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Russian Organized Crime (ROC)

The term “Russian organized crime” (ROC) refers to criminal groups from the 15 republics which comprised the former Soviet Union. ROC has existed for 20 years in the United States but during the last five years law enforcement authorities have observed a distinct increase in their criminal activities. Criminals from the former Soviet Union have established their networks in major cities and are also emerging in some smaller cities. ROC groups are involved in murder, money laundering, extortion, auto theft, weapons smuggling, narcotics trafficking, prostitution, counterfeiting currency, and a multitude of complex fraud schemes.

ROC in the United States evolved in Brighton Beach, New York, which at one time was a small Russian immigrant community. During the 1970s and the early 1980s, the Soviet government liberalized its immigration policy which allowed its citizens to immigrate and travel freely. Approximately 200,000 Soviet citizens immigrated to the United States to escape religious persecution which they had endured during the 70 years of communist rule. It was during this time that many Soviet criminals came to the United States under the guise of fleeing this religious oppression. Additionally, some United States government officials suspect that the KGB emptied their prisons of hard-core criminals much like Cuban dictator Fidel Castro did during the Mariel boat-lift in 1980.

After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, many Russian criminals and organized crime figures fled to the United States. By 1992, Russian authorities had alerted U.S. law enforcement officials of the arrival in New York of Vyatcheslav Ivankov, identified as a leader of the "Thieves in Law," which is a traditional-style organized crime group that predated communism in 1917. The “Thieves in Law” obeys a code of conduct much like the traditional LCN. This group existed throughout the Soviet era and is a formidable threat there today.

Ivankov spent approximately ten years in a Russian prison before bribing his way out. Russian authorities speculated that Ivankov came to the United States to organize the existing networks of Russian criminals operating within the United States, including California. He was arrested in June 1995 in New York for attempting to extort $3.5 million from an investment firm operated by two Russian emigres. In January 1997, Ivankov was sentenced to over nine years in prison for conspiracy to commit extortion.

Law enforcement authorities have identified varying levels of organization and sophistication among these criminal networks, ranging from professional organizations with an identifiable structure to loosely aligned criminal networks and amateur criminals who periodically assist in criminal activities. The professional groups generally have an established allegiance to a leader and follow a criminal code.

The loosely aligned criminal networks are in a continual state of transformation and are highly mobile. Members are opportunistic and form with one particular criminal scheme in mind. Once the scheme is completed, they disperse and re-form to commit other crimes. Allegiances may change to accommodate a current scheme or if it is of monetary advantage. These groups may have recruited ex-KGB and military personnel who posses the skills and training necessary to avoid detection and arrest.

Frauds are the core of these groups’ criminal activities and involve the theft and use of stolen credit cards, insurance schemes involving staged auto accidents and/or false billings for medical treatment, theft of excise taxes in the fuel industry, theft of telecommunications signals (used to clone cellular telephones), and immigration fraud.

Sources and Resources

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Created by John Pike
Maintained by Steven Aftergood
Updated August 19, 2002