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Deck of Cards Featuring Faces of Russian Mafia Members released in the US

By Institute for Russian Research

NEW YORK, May 10, 2013 -- /PRNewswire/ -- A deck of cards featuring the faces of key figures in the Russian mafia has been produced in the US. The publisher of the deck of cards, the Institute for Russian Research, intends to use this deck to raise awareness among law enforcers, legislators, and the media, of the fact that the Russian mafia is playing a very significant role in crime in the US as well as the rest of the world, and its significance is very likely to grow as the capital flight from Russia (comprising proceeds of crime, embezzlement, and corruption) intensifies. The deck of cards will be updated and reprinted annually, the publishers say.
The Russian Mafia deck of cards includes both criminals well known to police and the public and those who have been able to keep a low profile. For example, the ace of diamonds – Semion Mogilevich, a former leader of the Solntsevo Organized Crime Group, one of Russia's most infamous, a citizen of three nations on police wanted lists in four different countries. Mogilevich is on the FBI list of ten most wanted criminals and is believed to be the main leader of the Russian mafia globally. The deck includes Tevfik Arif as the queen of clubs, a former official with the Soviet Trade Ministry who has moved to the US to become a construction magnate and an underground head of a money-laundering network involved in financing terrorist groups in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. Arif was arrested in 2010 for allegedly organizing a prostitution ring. The deck also includes characters like illegal arms trader Viktor Bout, notorious Russian-American Mafioso Monya Elson, and others. More than half of those featured on the cards (48 people total) are in the US, around 15% are based in Spain.
"Russian mafia has become an international phenomenon, a significant player in the criminal world, and it has an impact on the US society. We believe that the Russian mafia deck of cards will shine a spotlight on this issue and foster further dialog," Michael Zvonov, an expert with the Institute for Russian Research, the deck publisher, says. "The Russian mafia performs most of its transactions in US dollars, for historical reasons, as well as because of its active involvement with South American cartels, which also rely on USD as their main transaction currency. So it is only natural for the Russian mafia to expand its presence in the US, where it can most easily put their USD assets to work," Zvonov adds. 
"The deck doesn't include sixes," the publishers point out. "This is intentional: a 'six' is one of the worst insults among the Russian mafia, and we wanted to avoid smearing anyone with a pariah status."
An online version of the Russian Mafia deck of cards is available online at www.russianmafiacards.com, including additional details of each criminal shown on the cards. The deck of the Russian criminal world will be sent to the FBI, to police departments of cities with large Russian-speaking communities and to the US Congress.

Institute for Russian Research http://russiainstitute.org www.russianmafiacards.com Michael Zvonov mz@russiainstitute.org (646) 583-3323

International Russian Organized Crime Ring Does Old-School Gambling in a New Way

By Alec Luhn

Alimzhan “Taiwanchik” Tokhtakhounov

The April indictment in New York of 34 conspirators involved in gambling and bookmaking rings reads like the screenplay for the 1998 poker flick Rounders, with high-stakes games, Russian mafia dons and thugs breaking bones to collect from losers in too deep.
The main players include a notorious Russian thief-in-law (the equivalent of an Italian mafia don), a billionaire art mogul, a J.P. Morgan banker, a Hollywood poker hostess and the Russian-born ringleader -- poker pro Vadim Trincher, who lived in Trump Tower in a $5 million apartment directly beneath that of “The Donald” himself.
“From his apartment he oversaw what must have been the world's largest sports book,” Assistant US Attorney Harris Fischman said during a hearing at which a judge ordered Trincher, facing nearly a century behind bars if convicted, held for trial without bail.
The whopping 84-page federal indictment spells out how the conspirators all fit into two related rings that operated since at least 2006 out of Kyiv, Los Angeles, Moscow and New York. The men charged were hit with heavy-duty counts of racketeering, extortion, money laundering and operating an illegal gambling business. The organizations laundered at least $100 million, the indictment said, and most of the charges are related to the transfer of money in the course of their operations.
Investigators gathered evidence including deposited and cashed checks and conversations recorded via wiretap. According to Fischman, Trincher warns a customer in one recorded conversation that he should be careful, lest he be "tortured or found underground."
The case seems to have touched the highest echelons of power: The New York Post reported that President Barack Obama's pick for ambassador to France, billionaire investor Marc Lasry, had to turn down the position over his ties to one of the defendants, Trincher’s son Illya.
The ring's illegal gambling business was old-fashioned given that much Russian-speaking organized crime has shifted to white-collar fraud in recent years, according to Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor specializing in Russian organized crime. But the structure of the organization—with Russians working alongside non-Russian-speaking Americans—and its focus on wealthy clients was novel, Galeotti said.
“What was innovative was the scale,” he said. “They focused on an upmarket audience … drew on them and made a lot of money.”
Taiwanchik Still At Large
The indictment defines two related gambling rings.
The “Taiwanchik-Trincher” organization, led primarily by Trincher, Anatoly “Tony” Golubchik and Alimzhan “Taiwanchik” Tokhtakhounov, allegedly held underground poker games for professional players, celebrities and Wall Street financiers, shaking down those reluctant to pay their losses and laundering the rake through shell companies in the US and Cyprus. Through gambling websites operating illegally in the United States, the ring also ran a high-stakes sports betting business that catered to Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.
Meanwhile, the related “Nahmad-Trincher” organization, directed primarily by Hillel “Helly” Nahmad, Noah “The Oracle” Siegel and Illya Trincher, reportedly ran a similar high-stakes gambling operation in New York and Los Angeles. The operation took in tens of millions in bets on illegal websites, then laundered profits through a multitude of US bank accounts, a plumbing company in the Bronx, a real estate company and car repair shop in New York City, and a firm that sells used cars over the Internet.
At least 30 of the 34 people named in the indictment were in custody as of April, and the trial is planned to start in June, 2014. The key missing figure who has remained out of reach is the Russian thief-in-law Tokhtakhounov, an ethnic Uigur known as “Taiwanchik” for his Asian features.
Interpol has a red notice out on Tokhtakhounov, who was previously indicted for bribing ice skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Tokhtakhounov lives in Russia and has been on the Forbes list of the world's 10 Most Wanted fugitives since it was first compiled in 2008.
In a televised interview with the channel Mir 24 after the April indictment, Tokhtakhounov said the case against him was “made up,” calling it “yet another fairy tale from the Americans.”
“My name is well-known. They listed me (in the indictment) to give the situation more significance,” he said.
Tokhtakhounov did admit, however, that he knows two of the defendants and occasionally placed bets on sporting events with them starting two to three years ago.
“Of course, in conversation I might have given them advice, how to do things better,” Tokhtakhounov said. “These are my friends. It was a bookmaking company.”
According to the indictment, Taiwanchik used his influence in the criminal underworld to “resolve disputes with clients of the high-stakes gambling operation with implicit and sometimes explicit threats of violence and economic harm.”
Compensation for these services allegedly brought him $10 million from December 2011 to January 2012.
Although none of the rings' clients have been named (three former clients will likely provide evidence during the trial), one of the defendants, poker impresario Molly Bloom, was previously reported to have run exclusive games for such A-list actors and athletes as Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Alex Rodriguez – and Matt Damon, the star of Rounders. DiCaprio has been photographed with Nahmad on at least two occasions.
No Pyramid Heirarchy
Taiwanchik is an old-style thief-in-law, but the two rings are set up unconventionally, and the Trinchers did not exercise “institutional authority” like traditional mob bosses, Galeotti said. Instead, members came into the organizations as partners, providing money, expertise or connections.
“Once you start moving up the pyramid, it's much more a collaborative series of teams working together in a joint venture,” he explained.
According to the indictment, one partner was Hillel “Helly” Nahmad, the scion of an art dealer family that Forbes estimated to be worth $1.75 billion in 2012. His main contribution was likely financial: The indictment lists the Helly Nahmad Gallery in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Hillel's father David Nahmad in Europe, and JH Capital, an investment firm run by defendant John Hanson, as funders of the Nahmad-Trincher organization.
Hillel Nahmad also allegedly worked with Illya Trincher to launder money. The pair face prison terms of nearly 100 years each.
In an example of the financial high jinks involved, defendant Ronald Uy, a branch manager at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bank in New York City, is charged with helping Illya Trincher “structure” transactions, that is, split up a big transaction into several smaller ones so that it falls below federal reporting thresholds.
At the New York arraignment of 20 defendants on April 16, the judge focused on Arthur Azen, who was allegedly involved in almost all parts of the Nahmad-Trincher organization and faces up to 115 years in prison and a $2.3 million fine. Prosecutors said that Azen had dispatched mixed martial arts fighters to collect a debt from one client.
In addition, federal prosecutors during Anatoly Golubchik's bail hearing linked the accused Taiwanchik-Trincher conspirator to a 2012 murder-suicide at a hotel near New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. A state attorney said that a shell company used by Golubchik wired $300,000 to Gary Zalevsky the month before Zalevsky shot Brian Weiss five times in the head and then killed himself, and that an unindicted co-conspirator of Golubchik was sitting at a table with the men when the shooting occurred.
White-Collar Niche
The activities of the two Trincher organizations point to wider trends in Russian-speaking organized crime, according to Galeotti. Multiethnic structures with Russians and non-Russian-speaking Americans working together suggest that the era when “the Brighton Beach community (of Russian immigrants in the US) would work only with its own kind” has passed, he said.
The Trincher case also hints at the Russian mafia's growing involvement in sports gambling.
“Now we see an increasingly sophisticated move into sports betting, targeting mainly the Asian market,” Galeotti said. “It goes hand in hand with the mega casino venture in Vladivostok.”
At the same time, the focus on gambling is a tangent to the main mafia activity in North America -- white-collar crime, Galeotti said.
The Trincher case “speaks to the old cliches … smoke-filled rooms of gambling,” he said. “It sets back a growing awareness of what Russian organized crime really means. These days, it's fraud of all kinds.”
Since white-collar crime represents the majority of Russian mafia operations in the United States, the case won't likely have much of a broader chilling effect, he added.
As they did in the Trincher investigation, US authorities, and in particular the US Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence are increasingly able to tackle Russian organized crime by tracking money flows.
A total of 36 people, including several Russian ringleaders, were charged in February 2012 with scheming to defraud automobile insurers out of more than $279 million in accident benefits. In addition, Armenian thief-in-law Armen Kazarian was sentenced to 37 months in prison in February 2013 in connection with what authorities described as the largest Medicare fraud ever.
Although convictions are not guaranteed, the charges leveled in the Trincher case are impressive, said Maurice VerStandig, an attorney at Offit Kurman, in a recent article on PokerNews.com.
“There is not a single 'light' offense contained in the indictment, and any time racketeering is invoked—much less when, as here, it is invoked some four separate times—the caliber of a prosecution can hardly be understated,” VerStandig said.

The FBI-Russia connection

Suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing April 15 in handout photo released on the FBI website, April 18, 2013. REUTERS/FBI/Handout

When the Russian security service in 2011 asked the FBI to check up on Tamerlan Tsarnaev – one of two brothers now suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing – the request would have come as no surprise to a quiet, former FBI special agent in northern California.
Michael di Pretoro had been sent to Moscow in 1994 as the FBI’s first legal attaché, or “legat,” in Russia. He had a daunting task: to establish formal cooperation between the FBI and the Russian police and security services.
The bureau’s hope was that a successful liaison arrangement would help both countries fight Russian organized crime. “There was the issue of loose nukes,” di Pretoro said. “One of my biggest fears was someone would get one of these nuclear weapons and it would cause a catastrophe in the U.S.”
The ex-FBI agent, who now runs his own international consulting business, first persuaded the Russian MVD, which handled criminal investigations, to sign on to the liaison arrangement. Minutes after officially setting up the new office, di Pretoro got a call from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) the agency responsible for counterterrorism and counterintelligence.
“We’d like to talk to you about cooperation,” the FSB caller told him. “We think counterterrorism, that’s an area we can work together on.”
Before the year was out, the FBI man had achieved his goal. “We met with the Russians on a regular basis, on nuclear smuggling, organized crime and counterterrorism,” di Pretoro said. “We would have regular meetings with the FSB and the MVD.” The FBI legat met weekly with the Russian police “and once every two or three weeks with the FSB.”
There was a certain irony in the arrangement because the FSB had been developed out of the notorious KGB, the Soviet security and intelligence service. The second chief directorate of the KGB, which had morphed into the FSB, was also responsible for the surveillance of CIA officers working out of the U.S. embassy in Moscow. So the FSB is the agency in charge of counterespionage   of catching American spies in Russia.
When it serves the interests of both sides, however, the FSB and the FBI have worked together. The CIA was well aware of the arrangement, and in the odd, topsy-turvy world of spies, it has its own relationship with the FSB.
The machinery of cooperation that di Pretoro created paid off in 1995, when a Russian computer hacker in St. Petersburg stole $10 million from Citibank. The hacker and his confederates had been able to penetrate Citibank’s system for electronic transfer of funds and moved money to their own accounts in several countries. The FBI and the Russians, working together, managed to recover all but $400,000 of the stolen money.
The hacker, Vladimir Levin, 28, was arrested while trying to make a connecting flight in London. He was extradited to the United States, pleaded guilty in a trial in New York and was sentenced to three years in prison.
This kind of cooperation was not unusual, and Washington asked questions regularly. “About once a month they [the Russian services] would ask for help,” di Pretoro remembers. “It was much more us asking for their help.” A few years later the Russians put a liaison officer into their embassy in Washington.
When the Russians asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, Moscow said it feared he planned to travel abroad to join Chechen terrorists. The FBI’s Boston field office looked into this, even eventually interviewing Tsarnaev, but concluded that he was not then involved in any extremist activities. That was reported back to the Russians.
The FBI has also said it asked the Russians in 2011 for “more specific or additional information” to aid the bureau in its inquiries. But it did not receive a response.
In the wake of the Boston bombings, the FBI is investigating whether, when Tsarnaev visited Dagestan last year, he had contact with radical Islamic groups.
When di Pretoro used to meet with the Russians, their requests would come in writing and often dealt with fraud and financial crimes, money laundering and sometimes organized crime. But the sort of request for information about Tsarnaev was not that unusual, according to an FBI official familiar with the case.
The FBI has, however, long been cautious about becoming involved in Moscow’s problems with Chechen separatists. When the Russians have tried to enlist bureau help in investigating individual Chechens, the FBI has usually insisted that Moscow show some U.S. connection. Since Tsarnaev was living in Boston and had a green card, there was such a U.S. connection   and the FBI agreed to the Russian request.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama spoke twice by telephone. A White House statement said Obama praised the “close cooperation” Washington has received on counterterrorism from Moscow. Putin has condemned the “disgusting” crime and offered to help Washington. Russian officials have questioned the parents of the Tsarnaev brothers.
Nonetheless, relations between the governments in Washington and Moscow have cooled considerably since the “reset” publicized during the first Obama administration. In the intervening years, Putin has jailed political opponents, cracked down on human rights and other non-governmental Western organizations in Moscow, and banned the adoption of Russian children by American couples. In Syria, Putin continues to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while Obama wants the Syrian leader to step down.
But an FBI official knowledgeable about the framework established by di Pretoro 19 years ago says that the relationship between the bureau and the Russian services does not vary much with changes in the diplomatic winds. “Our cooperation is at the working level,” this FBI official said, “and it is largely unaffected by political developments or diplomatic relations.
“It goes on,” the official said, “because we are directly supporting each others’ investigative interests. I’m not saying there couldn’t be a chill in the air from time to time. But these are largely law enforcement relationships.”
The official went on to explain some details. “They [the Russians] have been helpful on international cyber cases, a lot originating in Estonia, Romania and Russia, and we have worked closely on those cases,” he said. “They involve botnets, denial of service attacks and organized crime money-making schemes.” And as the Russian request to the FBI to investigate Tsarnaev illustrated, the cooperation at times may extend to counterterrorism.
The bureau surely did not imagine that the subject of the routine inquiry would, two years later, become a central figure in the biggest act of terrorism in the United States since September 11, 2001.
However, the Russian request and the FBI investigation and interview with Tsarnaev demonstrate that the liaison arrangements established almost two decades ago are still in place.

Was Canada's Delisle spying for the Russian mob?

It is sobering to discover that when our turncoat Jeffrey Delisle started selling secrets to Russian spymasters, one of his key tasks was to find out what Western intelligence knew about Russian organized crime and its links to their top politicians.
In fact, as Delisle related it to his nonplussed interrogator shortly after his arrest a year ago, his controllers in Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) had faint interest in the traditional secrets of science and technology, but loads of curiosity about our grasp of the who's who within Russia's corrupt elites.
"They were interested in organized crime and who in Russia is connect to the, you know, to the party … their political players," Delisle said in his only publicly available statement.
It was a comment that passed without being widely reported, but it is not something that should surprise anyone.
The reality of President Vladimir Putin's Russia is that all the levers of power are at least partially shared with one of the largest, richest and most ruthless organized crime cultures on Earth. This sharing very much includes the spy agencies.
As a character warns in A.D. Miller's powerful novel of Russia today, Snowdrops, the country produces no stories of politics, or business, or love. For now, "there are only crime stories."

The 'authorities'
What distinguishes Russian organized crime is its extraordinary rise since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, to the point where it has taken over much of Russia's economic life while also merging into state structures.

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A more sophisticated generation of crime bosses, known as the avtoritety (the authorities), wield enormous influence within government, all the while continuing to gorge on worldwide profits from drugs and gun running, human trafficking, extortion, bank fraud and every form of racketeering.
They have a hand in everything, from running most of the heroin trade out of Afghanistan, to attempts, recently disclosed, to fix hundreds of World Cup and European soccer matches.
Investigations by European nations suggest that the Russian state and mob are co-dependent, a virtual mafia state.
One big investigation in 2011 by Spain's organized crime prosecutor, Jose Grinda Gonzales, concluded that Russia's domestic and foreign spy services, including the GRU, "control organized crime in Russia."
Others won't go that far, but they do wonder who really calls the shots, the bureaucrats or their mobster allies.
Too murky
Mark Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University and a leading expert in the relationship between Russian espionage and crime, says the relationship is murky but clearly entwined.
"It's quite clear that in some cases, organized crime works as another agency, shall we say, of Russian intelligence," Galeotti says. "And at times it's clear that Russian spies end up frankly doing the dirty work for Russian gangsters."
That brings us to an overlooked question in the Delisle spy scandal.
Was his role for the GRU, at least in part, to gain the secret intel of Western security — including CSIS, the RCMP, the FBI and British intelligence — in order to protect and promote Russian criminal activities around the world?
If Russian authorities had wanted to know what the Canadians knew about certain Russian gangsters, all they would have had to do was ask Interpol or the Canadian government, who would have felt obliged to help, Galeotti notes.
"At least as likely, the Russian gangsters wanted to know what the Canadians knew about them," he suggests. "So in this respect, you actually have information that helps the underworld that is being gathered by a spy." Without being traced through any formal channels.

Computer hackers extraordinaire
To be clear, the GRU serves other political masters besides mobsters, and so Delisle was also paid to deliver vast amounts of secrets stolen from the communications of Canada and its closest allies.
Still, it looks as if Delisle was being asked for information that could help guard criminal interests and corrupt politicians from Western surveillance, or that might have proved useful leverage in Moscow's perennial power struggles.
The connection between the worlds of intelligence and organized crime is real, according to numerous criminology studies. And it is becoming increasingly alarming for countries that deal with Moscow, especially when the most sophisticated form of spying — cyber-espionage — is involved.
According to some watchers, many of Russia's brilliant computer hackers were recruited directly for intelligence work from large organized crime families in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Unlike most criminal fraternities, Russian ones encouraged clever young wonks early on, so long as they produce results.
Today, these young hackers are particularly feared by European and American corporations, banks, science centres and militaries because of their ability to break through secret walls.
Ron Deibert, head of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, tracks computer abuse by governments and feels Russian espionage is quite distinct.
"The Russian cybercrime underworld is extraordinarily complex and very adept," Deibert says. "What makes Russia distinctive is the exploitation of the criminal underground.
"The Putin regime is fairly described as a kleptocratic regime and there's a toleration of criminal activities that are used for political purposes or private purposes … and that extends to the cyber-criminal underground."
Canadian Sub-Lt. Delisle was a long-time intelligence officer and he would have known, when he chose the GRU to spy for, that it was not a soft organization to deal with.
He should have known what he was getting into, but in any case soon discovered he was trapped.
"And then there's no way I could have gone back," he told his interrogator, and the words pour out: "They had all my information, they had photos of me, they had a photo of my children and I knew exactly what it was for ... they imply it."
It's also interesting to note that in the later stages of his work, the GRU wanted Delisle to become "a pigeon," the term used for a spy sent around to pass on messages to other hidden spies in the network.
He became convinced there were many of them here and that Ottawa "was swarming with GRU."
The FBI would likely agree, having arrested more than 22 sleeper agents in the U.S. just in the last couple of years.
Today, there is considerable speculation in intelligence circles as to why Canada, once it had been alerted by the FBI about Delisle's treason, didn't try to turn him into a double agent to feed the GRU misleading intel and to draw secret agents into a trap. Burn some fingers, in other words.
In the end, we simply scooped Delisle up and just gave the Russian Embassy the mildest possible tap on the wrist.
Was it because we just don't do that kind of counterespionage operation? Or was it because our government has no stomach for getting into so risky an espionage duel, essentially with the Mob?

Russian Gangster Mani Chulpayev Arrested In Murder Of Rapper Lil Phat

Russian-born gangster and famous turncoat Mani Chulpayev was arrested yesterday on suspicion of ordering the murder of American rapper Lil Phat, according to a report by Ria Novosti.
Melvin Vernell III, aka Lil Phat, was a 19-year-old southern rapper with a promising career. He was gunned down in a parking lot of a hospital while waiting for his child to be born in what authorities described as a planned attack.
“The alleged motive for the murder was drugs and other ‘business’ dealings in which the suspects were involved,” the office of Atlanta’s district attorney, Paul Howard, said in a statement provided to RIA Novosti.
Chulpayev, who came to Brighton Beach from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, got his start in Russian gangs known as “brigades.” After being arrested in 1998, he cooperated with federal officials and helped bring down a slew of Russian mobsters.
He testified to being “the money handler and the scheme organizer” for a crime group that US authorities called the “Gufield-Kutsenko Brigade,” The New York Times reported in 2002.
“I came up with the scams,” Chulpayev testified, the Times reported.
Chulpayev’s decision to turn state’s evidence, which led to dozens of convictions of members of Eurasian crime groups in the United States, so impressed authorities that he was granted time served for his admitted crimes in 2002.
In handing down the sentence, US federal judge Nina Gershon called Chulpayev’s crimes “chilling and inhuman” but said he proved to be “one of the most valuable witnesses in the history of the government’s battle against Russian organized crime,” the New York Daily News reported at the time.
After Chulpayev’s extraordinary level of cooperation with US authorities, he became a protected witness but again found himself on the wrong side of the law, this time getting busted in a car stealing conspiracy. Just like before, he flipped, ratted out the larger players and received a reduced sentence.
Now with Chulpayev suspected of orchestrating a murder, there will be little room for leniency.
“Murder – and especially from someone who may seem to be a serial recidivist – is treated very seriously,” Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian crime networks told RIA Novosti.