On sale now at amazon.com

Russian criminal tattoos: breaking the code


Soviet prisoners had a secret language – tattoos. Will Hodgkinson deciphers the hidden meaning of skulls, cats, grins and swastikas

Will Hodgkinson

Danzig Baldaev grew up in a Russian children's home, his father having been denounced as an enemy of the people. He was later ordered to take a job as a warden in Kresty, an infamous Leningrad prison, where he worked from 1948 to 1981. It was a job that allowed Baldaev to continue his father's work as an ethnographer – by documenting the tattoos of criminals. Heavy with symbolism and hidden meanings, the tattoos depicted a complex world of hierarchies, disgraces and achievements. Mostly anti-Soviet and frequently obscene, they are a portal into a violent world that ran alongside the worst excesses of the Communist era.
The KGB found out about Baldaev's tattoo project but, incredibly, they sanctioned it. "They realised the value of being able to establish the facts about a convict or criminal: his date and place of birth, the crimes he had committed, the camps where he had served time, and even his psychological profile," Baldaev wrote, shortly before his death in 2005.
Baldaev's archive of criminal tattoo drawings would probably have died alongside its creator had Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell of the design publishers Fuel not heard about it from a Russian literary agent. "We visited his widow, Valentina, in her tiny flat in the St Petersburg suburbs, where all of these drawings were stacked in bin liners," says Murray. "She didn't know what to do with them, but she was concerned that her family would throw them out when she died. So we bought them off her."
Having published three volumes of Baldaev's drawings in the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia series, Murray and Sorrell are now launching their first exhibition, giving the public a chance to see the original drawings for the first time. In effect, the tattoos formed a service record of a criminal's transgressions. Skulls denoted a criminal authority. A cat represented a thief. On a woman, a tattoo of a penis was the kitemark of a prostitute. Crosses on knuckles denoted the number of times the wearer had been to prison, and a shoulder insignia marked solitary confinement, while a swastika represented not a fondness for fascism but a refusal to accept the rules of prison society.
Advertisement
A criminal with no tattoos was devoid of status, but to have a tattoo when you hadn't earned it – bearing the skull sign of a criminal authority, for example – often resulted in the tattoo being forcibly removed with a scalpel by fellow prisoners. And "grins" (depicting communist leaders in obscene or comical positions) were a way for criminal to put two fingers up at the authorities.
"The grin is a bravado thing," Murray says. "Tattooing was illegal in prisons, so prisoners made tattoos by melting down boot heels and mixing the solution with blood and urine. Having an anti-Soviet grin was a way of saying, 'I'm the toughest guy around.' A lot of these guys knew they would never be released from prison, so they couldn't care less what the authorities did to them."
The Soviet dissident and writer Eduard Kuznetsov cites an extreme example of this in his 1975 memoir, Prison Diaries. Kuznetsov writes about a con who was operated on by prison authorities three times against his will to remove a tattoo on his forehead. The first tattoo read: Khrushchev's Slave. The second: Slave of the USSR. The third: Slave of the CPSU (Communist party). "Now, after three operations," wrote Kuznetsov, "the skin is so tightly stretched . . . he can no longer close his eyes. We call him The Stare."
Then there are the tattoos that were made against the wearer's will. "Obscene tattoos on men were often tattooed forcibly on passive homosexuals, or people that lost at cards," says Murray. Worse than this was a seemingly innocuous heart inside a white triangle – the sign of a child rapist. Bearing this meant being an untouchable, and subject to the sexual whims of other prisoners.
Today, tattoos are a fashion accessory. The images Baldaev captured had significance and told a story. What's most intriguing is why this prison guard, who calculated that he lost 58 members of his family to Soviet torture and oppression, wanted to document criminal tattoos and scenes from gulag life in the first place. Following conversations with Baldaev's widow, Murray has concluded that it was a moral response to the excesses of the Communist era.
While accepting that the state had sanctioned his work, Baldaev had no sympathies with the regime. "Ideological lies, skilfully devised international conflicts, the humiliation of people, the denial of the right to a dignified life – or to life itself. These are the sins of the state," he wrote. "They are manifest in the world of the prisons and camps, in the terrible plague patches of tattoos."
"Danzig's father was an enemy of the people," says Murray, "so Danzig grew up in an orphanage for the enemy of the people. Then the government told him he was working as a prison officer, guarding enemies of the people. He went home to his tiny flat at night and did these drawings on the kitchen table. He did manage to get a few published here and there, but he wasn't doing it for the money. This was his way of making sense of the world he was in."
Tattoos of the world
The swallow
Popular with sailors, the swallow reflects a wish to come home safely. Traditionally, a sailor only had a swallow tattooed on his chest after completing 5,000 nautical miles.
The koi
In Japanese mythology, when the koi swims to the gate of heaven it is transformed into a dragon. As a tattoo, the koi represents luck, power, strength and individuality, and, most of all, braving the obstacles in life to achieve your goals.
The teardrop
Originating from the Chicano gangs of California, the teardrop below the eye originally signified the wearer had killed someone. Now it can signify the loss of a loved one or time spent in prison.
The dragon
Symbolising courage, freedom and the supernatural, for British and American sailors the dragon tattoo marks the crossing of the international date line, or serving in China.




Russian Gangs Of New York



  

By Carl Schreck

When journalist Alexandre Grant began covering crime some 25 years ago, gangsters and roughnecks who'd decamped from the teetering Soviet Union roamed New York City's Russian-speaking neighborhoods, menacing emigres with extortion rackets and brazen contract hits.
That scene is largely gone -- a good thing, to be sure, for entrepreneurs who once shuddered at hearing the Russian equivalent of "Nice place you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it."
Grant, though, betrays a certain nostalgia for that brutish era, one bereft of cookie-cutter cybercrimes that land Russian-speaking criminal groups in authorities' crosshairs nowadays.
"Things have gotten more boring," the 70-year-old Grant said in an interview. "All of these cybercrimes look exactly the same. Some hacker breaks into a system and gets 2 million credit-card numbers. He sells the credit cards, and the exact same thing happens again. Only the names change."
In a career spanning nearly three decades, Grant has covered the rise and fall of New York City's ruthless gangsters from the former Soviet Union, a criminal caste commonly wedged under the umbrella term "Russian mafia" despite the array of nationalities it comprises.
Along the way, he has become arguably the most prolific and well-connected chronicler of these Eurasian crime syndicates' New York City exploits.
A former correspondent for the venerable emigre newspaper "Novoye Russkoye Slovo," Grant has cultivated convicted murderers and extortionists as sources and landed interviews with notorious reputed crime kingpins like Ukrainian-born Semion Mogilevich, listed by the FBI on its "10 Most Wanted" list of fugitives.
When bodies began piling up in the turf wars that rocked Russian-speaking New York neighborhoods like Brighton Beach in the 1990s, it was Grant that U.S. journalists turned to to make sense of the murky motivations and underworld machinations behind the bloodshed.
It's been a "good 10 years" since guns served as these gangsters' primary tool for seizing filthy lucre, says Grant. "The main kind of violence nowadays in the Russian-speaking community is domestic violence or drunken fights," he said.
But it's not just the criminals who have changed. In the 1990s, the emigre community proved virtually impervious to law enforcement authorities' attempts to get witnesses to attach their names to testimony.
"First and foremost they were afraid of physical retribution," Grant said. "Secondly, they were afraid of cooperation itself, because cooperation with authorities in the Soviet Union was considered, if not a sin, then at least something very unseemly."
With the greater integration of this community into American life since the fall of the Soviet Union, the situation nowadays "is completely different," he said. "A jewelry store owner said recently, 'If a person comes to me and says that I owe him protection money, I'll call the police before he gets out the door.'"
'Precarious Balancing Act'
Matters of crime and punishment have played an outsized role in Grant's life ever since he can remember. Born into a Jewish family in Moscow in 1944, his father was a criminal defense attorney who represented clients ranging from street hustlers to senior secret police officials. "My father taught me that no one is safe from ending up in prison," he said.
He became disenchanted with the Soviet government as a teenager, embracing a hipster subculture consumed with all things American, mastering English during Nikita Khrushchev's thaw. "I had rather tense relations with the Soviet government from the very beginning," he said. "We didn't like one another. But it had more resources."
A graduate of Moscow State University's journalism faculty, Grant befriended Western reporters working in Moscow, ties that would eventually land him in prison for political crimes.
In the mid-1960s, Grant said, he visited European journalists living in a diplomatic compound in central Moscow. There he passed on a samizdat transcript of the trial of Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky on charges of "parasitism" to a reporter for a French newspaper.
In what Grant calls a "strange story," he was detained by a pair of volunteer street guardians known as "druzhiniky," who said he resembled a suspected thief they were searching for. Fifteen minutes later, he said, he was at the notorious KGB headquarters at Lubyanka Square.
He was convicted of disseminating anti-Soviet propaganda and violating currency laws by purchasing items with money he'd obtained from Western diplomats and sentenced to five years in a prison camp.
A year and a half after his release, he struck and killed a pedestrian while driving a car in Moscow, was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, and handed a seven-year sentence.
The 12 years in Soviet prisons and jails, Grant said, became a singular influence in his life. "I consider it one of the most positive periods of my life, because that is where I matured and that's where I learned to understand what is good and what is bad," he added.
His time behind bars would also prove useful to his future career writing about crime. He said he met fellow inmates who would go on to lead organized crime groups in Moscow, and that his criminal record later helped him seamlessly navigate sources on both sides of the law.
"A journalist who writes about this subject sits on the fence between these two worlds," he said. "It's a precarious balancing act, because FBI agents from the Russian department trust me, and lawbreakers trust me as well."
Mingling With Mobsters
Grant was released from prison the second time in 1985, and thanks to fictitious Jewish relatives in Israel, he emigrated a year and a half later and landed in New York City. He settled in Queens, which drew emigres from Moscow and Leningrad, whereas Brighton Beach became a magnet for immigrants from Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union.
He joined "Novoye Russkoye Slovo" almost immediately and took over the crime beat a few years later, when the gas tax and Medicare fraud schemes that had occupied Soviet emigre crime groups were petering out under pressure from U.S. authorities.
Amid the collapsing Soviet Union, a new wave of hardened criminals began to make their way to the United States, a contingent that the head of the FBI's organized-crime section described in 1994 as "the first string," as opposed to the "second string" who made up the first influx of Soviet criminals that emigrated to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s.
Grant says he was drawn to the drama and swashbuckling of the Soviet emigre crime scene at the time, when crime bosses like Boris Nayfeld, Marat Balagula, and Monya Elson jostled for control of lucrative illicit markets in New York City.
He became acquainted with Oleg Korotayev, a former champion Soviet boxer who had transitioned into a career as a mob enforcer and had his brains blown out onto the streets of Brighton Beach by an unidentified gunman late one night in January 1994.
"He wasn't a great guy," Grant said of Korotayev, who in 1974 defeated future undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks.
Grant also developed a rapport with Elson, who has served time for murder and extortion and was described by prominent organized crime expert and journalist Jerry Capeci as one of the "toughest, most feared Russian gangsters ever to make his mark on U.S. soil."
But perhaps no reputed mob boss impressed Grant like Mogilevich, who is wanted in the United States on charges of fraud and money laundering, among other indictments, and was once reportedly described by Elson as "the most powerful mobster...in the world."
Grant traveled to Paris with his wife in the mid-1990s when a Georgian mob boss he declined to identify recognized him on the street. The two men had served time in the same prison camp in the Soviet Komi Republic, Grant said, and the gangster offered to introduce him to Mogilevich, who happened to be in town.
Mogilevich, who is now believed to be living in Russia, passed him a business card. When his name surfaced a few years later in connection with high-profile international criminal investigations, Grant rang up the man known as the "Brainy Don" and traveled to Moscow to interview him.
"There were people around him that I didn't know," Grant said. "They were talking amongst themselves, and I had a feeling like I was at a government cabinet meeting. They were talking about deliveries that needed to be made: send four airplanes with this cargo there, send four trains of wheat over there, send the coal over there. It was like they were deciding the fate of the country."
'Too Americanized'
The wild days of the Russian-speaking mafia scene in New York City may have passed, but Grant remains busy. He pens columns for a range of emigre publications, delivers daily radio reports on crime news in the city, and hosts television programs on U.S. politics.
He visits his native Moscow once or twice a year, but said he felt no temptation to return for good. "Spiritually it's a completely foreign country and foreign city to me now," Grant said. "I've become too Americanized."
While the material may not be as sexy these days, and Brighton Beach shoot-outs between Eurasian crime groups rarely, if ever, make headlines anymore, Grant continues to build underworld relationships. Even with those convicted of crimes that make him yawn.
When Vadim Vassilenko, who was convicted by U.S. prosecutors last year of laundering money for a cybercrime ring, made his first blog post after being deported back to his native Ukraine last month, he let readers know where they could get the story.
"Vadim Vassilenko here," he wrote on October 30. "Note to all: I have been deported. Details in the article by Alexandre Grant."

How the Invasion of Ukraine Is Shaking Up the Global Crime Scene


By Mark Galeotti

As Putin's "little green men" were taking Crimea back in March, I was speaking with both cops and gangsters in Moscow who saw this as a great business opportunity—a chance for Russian gangs to move into new turf, make new alliances, and open up new trafficking routes.
They were thinking far too small. Already it has become clear that the conflict in Ukraine is having an impact on not just the regional but the global underworld. As one Interpol analyst told me, "What's happening in Ukraine now matters to criminals from Bogotá to Beijing."
Crime, especially organized crime, has been at the heart of the events in Ukraine from the start. Many of the burly and well-armed "self-defense volunteers" who came out on the streets alongside the not-officially-Russian troops turned out to be local gangsters, and the governing elite there have close, long-term relations with organized crime. Likewise, in eastern Ukraine, criminals have been sworn in as members of local militias and even risen to senior ranks, while the police, long known for their corruption, are fighting alongside them.
Now Ukraine is beginning to shape crime around the rest of the planet.
While it was only to be expected that Crimea and eastern Ukraine might be integrated even more closely into the Russian organized crime networks, it looks as though Ukraine's gangsters are perversely stepping up their cooperation with their Russian counterparts even while Kiev fights a Moscow-backed insurgency.
Just as the Kremlin was setting up its new administration in newly annexed Crimea, so, too, were the big Moscow-based crime networks sending their  smotryashchye—the term means a local overseer, but now also means, in effect, an ambassador—there to connect with local gangs. In part, they're interested in the opportunities for fraud and embezzlement of the massive inflow of federal development funds perhaps $4.5 billion this year alone—and the newly-announced casino complexes to be built near the resort city of Yalta. They're also looking to the Black Sea smuggling routes and the opportunity to make the Crimean port of Sevastopol the next big smuggling hub.
These days, the Ukrainian port of Odessa is the  smugglers' haven of choice on the Black Sea. There's Afghan heroin coming through Russia and heading into Western Europe through Romania and Bulgaria, stolen cars coming north from Turkey, unlicensed Kalashnikovs heading into the Mediterranean, Moldovan women being trafficked into the Middle East, and a whole range of criminal commodities head out of Odessa Maritime Trade Port, along with its satellite facilities of Illichivsk and southern ports. Routes head both ways, though, and increasingly there is an inward flow of global illicit goods: Latin American cocaine (either for retransfer by sea or else to be trucked into Russia or Central Europe), women trafficked from Africa, even guns heading to the war zone.
The criminal authorities of Odessa, who have more than a nodding relationship with elements of the "upperworld" authorities, have done well on the back of this trade, charging a "tax" in return for letting their ports become nodes in the global criminal economy. But all of a sudden, they face potential competition in the form of Sevastopol. The Crimean port may currently be under embargo, but it has powerful potential advantages. The main criminal business through Odessa is on behalf, directly or indirectly, of the Russian networks; if they chose to switch their business, then perhaps two thirds of the city's smuggling would be lost. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, and military supply convoys—which are exempt from regular police and customs checks—are a cheap and secure way to transport illicit goods. Finally, the links between the gangsters and local political leaders are at least as close in Crimea as in Odessa. So, if the criminals of Sevastopol can establish reliable shipping routes and are willing to match or undercut Odessa's rates, we could see a major realignment of regional smuggling.
Why does it matter if the ships dock at Sevastopol rather than Odessa? Because if the former can offer lower transit costs and new routes, then not only does it mean the Crimeans can take over existing smuggling business, it also makes new ventures economically viable. For example, already, counterfeit cigarettes are being smuggled to northern Turkey, having been brought into Crimea on military supply ships. Perhaps most alarming are unconfirmed suggestions I have heard from Ukrainian intelligence services—admittedly hardly objective observers—that some oil illegally sold through Turkey by Islamic State militants in Syria might have been moved to Sevastopol's private Avlita docks for re-export.
The Ukraine conflict is also leading to increased organized crime in the rest of Ukraine proper. Protection racketeering, drug sales, even "raiding" (stealing property by presenting fake documents, backed by a bribed judge, thereby allegedly proving that the real owner signed away his rights or has unpaid debts) are all on the rise. To a large extent, this reflects a police force still in chaos (those who backed the old regime face charges and dismissal) and looming economic chaos. It is also a reflection of the country's endemic corruption: The international non-governmental organization Transparency International ranks Ukraine 144 out of 177 countries in its Corruption Perception Index, and although the national parliament confirmed a new anti-corruption law in October, it will take years to make a difference.
And this isn't just a Ukrainian problem. Preliminary reports from European police and customs bodies also suggest increased smuggling into Europe, and not just of Ukrainian commodities. Latin American cocaine, Afghan heroin, and even cars stolen in Scandinavia are being re-exported through Ukraine into Greece and the Balkans. According to my sources in Moscow, there is also an eastward route bringing illicit goods into Russia. In September, for example, the police broke a gunrunning ring that was spread across six regions of Russia and was caught in possession of 136 weapons, including a mortar and machine guns.
Most of this business again depends on the Russian crime networks. As a result, even ethnic Ukrainian criminals are now trying to forge closer strategic alliances with the Russians, even while their two countries are virtually at war. The Muscovites I spoke to on both sides of the law and order threshold pointed to such western Ukrainian nationalist strongholds as Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk as places where, suddenly, Russian gangster business is welcome. Of course, even as their gangsters are collaborating, Kiev and Moscow are scarcely talking—and any lingering police cooperation has essentially collapsed.
Where organized crime flourishes, so too do the shadowy financial businesses that launder their cash. Ukraine's financial sector is notoriously under-regulated and cozy with dubious customers, from the kleptocrats of the old elite (Prime Minister Yatsenyuk has claimed that $37 billion disappeared from the state's coffers during former President Yanukovych's four-year reign) to organized criminals. Still, relatively little international money has traditionally flowed into and through Ukraine's banks, not least because other jurisdictions such as Cyprus, Latvia, and Israel offer equal opportunities with greater efficiency.
However, these other laundries are beginning to become less appealing, not least as countries clean up their acts under international pressure. So just at the time when the world's criminals are looking for new places to clean their ill-gotten gains, Ukraine's are both desperate for business—the country's economy is tanking,  having shrunk by 5 percnet over the past year—and increasingly connected to the Russians, the global illegal service providers par excellence. Already, I understand that a US intelligence analysis has suggested that they will be used not only covertly to allow Crimea's embargoed businesses and gangs to move their money in and out, but also to offer up their laundering services to the world. And the world seems to be interested: According to a US Drug Enforcement Administration analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in September, a sizeable payment for Nigerian methamphetamine bound for Malaysia actually passed through Ukrainian banks.
As the varangians—slang for gangs from Moscow and European Russia—become increasingly strongly entrenched there, working with an array of local criminals, they bind Ukraine all the more tightly with the global underworld. Ukraine has all the resources and facilities of a modern, industrial nation, like ports and banks, but not the capacity to secure and control them. This kind of potential black hole is a priceless asset for the world's gangsters.
Of course, there is one last way the Ukrainian conflict could have a wider criminal impact. If Kiev is finally able to defeat the rebellion in the east, then what do the gangsters who fought for the rebellion do? Some of the most powerful might be able to cut deals with the government or find refuge in Russia, but Moscow shows no signs of wanting to incorporate hundreds of disgruntled and impoverished gun-happy thugs. If what happened after the 1990s civil wars in the Balkans is a guide—and many analysts think it will be—then they will seek to head into Europe and North America. There, they are most likely to turn to criminal activities that draw on their skills and experiences. One French prosecutor I spoke to called them "the next Albanians," referring to the violent and dangerous gangs, especially from Kosovo, that flowed into Europe in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Europe in particular might find itself hard-pressed to respond. The Ukrainian authorities may well be willing to help, but they probably lack the ability to provide much usable intelligence. Meanwhile, the Russians, who probably have the best sense of who the fighters actually are, seem increasingly unlikely to provide any assistance. Jörg Ziercke, head of Germany's BKA, its equivalent of the FBI, recently complained that assistance from Moscow in dealing with Russian organized crime was drying up.
Forget tit-for-tat embargoes. One of the most effective responses to Western sanctions at the Kremlin's disposal may be to encourage the criminalization of Ukraine, and do nothing to help Europe and North America cope with the fallout.
Dr. Mark Galeotti is Professor of Global Affairs at New York University's School of Professional Studies – Center for Global Affairs and an expert on transnational crime and security issues. Follow him on Twitter.


Moscow police official brands ethnic gangs main problem



Ethnic gangs are the biggest organized crime problem in Moscow and Russia as a whole, according to chief of the Moscow police's criminal investigative division Maj. Gen. Igor Zinoviev.
"Most crimes are perpetrated by relatively small gangs of illegal migrants which mostly focus on assaults and robberies. All criminal investigative divisions have lately formed special units for combating the ethnic type of organized crime," Zinoviev said in an interview published by Kommersant on Friday.
Russian criminal investigative divisions detected 883 ethnic gangs last year and over 600 of them were neutralized. This year alone 1,000 persons have been prosecuted on those grounds.
Ethnic gangs are mostly involved in street violence and mugging, and any citizen can fall victim to them, Zinoviev said.
He added that the majority of street crimes were committed by gangs with origins in Central Asian republics.
"Over half of assaults and robberies [nearly 100 out of 160 crimes detected this year] and an overwhelming majority of rapes [over 90 out of 138] were committed by persons from the near abroad [former Soviet republics] and they are responsible for 90 percent of warehouse assaults. They get employed as warehouse loaders and cleaners and share insider information about valuable goods or transporters of large amounts of money with their fellow countrymen," Zinoviev said.
Georgians traditionally burgle apartments and Azeris abduct people for ransom.
"But practically all of their victims are successful fellow countrymen and the rate of latent crimes is high - far from all families of the abducted persons turn to the police," the criminal investigative division chief added.
Ethnic gangs keep to themselves, he said. "First of all, they keep away from strangers - Russians or people with origins in other countries, which limits the possibility of undercover police operations. Besides, many gangs of the kind operate by the so-called shift method - they come here, commit a series of crimes and return to their home countries. Then others come to take their place," Zinoviev said.
It is difficult to prevent crime amongst migrants, Zinoviev said.

"The so-called complex of a mercenary operating on a foreign ground is characteristic of them: they have no moral limitations, and elders or clerics whom they traditionally listen to in their home countries and who can help reach out to them are not around," the police official said.

Murder mystery: Who shot penny-stock promoters?


Kathleen Hopkins

Solve this case Do you have information about the double murders? Contact the FBI at (212) 384-1000 or the Monmouth County Crimestoppers hotline at 1-800-671-4400. Crimestoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
COLTS NECK – In this wealthy community of horse farms and stately homes, an ornate statue atop a Grecian fountain stands as a silent witness to the dark secrets of the sprawling mansion behind it.
If the statue could talk, it might solve a mystery that has baffled a cadre of investigators for 15 years: who executed two penny stock promoters, gangland style, in the largely unfurnished home behind the black-and-gold, wrought-iron gates?
A decade-and-a-half has passed since Albert Alain Chalem and Maier Lehmann were found bullet-riddled and facedown in pools of their own blood on the marble floor of the dining room of the white, brick colonial on Bluebell Road, in a community that has boasted residents like Bruce Springsteen and Queen Latifah.
Although authorities still have not established the identity of the men's killer or killers, they have uncovered a tangled web of the victims' shady financial deals that could have provided more than enough motive for vengeance.
But despite the recent anniversary of the crimes on Oct. 25, 1999, details about the investigation into the homicides are almost as mysterious as the killings themselves.
The FBI's Newark and New York offices are involved in the case, as is the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office. Officials with the Prosecutor's Office won't comment because they say it is an active investigation. The FBI didn't say much more.
"The FBI cannot comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation," Special Agent Barbara Woodruff of the FBI's Newark office said in response to a media inquiry. "Under limited circumstances, like this one, we can acknowledge an investigation is open, but do not provide any details of the investigation."
What is known is that two of Chalem's friends were planning to spend the night at the Bluebell Road mansion and had been in frequent phone contact with him on Oct. 25, 1999. But when the two friends couldn't reach Chalem after 8:30 p.m., they went to the mansion about 1 a.m. the next day and made the grisly discovery, John Kaye, Monmouth County prosecutor at the time, said in the aftermath of the killings.
The 41-year-old Chalem, who lived in the mansion owned by his girlfriend's father, had been shot once in the chest and five times in the head and neck, authorities said at the time. Lehmann, 37, a married father of five from Woodmere, New York, was shot once in the leg and three times in the head, they said.
Both were laying facedown on the marble floor of the dining room, near a long table scattered with piles of paperwork, Kaye said. Inches away from the right hands of both of the dead men were their cellular telephones, which kept ringing after they were dead, Kaye revealed then. The victims most likely knew their killers, as there were no signs of forced entry, he has said.
"We believed from the beginning it had all the earmarks of a mob-related hit," Kaye said in a recent telephone interview.
But what appeared to be crucial evidence at the scene turned out to be unfruitful, Kaye explained.
"One of the things that intrigued detectives were drops of blood that went up the semi-spiral staircase," Kaye said in the recent interview.
"Everyone had the impression the drops of blood were coming off a weapon the killer had used, and now the killer was going upstairs to look for another victim," he said.
Investigators later learned it was one of Chalem's two English bulldogs, to whom he was deeply attached, that got its nose in a pool of blood and left the bloody trail, Kaye said.
The two bulldogs, named Sophia and Spikey, were found in Chalem's bedroom, unharmed.
Absent from the home at the time of the murders was Chalem's girlfriend, Kimberly Scarola, and her 13-year-old son. Both had left for Florida shortly before the murders, and Chalem had planned to meet them there, authorities said.
Earlier that summer, Chalem, Scarola and the teenager moved into the mansion that Scarola's father had purchased months earlier for $1.1 million. Authorities noted after the killings that, oddly, the expensive home had hardly any furnishings in it.
Both Scarola and Lehmann's widow, Tamara, were ruled out as suspects, authorities said.
But the investigation had plenty of other directions to go in, as the dead men's questionable business dealings spanned the globe.
Chalem and Lehmann were partners in a website registered in Panama and managed out of Budapest, Hungary, that falsely hyped high-risk, low-priced stocks that the pair would dump at a profit once their prices had been manipulated. Both men already were known to investigators probing shady investment deals. And Chalem was linked to organized crime in published reports after their deaths.
Chalem had worked at A.S. Goldmen, a defunct brokerage house that at one time received its mail at a commercial gym, Body by Boris in Red Bank. Earlier in 1999, the brokerage was charged in a Manhattan grand jury indictment with bilking investors out of almost $100 million, but Chalem was not among the 33 people who were charged.
The previous year, Lehmann paid $630,000 to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges that he illegally helped to manipulate the stock of a small company that cheated unsuspecting investors out of $12 million.
The murders, which occurred at a time when authorities were turning their attention to mob connections in the volatile world of penny stocks, led to speculation that the victims were cooperating with investigators and were killed to be silenced or punished, or that they had ties to American or Russian organized crime.
A Business Week article in December of 1999, citing unnamed sources, said Chalem was a key link between the penny stock trade and organized crime. The article said Chalem was a close associate of Philip C. Abramo, a reputed capo in the Newark-based DeCavalcante crime family who at the time was implicated in a stock fraud case.
The Huffington Post reported in 2011 that Chalem had been partners in a Key West, Florida, scuba-diving business with Brooklyn mobster Alphonse Persico, who is serving life in prison for the 1999 rubout of an underboss. That article said the DeCavalcante crime family was suspected in the Colts Neck slayings early on.
Police cars (above) are among the vehicles in the driveway of the Bluebell Road, Colts Neck, home where two penny stock promoters were murdered 15 years ago. Investigators (below, left) carry files and computer parts from the home. On the day of his funeral, mourners (below, right) place the casket of Maier Lehmann — one of the murder victims — in a hearse. (Photo: Asbury Park Press file photos )
Court documents have revealed that investigators also were looking at the pair's links to Russian gangsters.
A sealed court ruling of an associate of the victims indicated that prosecutors believed Chalem's and Lehmann's lives were threatened by several Russian emigres, and that their associate also feared for his life.
Prosecutors brought the associate, Joe T. Logan Jr. of Clifton, before a grand jury investigating the homicides in 2000, but Logan, believed to be the last person to see Chalem and Lehmann alive, refused to answer questions. The grand jury record was sealed, but it made its way into the public record during Logan's divorce proceeding in 2004.
Logan gained limited notoriety in the late 1990s when he promised, but failed, to save the bankrupt Newark-based Kiwi International Airlines. He was not a suspect in the murders, but he was at the Bluebell Road mansion that morning, and later that evening he placed six calls to the house, authorities have said.
The questions prosecutors wanted Logan to answer before the grand jury revealed that two Russian émigré brothers named Boris and Michael Vax had at some point visited Logan to talk to him about Chalem, and that at one point months before the murders, Chalem had punched Logan in the face, possibly because Logan cost the Vax brothers money in a stock deal but blamed the loss on Chalem, authorities have said.
Both Vax brothers had served federal prison sentences for roles in a scheme to defraud the government of gasoline taxes. Michael Vax also had been charged with homicide in Brooklyn in 1986, but the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office said it did not have any records of the case. Last year, Michael Vax was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan in a so-called "pump and dump" penny stock scheme.
One of the reasons prosecutors wanted to question Logan was to try to find out who left a message on Chalem's answering machine around the time of the murders, saying, "Call me back — emergency." They also wanted to ask him about the identities of the Russian emigres who had threatened to kill Chalem and Lehman at a meeting also attended by Logan, Allen Barry Witz, and at least one other person.
Witz, a Beverly Hills lawyer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Newark in 2004 to manipulating the stock of a company that Chalem and Lehmann were promoting on their website at the time they were killed.
The FBI's Woodruff said the agency's Newark office has focused primarily on the fraudulent activities that came to light as a result of the homicide case, while the New York office is focused more on the killings themselves.
Richard M. Frankel, special agent in charge of the FBI's criminal division in New York, urges anyone with information on the murders of Chalem and Lehmann to call the division at (212) 384-1000.
The Monmouth County Crimestoppers program has posted a reward up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest and indictment in the case. Tips can be made anonymously on the Crimestoppers hotline: 1-800-671-4400.
Meanwhile, former prosecutor Kaye believes someone in trouble with the law could be the person who will solve the mystery of what happened 15 years ago behind the black-and-gold, wrought-iron gates on Bluebell Road.
"It's a matter of sooner or later, somebody is going to get jammed up somehow, and they'll tell you everything you want to know in order to get a break," Kaye said.
Kathleen Hopkins: 732-643-4202; Khopkins@app.com
Solve this case
Do you have information about the double murders? Contact the FBI at 212-384-1000 or the Monmouth County Crimestoppers hotline at 1-800-671-4400. Crimestoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment


Moscow Lawyer In High Profile Organized Crime Case Killed


A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.
Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.
Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.
Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.
Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.
The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.