make peace with Cuba and the Soviets.” Nolan theorizes that a group of rogue CIA agents, including Richard Helms (who became CIA director a few years later), James Angleton, David Phillips and E. Howard Hunt (of Watergate infamy), used three shooters placed at different locations in Dealey Plaza -- the Book Depository building, the Grassy Knoll and the Dal-Tex building -- to pull off the assassination. In his book, “CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys: How and Why US Agents Conspired to Assassinate JFK and RFK,” Nolan uses physical, medical and film evidence, as well as eyewitness accounts, to reach his conclusion.

2.) The Mafia Killed JFK

The relationship between organized crime and the Kennedy family stretched back decades prior to the assassination, as President Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, allegedly engaged in bootlegging during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. As the Los Angeles Times points out, it’s also believed that Joseph Kennedy used his Mafia connections to help his son win the crucial state of Illinois during the 1960 presidential election against Richard Nixon. However, the mutually beneficial relationship between the Mafia and the Kennedy family would soon come to an end.

According to ABC News, one version of this theory posits that Mafia was angered with JFK after the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, as they had hoped to re-exert their presence in Cuba, which had been erased after Fidel Castro rose to power. Additionally, JFK’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had become a crusader against the Mafia in his position as the nation’s top cop.

As the Post reports, Lamar Waldron, author of the book “The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination: The Definitive Account of the Most Controversial Crime of the Twentieth Century,” theorizes that the assassination was masterminded by New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello, with help from Santo Trafficante of Florida and Johnny Roselli of Chicago. According to the Waldron, Marcello used Italian hit men, smuggling them into the country from Canada, to commit the crime. Marcello reportedly bragged about pulling off the assassination to an inmate at a prison where he was serving time in 1985. “Yeah, I had the son of a bitch killed,” he allegedly said. “I’m glad I did. I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it myself.”

3.) Lyndon B. Johnson Killed JFK

If one wants a definitive answer as to who killed JFK, look no further than the man who benefited the most from his assassination. At least, that’s what author Roger Stone says in his new book, “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.” In an interview with Voices of Russia, Stone says that LBJ -- who was sworn in as president on a plane in Dallas just hours after the JFK assassination -- used longtime associate and hit man Malcolm Wallace to do the deed. As the Post points out, Stone alleges that Wallace’s fingerprints were found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building, where the Warren Commission says Oswald fired his fatal shots.

According to Stone, Johnson insisted on both the trip to Dallas and the route through Dealey Plaza, where none of the buildings in the area were sealed off. Stone thinks LBJ both reduced the number of police officers on motorcycles on either side of the president’s car and ordered off the Secret Service agents that would have been riding on the rear bumper of the car.  In the interview with Voices of Russia, Stone believes that LBJ can be tied to as many as eight murders in Texas prior to the JFK assassination, in order to cover up his corruption, voter fraud and more.

4.) The Russians Killed JFK

To examine the theory that the Soviet Union killed President John F. Kennedy, one must look at the geopolitical situation in 1963. This was the height of the Cold War and the peak of anti-Communist sentiment in the United States. According to ABC News, conspiracy theorists frequently cite the notion that Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev was incensed at having to back down to JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before, and had the president killed by the KGB in retaliation.

Another interesting connection is Oswald’s time spent in the Soviet Union. In October 1959, Oswald -- a former Marine -- defected to the Soviet Union, where he met his future wife, Marina. Marina’s uncle was a colonel in the MVD, which is the Russian Interior Ministry service.

According to Stratfor, there are numerous anomalies about Oswald’s time in Russia, including how the two were able to get permission to marry (a requirement for any Soviet citizen marrying a foreigner), as well as why Marina, an upper-middle class woman with an uncle in the government, would agree to marry an American defector with little prospects whom she had just met one month before.

In early 1962, Oswald, Marina and their daughter left the Soviet Union for the United States. As Stratfor points out, Marina Oswald was granted permission to leave the the country with an American defector within weeks of her request, an extremely rare, if not completely unheard of, turnaround. Why? Conspiracy theorists point to questions like these as evidence of Soviet involvement in the assassination of JFK.

5.) The Cubans Killed JFK

There are two separate sub-theories surrounding Cuba and the JFK assassination. The first, as ABC News points out, is that Castro had JFK assassinated in retaliation for the numerous attempts on his life during the Kennedy administration, courtesy of both the CIA and the Mafia. In 1968, Johnson told ABC News that “Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first.”

During an interview with Bill Moyers in 1977, Castro said the theory was “absolute insanity.”

The second, perhaps more plausible, theory involves a mixture of militant anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami, the Mafia and the CIA. As the Mary Ferrell Foundation points out, the anti-Castro Cubans were enraged by Kennedy’s failure to provide crucial air support during the Bay of Pigs invasion. This could have been seen as emblematic of Kennedy’s “soft” approach to communism, a charge that had already been leveled at him after he chose not to invade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Did anti-Castro Cubans, working in conjunction with the CIA and the Mafia, assassinate JFK?

Thanks to Andrew Berry.




Sunday, March 24, 2013

Joe Serio Discusses the #Russian #Mafia on Crime Beat Radio

March 28th, Joseph D. Serio’s (www.joeserio.com) discusses his investigation into the Russian Mafia on Crime Beat Radio.

Crime Beat is a weekly hour-long radio program that airs every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST., on the Artist First World Radio Network at artistfirst.com/crimebeat.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is the Russian Mob Dead?


One of the last mafia kingpins from Russia’s wild 1990s has died. Rather than marking the end of an era, the event is reminding Russians just how much their government has occupied the role once played by organized crime.

Grandpa Hassan, as the mafia don was known, spent his last day holding court in the downtown Moscow cafe that served as his headquarters. At 2:30 p.m., he emerged to catch two bullets in the head and back, from a sniper on a roof across the street. Within hours, “GrandpaHassan” was a trending topic on Twitter. In the very act of dying, a figure from a freer, more lawless era thrust the nation into an examination of its criminal past and present.

Grandpa, whose passport identified him as Aslan Usoyan, 75, was a legend in his own time. An ethnic Kurd, he was “crowned” in 1966 as a “vor v zakone” -- a Russian crime boss of the highest rank. He survived at least three assassination attempts, outliving most of the ranking mobsters of his generation and staying on in Russia as others left for warmer shores in Spain or Bulgaria. His livelihood involved mediating mob conflicts and running a network of shadowy interests, primarily in the south of Russia.

“Only one remained in Russia, one who was known to all without exception,” journalist Maxim Kononenko eulogized in the newspaper Izvestia. “A figure from an earlier time, a Loch Ness monster, a yeti, a real fossil -- someone who connected us to our past.”

As if in recognition of Usoyan’s importance, police immediately posted guards at the Botkin Hospital morgue where his body was delivered after doctors failed to revive him. “They should have called in the honorary guard from Lenin’s tomb,” wrote blogger Sergei Averin on Twitter.

Versions of why Usoyan finally met a violent death abounded. He was reported to be skimming off the multibillion- dollar budgets earmarked for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held on his home turf, in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. Some said his old enemy Tariel Oniani, an opponent in gangland wars since the 1980s, must have been involved in the killing. Others suggested that he had been selling weapons to Kurdish separatists in Turkey, and the hit was punishment from the Turkish special services. Still others blamed younger mobsters fed up with Hassan’s old-school methods and abnormally long reign.

“I’m sick of this Hassan already,” blogger Sergei Nikolaev commented on Twitter. “It’s as if half the country has just got out of jail.”

Since the early 2000s, mobsters had faded from public view in Russia. Stories of the “Russian mafia” were for naive foreigners. In that context, some commentators portrayed Usoyan’s demise as a benefit of Putin’s authoritarian rule.

“The murder of Grandpa Hassan has put a full stop at the end of the ’accursed ’90’s’ story, unless he somehow manages to rise from the dead,” Vladimir Novikov wrote on the state- controlled site RAPSInews.ru.

“Such murders and a well-developed criminal underworld are features of market democracies such as the U.S. or Italy,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, commented in his microblog.

Others, though, see less difference between the current regime and the organized crime of old. Under Putin’s tight clique of former KGB officers, law enforcement agencies have become more powerful than any mafia. Extortion and racketeering are now largely the turf of tax inspectors and economic-crime police.

“Private business is still deprived of effective protection on the part of the law enforcement system and the courts,” wrote journalist Mikhail Kozyrev on the opinion website Slon.ru. “If there is demand for fair solutions to problems, there will also be supply” from bureaucrats, police, special services and even crime bosses. “Quite law-abiding businessmen reach out to them for protection.”

In short, the mobsters are not really gone. They have merely been forced to share the market with other protection peddlers. Albeit less visible, they are just as wealthy and well-connected.

“I have met some mobster-businessmen with close ties” to state-owned companies, bureaucrats and special services, investigative journalist Irina Reznik wrote in a Facebook comment. “Very often these businessmen have run errands too shady for government-appointed managers and officials.”

Grandpa Hassan’s cafe office, after all, was just a mile from the Kremlin.

(Leonid Bershidsky, an editor and novelist, is Moscow and Kiev correspondent for World View. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: bershidsky@gmail.com.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Billionaire Mafia Founder Loves Attention from "Vegas High Rollers"


Addicted to reality TV villains? Odds are good you'll love or loathe Russian diva Lana Fuchs of TLC's "Vegas High Rollers."

She's clearly running out of friends after storming out of a cocktail reception during a weekend film shoot.

Just three weeks into a three-month shoot with the local socialites, the fireworks erupted Friday when the fashion designer's cast mates, concerned about her bad-mouthing, confronted her to clear the air.

Fuchs walked out, with cameras - and eyes - rolling.

"She seems to have an issue with everybody," a source said.

Fuchs appears to love the attention. At their opening shoot at the Hard Rock Hotel's pools, she arrived with an entourage of little people and bodyguards for the Black and White Party, an AIDS benefit.

Fuchs, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., after leaving Russia, is the founder of Billionaire Mafia and Lana Fuchs Couture.

Billionaire Mafia has been a hit with the hip-hop crowd and club scenesters.

The shooting has been taking place throughout the city, from staid Las Vegas Country Club to restaurant hot spots Firefly and Marche Baccus to Rain nightclub at the Palms for a pole dancing expo.

Thanks to Norm Clarke.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Where Does The Mob Keep Its Money?

THE global financial crisis has been a blessing for organized crime. A series of recent scandals have exposed the connection between some of the biggest global banks and the seamy underworld of mobsters, smugglers, drug traffickers and arms dealers. American banks have profited from money laundering by Latin American drug cartels, while the European debt crisis has strengthened the grip of the loan sharks and speculators who control the vast underground economies in countries like Spain and Greece.

Mutually beneficial relationships between bankers and gangsters aren’t new, but what’s remarkable is their reach at the highest levels of global finance. In 2010, Wachovia admitted that it had essentially helped finance the murderous drug war in Mexico by failing to identify and stop illicit transactions. The bank, which was acquired by Wells Fargo during the financial crisis, agreed to pay $160 million in fines and penalties for tolerating the laundering, which occurred between 2004 and 2007.

Last month, Senate investigators found that HSBC had for a decade improperly facilitated transactions by Mexican drug traffickers, Saudi financiers with ties to Al Qaeda and Iranian bankers trying to circumvent United States sanctions. The bank set aside $700 million to cover fines, settlements and other expenses related to the inquiry, and its chief of compliance resigned.

ABN Amro, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Lloyds and ING have reached expensive settlements with regulators after admitting to executing the transactions of clients in disreputable countries like Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.

Many of the illicit transactions preceded the 2008 crisis, but continuing turmoil in the banking industry created an opening for organized crime groups, enabling them to enrich themselves and grow in strength. In 2009, Antonio Maria Costa, an Italian economist who then led the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told the British newspaper The Observer that “in many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks at the height of the crisis. “Interbank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities,” he said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.” The United Nations estimated that $1.6 trillion was laundered globally in 2009, of which about $580 billion was related to drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.

A study last year by the Colombian economists Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejía concluded that the vast majority of profits from drug trafficking in Colombia were reaped by criminal syndicates in rich countries and laundered by banks in global financial centers like New York and London. They found that bank secrecy and privacy laws in Western countries often impeded transparency and made it easier for criminals to launder their money.

At a Congressional hearing in February, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, a Justice Department official in charge of monitoring money laundering, said that “banks in the U.S. are used to funnel massive amounts of illicit funds.” The laundering, she explained, typically occurs in three stages. First, illicit funds are directly deposited in banks or deposited after being smuggled out of the United States and then back in. Then comes “layering,” the process of separating criminal profits from their origin. Finally comes “integration,” the use of seemingly legitimate transactions to hide ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately, investigators too often focus on the cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotics while missing the bigger, more sophisticated financial activities of crime rings.

Mob financing via banks has ebbed and flowed over the years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s organized crime, which had previously dealt mainly in cash, started working its way into the banking system. This led authorities in Europe and America to take measures to slow international money laundering, prompting a temporary return to cash.

Then the flow reversed again, partly because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the ensuing Russian financial crisis. As early as the mid-1980s, the K.G.B., with help from the Russian mafia, had started hiding Communist Party assets abroad, as the journalist Robert I. Friedman has documented. Perhaps $600 billion had left Russia by the mid-1990s, contributing to the country’s impoverishment. Russian mafia leaders also took advantage of post-Soviet privatization to buy up state property. Then, in 1998, the ruble sharply depreciated, prompting a default on Russia’s public debt.

Although the United States cracked down on terrorist financing after the 9/11 attacks, instability in the financial system, like the Argentine debt default in 2001, continued to give banks an incentive to look the other way. My reporting on the ’Ndrangheta, the powerful criminal syndicate based in Southern Italy, found that much of the money laundering over the last decade simply shifted from America to Europe. The European debt crisis, now three years old, has further emboldened the mob.

IN Greece, as conventional bank lending has gotten tighter, more and more Greeks are relying on usurers. A variety of sources told Reuters last year that the illegal lending business in Greece involved between 5 billion and 10 billion euros each year. The loan-shark business has perhaps quadrupled since 2009 — some of the extortionists charge annualized interest rates starting at 60 percent. In Thessaloniki, the second largest city, the police broke up a criminal ring that was lending money at a weekly interest rate of 5 percent to 15 percent, with punishments for whoever didn’t pay up. According to the Greek Ministry of Finance, much of the illegal loan activity in Greece is connected to gangs from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Organized crime also dominates the black market for oil in Greece; perhaps three billion euros (about $3.8 billion) a year of contraband fuel courses through the country. Shipping is Greece’s premier industry, and the price of shipping fuel is set by law at one-third the price of fuel for cars and homes. So traffickers turn shipping fuel into more expensive home and automobile fuel. It is estimated that 20 percent of the gasoline sold in Greece is from the black market. The trafficking not only results in higher prices but also deprives the government of desperately needed revenue.

Greece’s political system is a “parliamentary mafiocracy,” the political expert Panos Kostakos told the energy news agency Oilprice.com earlier this year. “Greece has one of the largest black markets in Europe and the highest corruption levels in Europe,” he said. “There is a sovereign debt that does not mirror the real wealth of the average Greek family. What more evidence do we need to conclude that this is Greek mafia?”

Spain’s crisis, like Greece’s, was prefaced by years of mafia power and money and a lack of effectively enforced rules and regulations. At the moment, Spain is colonized by local criminal groups as well as by Italian, Russian, Colombian and Mexican organizations. Historically, Spain has been a shelter for Italian fugitives, although the situation changed with the enforcement of pan-European arrest warrants. Spanish anti-mafia laws have also improved, but the country continues to offer laundering opportunities, which only increased with the current economic crisis in Europe.

The Spanish real estate boom, which lasted from 1997 to 2007, was a godsend for criminal organizations, which invested dirty money in Iberian construction. Then, when home sales slowed and the building bubble burst, the mafia profited again — by buying up at bargain prices houses that people put on the market or that otherwise would have gone unsold.

In 2006, Spain’s central bank investigated the vast number of 500-euro bills in circulation. Criminal organizations favor these notes because they don’t take up much room; a 45-centimeter safe deposit box can fit up to 10 million euros. In 2010, British currency exchange offices stopped accepting 500-euro bills after discovering that 90 percent of transactions involving them were connected to criminal activities. Yet 500-euro bills still account for 70 percent of the value of all bank notes in Spain. And in Italy, the mafia can still count on 65 billion euros (about $82 billion) in liquid capital every year. Criminal organizations siphon 100 billion euros from the legal economy, a sum equivalent to 7 percent of G.D.P. — money that ends up in the hands of Mafiosi instead of sustaining the government or law-abiding Italians. “We will defeat the mafia by 2013,” Silvio Berlusconi, then the prime minister, declared in 2009. It was one of many unfulfilled promises. Mario Monti, the current prime minister, has stated that Italy’s dire financial situation is above all a consequence of tax evasion. He has said that even more drastic measures are needed to combat the underground economy generated by the mafia, which is destroying the legal economy.
Today’s mafias are global organizations. They operate everywhere, speak multiple languages, form overseas alliances and joint ventures, and make investments just like any other multinational company. You can’t take on multinational giants locally. Every country needs to do its part, for no country is immune. Organized crime must be hit in its economic engine, which all too often remains untouched because liquid capital is harder to trace and because in times of crisis, many, including the world’s major banks, find it too tempting to resist.

Thanks to Roberto Saviano, a journalist and the author of the book “Gomorrah.” He has lived under police protection since 2006, when he received death threats from organized crime figures in Italy. This essay was translated by Virginia Jewiss from the Italian.

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