circles to have a criminal lineage that could be traced to Meyer Lansky, the mobster who once boasted that the Mafia was bigger than U.S. Steel. According to Brighton Beach gangster Vladimir Ginzberg, the Russian mobsters, out of deference, call the energetic, silver-haired Seidle Stariyk, the Russian word for "old man." (Seidle denies that he knew Lansky or has ever done business with organized crime.) Brent Eaton, a veteran DEA agent, says that Seidle has been under investigation by numerous federal agencies for more than twenty years, although he has never been indicted. "Bill Seidle is a great guy," William Lehman, a former Democratic congressman, told me. Lehman, who represented South Florida for twenty years, said Seidle "enjoyed Tarzan's out-rageousness. I've know Bill for fifty years and he's always run a kosher business. There are no blemishes."
Seidle took a shine to Tarzan the moment they met. "Tarzan was a boisterous, big-mouthed Yiddel," Seidle told me in a Yiddish drawl, one hot, buggy day in Miami. "He's a Jewboy, you know. Just a big-mouth kid, always bragging, boisterous, but very nice, very kind ... I would describe him as a very, very dear friend. I was close to him. He was close to our family. They loved Tarzan. They think a lot of him. They still feel the same."
Seidle saw in Tarzan a younger version of himself: a bold risk-taker, not adverse to crossing the line. The men decided that there was a lot of money to be made in the "pussy" business so Seidle staked the young Russian to Porky's for a hidden share of the off-the-book profits, assert court documents. Seidle admits only that he collected rent from the club as its landlord, and he denies receiving club profits.
Tarzan's criminal ambitions did not stop with Porky's. According to government wiretap affidavits, Tarzan cultivated vast fields of hemp in the Everglades, with giant grow
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lights and a landing strip. Tarzan boasted to at least two government undercover agents that he was using aircraft to ferry in tons of marijuana from Jamaica. He allegedly even recruited his geeky-looking younger brother, Alex, to mule seven large, green garbage bags stuffed with marijuana from New York City to Porky's. "Alex was so afraid of being robbed that immediately after receiving the drugs, he spent the night in a New York City hotel rather than at his own home; he then drove the entire trip without stopping for the night because he was convinced that he would be apprehended carrying the drugs," asserts a federal wiretap affidavit.
Marijuana was, for Tarzan, a gateway drug. Before long, he had moved on to cocaine. At the time, the Russian Mafiya had little contact with the Colombian drug cartels, though they were eager to remedy that failing. Tarzan helped forge a connection, brokering cocaine deals between the Colombians and the most powerful mob family in St. Petersburg. In one instance, according to the DEA, he smuggled more than one hundred kilos of cocaine in crates of freeze-dried shrimp that were flown from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to St. Petersburg. He also ran coke directly out of Miami, a charge he hotly denies. The street price for cocaine in Russia was $60,000 per kilo; for every kilo, Tarzan made a thousand dollars.
Tarzan's principal link to the Colombians came through two men, Juan Almeida and Fernando Birbragher. Almeida, thirty-seven years old and the son of a Portuguese-born Miami real estate and construction mogul, had been a major cocaine dealer since the mid-1980s. He supervised the tricky contacts with the Colombian drug cartels using his luxury car rental shops, a posh marina, and other businesses he owned as covers for his illicit activities. Birbragher, meanwhile, was a Colombian and a
friend of Seidle, and had had excellent ties to the Cali cartel. In 1982, he admitted in a plea bargain that he had washed $54 million for them. "Birbragher was very close friends with Pablo Escobar," says the DEA's Brent Eaton. "He [Birbragher] used to buy him [Escobar] sports cars and luxury boats and do a lot of other things for him." Top DEA officials assert that Birbragher also laundered drug money for Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian leader, who was convicted in 1992 of drug trafficking.
Working closely with Almeida, who assured him that they wouldn't run afoul of the law as long as they didn't sell drugs in America, Tarzan vaulted, precociously, to the top tier of his profession. His cocaine business was doing so well that he found himself fending off hostile takeovers from other Russian mobsters eager to exploit the new cocaine trade with the Colombians. One of them was the man in charge of Ivankov's street operations in the United States, who tried to move in on Tarzan's thriving business shortly after the vor's arrest. His name was Alexander Bor, otherwise known as Timoka. During a sit-down at the Russian banya, or bathhouse, at Miami's Castle Beach Hotel, Tarzan turned the tables on Timoka, declaring that he wanted Timoka to pay him $15,000 a month in protection money to do business in Miami. "Get fucked," Timoka sneered.
Luckily for Tarzan, Timoka made a grave error while in Miami when he put out the word that he was looking for professional hit men to rub out the two New York-based FBI agents who had captured Ivankov. A snitch passed the death threats on to the FBI, which put so much heat on Timoka that he abandoned his recently built $500,000 house in Massapequa, Long Island, and fled to Germany.
Unchallenged, Tarzan proudly sat astride a dominion
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of crime, smugly holding court for visiting Russian dons, who often sought relief in Miami from the vicious mob wars raging at home. One of the most powerful dons was Anzor Kikalishvili, who bragged over an FBI wire that he had more than six hundred "soldiers" in South Florida. In May 1994, Tarzan introduced Kikalishvili to the owners of a local bagel shop and deli. Kikalishvili, flaunting gold chains, gold rings, and an Armani suit, bragged about his powerful Mafiya connections in Moscow. He then "persuaded" the couple to sell him 49 percent of the deli for a very low price, and to pay him $25,000 every month, for his protection. "That's how it's done in Russia," he said. Terrified, the owners sold their share of the deli for $50,000, a fraction of its worth. Three months later, Kikalishvili visited the couple and ordered them to buy the restaurant back for $450,000. He assured them that if he left their home empty-handed, there would be an additional $100,000 penalty, and warned that he could "find them anywhere in the world and skin them like an animal." The couple fled in terror to Canada with their children. Tarzan took over the deli with Kikalishvili as his silent partner.
After extortion, Tarzan's second favorite sport was degrading women. He once bound onto Porky's stage during a burlesque show and dove into the muff of a blond stripper. He was arrested for performing a "lewd and lascivious" act, and fined $250. In his defense, Tarzan claimed that the stripper had opened her legs "a little more than the law allows." In an incident filmed by the FBI from the roof of a building across the street from Porky's, Tarzan chased a dancer out of the club and knocked her cold. On another occasion, he slammed a dancer to the ground in Porky's parking lot, stomped on her face, and forced her to eat gravel. He once beat his mistress's head against the steering
wheel of his Mercedes until the space under the gas pedal pooled with blood. After he impregnated another woman, he ordered his cousin to threaten to slit her throat if she didn't have an abortion. He also regularly abused his common-law wife, Faina, a frail, thirty-three-year-old beauty. When the police arrived at their home in response to 911 calls, she'd quiver in fear, sometimes huddled inside a locked car with her daughter. Faina never pressed charges, however. In 1997, a few minutes after dropping her daughter off at day care, Faina was killed when her car plowed into a tree traveling at a speed of more than 90 miles an hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone. Her blood alcohol level was double the legal limit. The coroner's office ruled that the death was an accident, although the feds initially suspected that Tarzan had murdered Faina and arranged her death to look like an accident.
Tarzan denied that he killed Faina, but conceded that his behavior drove her to her death. If that behavior perturbed him, however, he didn't show it, but rather bragged that he was a sex machine, and Faina couldn't accommodate it. For instance, he claims he owned a "couples club" where he often spent evenings servicing wives in front of their voyeuristic husbands. He'd take out four or five buxom strippers at a time sailing on his thirty-four-foot yacht; while his baby daughter scooted around the galley, the adults orgied. He boasted that he could thumb through any adult magazine—Hustler, Playboy, Penthouse—"call my agent, get the girl to the club, and then take her out and fuck her brains out. . . . You can't believe the ego boost this gives you. I was addicted to sex."
Meanwhile, Tarzan and Juan Almeida saw a way to get even tighter with the Colombians—by hooking them up with Russian gear. They had access to Russian military hardware, from aircraft to armored personnel carriers to sub-
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marines. Such goods were shockingly easy to come by in the armed forces of the former Soviet empire if you knew who to talk to. Russian armories, stored in physically deteriorating facilities, and guarded by indifferent, bribable soldiers, were easy pickings for the Mafiya. *
On Halloween day 1992, Tarzan traveled to Latvia, where he told the Colombians that he had Russian organized crime contacts who could help him procure six heavy-lift Russian military helicopters for Pablo Escobar, who wanted the machines to ferry chemicals to jungle labs that refined coke. Tarzan bragged to DEA undercover agents that Seidle financed 10 percent of the trip, an assertion Seidle denies. Tarzan was escorted by Almeida, Fernando Birbragher, and a host of Colombian and Cuban cutthroats.
* Russian military materiel moving through organized crime channels has already begun to result in the spread of former Soviet weapons to militants, nationalists, and criminals throughout the world, says a confidential threat assessment report about the Russian Mafiya prepared by the U S Department of Energy In the first half of 1992, 25,000 firearms were reported missing from military depots, including 2,000 AK series rifles, AK-74SU assault carbines, and medium and heavy support weapons In December 1992, police seized 768 firearms, including seven grenade launchers, 574 submachine guns, and 159 pistols Near the Black Sea port of Adler, police detained a high-speed boat carrying two missile launchers, a machine gun, two grenade launchers, and four submachine guns
In 1997, two Lithuanians linked to the Russian mob were arrested in Miami trying to sell tactical nuclear weapons and Bulgarian-made shoulder-held antiaircraft missiles to U S Customs undercover agents posing as drug smugglers The Lithuanians were caught on audio- and videotape negotiating the sale in a series of meetings in seedy hotels in London and Miami The Customs agents didn't have the $330,000 asking price for the antiaircraft missiles, so the mobsters sold the weapons to Iran
Russian mobsters have also attempted to traffic weapons-grade fissionable material, using a global distribution network to smuggle it to renegade states and drug cartels, say officials from the Energy Department, the FBI, and the CIA There have been at least sixteen cases in which police have interdicted plutonium or highly enriched uranium coming out of the former Soviet bloc since 1992 In one instance, approximately six pounds of fissionable material stolen from Russia was seized in Prague in December 1994 On September 24, 1999, a cache of stolen uranium was intercepted by Georgian authorities near the Georgian-Turkish border
The trip was a bust, and Almeida and Birbragher blamed it on Tarzan. "Tarzan is an idiot,' Almeida told me with disgust. "He didn't know anybody."
But in mid-1993 Tarzan scored in Moscow. According to the DEA, he and Almeida succeeded in purchasing up to six MI8 Russian military helicopters for $1 million each. Tarzan later boasted to government undercover agents that he had bought the helicopters to traffic coke for "Colombian drug barons" headed by Pablo Escobar, and, after the deal was completed, he stayed behind in Moscow to oversee the final details. At the request of the Colombians, the helicopters' seats were removed and fuel bladders were added to extend their range, Tarzan later told a government undercover agent. With everything set, Tarzan escorted the helicopters to an airport outside Moscow. But just as they were being loaded into the belly of a cargo plane bound for Bogota, according to one of the key participants, half a dozen jeeps carrying men armed with automatic weapons roared onto the tarmac, encircling the transport. Tarzan was ordered to disgorge his precious shipment immediately. He had foolishly neglected to pay the local airport Mafiya for permission to purchase the helicopters. They threatened to kill him for it. He was hauled into a conference room at the airport to meet the two main mobsters. "They were like heavy weightlifters," he told me. "Their shorts were small on them. They were incredible hulks. I was in deep shit." But the Colombians held a certain mystique for the Russians, and by alluding to his close connections with them Tarzan was able to buy some valuable time.
Desperate, Tarzan called Anzor Kikalishvili in Miami. Kikalishvili said he'd make some calls and try to smooth things over, but Tarzan would have to explain why he hadn't cut the "boys" in for a share. In another series of frantic
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transatlantic phone calls, Tarzan related the mess to a smoldering Almeida. Almeida advised Tarzan to tell the Russians that the helicopters were for the legendary head of the Medellin cartel, Pablo Escobar, and that no one had told him that he was required to pay a bribe to get the equipment. Tarzan and Almeida hoped that the Russians, who still had little direct experience with the Colombians and the cocaine trade, might make an exception for Escobar— especially since Tarzan had dangled the carrot of future cocaine deals. If Escobar wanted the choppers, they replied, he'd have to show his face in Moscow and recover them himself.
Almeida decided that the only way to retrieve the helicopters— and save Tarzan—was to go to Moscow posing as Pablo Escobar. At Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, Almeida was welcomed by a motorcade of thick-necked men driving big black Mercedes. He was escorted like a head of state to a five-star hotel in the center of the city, and led into a dark-paneled room, where more thick-necked men sat around a long conference table. Almeida walked past them to the head of the table where the don presided. There was a nervous silence. Suddenly, the Russian seized him in a bear hug, and cried, "Pablo, Pablo Escobar. What took you so long? Let's do some real shit. Cocaine."
To celebrate their new friendship, the Russians took Almeida and Tarzan out for a night on the town. They went to a dingy boxing ring called the Kamikaze Club, where chain-smoking mobsters and their girlfriends, dressed in American designer gowns, had gathered to watch a match. Young men dressed in street clothes were led into the ring. Mafiya rules: only one could walk out alive. Blood spattered the crowd as spectators placed bets on their favorite combatant, and swilled vodka. In order to show that he was
a high roller, Almeida ordered Tarzan to bet $500 on every fight, which was a lot of money in Russia at the time. The spectacle went on through the night. There was no air-conditioning in the club and the stench of blood, Tarzan says, nearly made him vomit. Mortally injured boxers, their mouths half open, their ribs broken, were dragged from the mat and dumped in a landfill somewhere outside the city. The following day, Tarzan was permitted to fly the valuable cargo out of Moscow. Tarzan claims that the helicopters were immediately delivered to the drug barons.
Tarzan's crime wave was not passing unnoticed back in the United States. Alarmed at the scale and rapid expansion of his and other Russian mobsters' operations, the state of Florida and a slew of federal law enforcement agencies, working with liaison officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the German Federal Police, and the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, set up a task force called Operation Odessa to try to stem the criminal red tide.
Operation Odessa's guiding force was a Russian-born sergeant on the Miami police force, who posed as a corrupt undercover narcotics cop. He had succeeded in winning the mob's confidence, infiltrating some of its most closely guarded sit-downs. What he discovered horrified him. In a few short years the Russians, through an unprecedented combination of brains, brawn, and chutzpah, had replaced the Gambino family, which had been decimated by years of relentless prosecutions, as one of the top crime groups in South Florida. "Their obvious sophistication far exceeds that of the La Cosa Nostra at its infant stage," the bearded, professorial Miami assistant U.S. attorney Richard Gregory, one of Operation Odessa's founders, told me in Miami. "Tarzan was the original top Russian figure in Miami as far as law enforcement was concerned."
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Operation Odessa's agents had so far been unable to infiltrate Tarzan's close-knit world. That assignment fell to Tarzan's old friend from Brighton Beach, Grecia Roizes, who had by this time acquired his nickname "the Cannibal." (A booking sergeant in Brooklyn had called him "a fucking dirty Jew,' and he'd bitten off the tip of the man's nose.)
Roizes had also acquired a debt to the DEA. In 1992, he was arrested in Romania for trafficking heroin for Boris Nayfeld's French Connection-sized operation based in Antwerp. Rather than rot in a Romanian prison, where he claimed to have been beaten and denied his heart medication, the Cannibal made a deal with the DEA. First, he ratted on the members of the heroin-smuggling operation, helping the feds shut it down. After that, the DEA dispatched him to the Adriatic port town of Fano, Italy, where he became partners with his longtime friend Monya Elson. Elson was running a vast money laundering business out of a furniture store for Semion Mogilevich. Thanks to the Cannibal, Elson was arrested by Italian authorities in 1995. He was held for murder, money laundering, drug trafficking, and for having ties to the Italian mob. "They kept me in total isolation for eighteen months," Elson bitterly complained. "Five times a day, seven days a week, they shook my cell. They drove me nuts. I never spoke on the phone. I never had an American or Russian newspaper. Psychologically, they destroyed me."
While Elson was incommunicado, the Cannibal's next assignment was in Miami. He had no trouble getting close to Tarzan. "The Cannibal and I were like brothers," Tarzan told me. "We grew up in the same town in the Ukraine and lived on the same street in Israel. Our families were close. He's the one who helped me when I arrived in Brighton Beach. He loved me."
Using $72,000 in cash supplied by the DEA, the Cannibal bought a managing partnership in Tarzan's restaurant Babushka. Situated in one of Miami's many strip malls, Babushka had a loyal following among Russian emigres who were homesick for borscht, caviar, and kabobs. A local reviewer once described Babushka's staff as "direct from Petrograd central casting. ... A man/bear who resembles a general. A Ural-sized cook. A Rasputin-look-alike waiter."
But even in this theme park of a Russian mob joint, the Cannibal's conduct stood out as ostentatious and vulgar. Not only did he bring in his friends, flirt with the waitresses, and pay for everything on the house, but he seemed to be trying to bring Babushka down, according to Paul, a slender, Russian-born piano player and songwriter who performed at Babushka with his wife, Nelli, a singer.
"On New Year's Eve, he came in drunk and high on cocaine, and was crude and loud," said Paul. "His behavior was unbelievably bad. New Year's Eve is a big, big celebration for the Russians. They buy presents, new clothes, jewelry. He had nothing ready for the restaurant." Babushka's New Year's Eve parties were renowned for generous spreads of seafood, caviar, grilled meats, plenty of champagne and vodka, and great Russian music. "For 250 people, we had fewer than a hundred lobsters, almost no shrimp, no bread. There was almost no food on the table. Some people left at 12:30, 1:00 A.M. I said to Tarzan, 'You let him be partner for this?' And Tarzan said, 'I'm desperate for money.'
"Tarzan had a big boat," Paul went on. "I'm the only one who knew how to use the fishing rod. One day the three of us"—Tarzan, Paul, and the Cannibal—"were going fishing, and I said we needed to buy lines and hooks. We went into a bait shop and the Cannibal didn't buy too much. He got on the boat and he emptied his pockets, which were filled
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with lines, hooks, all kinds of things which he had stolen," including a fisherman's cap. "My face went red. He said, 'Ah, I always do it. It's fun for me.'"
Paul and Nelli weren't the only ones who were disturbed by the Cannibal's corrosive presence. The Brook-lynite gangster Vladimir Ginzberg, who, according to court documents, was a key operative in Tarzan's large-scale cigarette bootlegging operation on the East Coast, had repeatedly alerted Tarzan that the Cannibal was working for the feds.
"I warned Tarzan about the rumors—that he did in Elson, and the others," Ginzberg said. "Tarzan didn't listen. So I asked Tarzan why he trusted him. He said they were both from the same town. He knew his father. He had his friends checked out. And he had a cruel criminal past. That counts for a lot. And Tarzan didn't have a comparable past—and Tarzan wasn't so smart. He had steroids for brains. He had a big-muscle peanut brain."
With Tarzan's confidence secured, the Cannibal began his work. One day, a man named Alexander Yasevich walked into Babushka. The Cannibal embraced him like a long-lost comrade. "Hey, how ya doing?" he said over hugs and kisses. Tarzan, who was in the restaurant, sauntered over to meet the stranger. Tarzan recognized Yasevich from the old neighborhood in Brighton Beach. Yasevich had moved there from Odessa as a teen. But unbeknownst to Tarzan, Yasevich had joined the Marines, and then became an undercover agent for the DEA.
"The agent's cover was that he was an arms dealer and heroin dealer out of New York," says Miami-based DEA spokesperson Pam Brown, who was once part of an elite squad that interdicted drugs in the jungles of Peru and Colombia. "Tarzan immediately started running his mouth, telling him what a big shot he was, that he and his
associates had politicians in their pockets." Many of their gab fests were on Tarzan's boat or in upscale restaurants. The men consumed a prodigious amount of a volatile concoction of ice-cold vodka and Japanese saki poured over a raw quail's egg. The first time Yasevich's girlfriend, who was also an undercover agent, drank the potion, she puked.
The drinking and kibitzing paid off. Yasevich learned that Tarzan was in the midst of executing his biggest caper yet: the purchase of a $100 million, Soviet-era, diesel-powered submarine for Pablo Escobar.
When Tarzan was first asked to procure the submarine, it unnerved him. The Russian helicopters had nearly cost him his life. But this time, he made sure to clear the deal through Anzor Kikalishvili, and he traveled to the former Soviet Union with Almeida dozens of times, looking for a submarine. Finally, through the most powerful crime boss in St. Petersburg, they met corrupt, high-ranking Russian military officers who took them to the front gate of Kron-stadt, a sprawling naval base in the Baltic, where numerous untended diesel submarines bobbed on their sides, spewing waste into the polluted ocean. Anything is available in Russia, former CIA official Richard Palmer told me. The Soviet fleet is rotting and the sailors haven't been paid for months.
Initially, the Miamians wanted to buy a huge attack submarine for the Colombians' East Coast drug trade. But a retired Russian captain told them they should instead operate on the Pacific Coast, where America's anti-submarine net was less effective. He suggested that they buy a small, diesel-powered Piranha-class submarine, which is made of titanium and is much quieter. The Piranhas, with a range of one thousand kilometers, are used to plant saboteurs, troops, and spies behind enemy lines. The captain told
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Tarzan that he had slipped the submarine past the Americans during the Cuban missile crisis.
They finally agreed on a ninety-foot-long Foxtrot-class attack submarine that drug lords calculated could carry up to forty tons of cocaine. The Colombians planned to base the sub, which would be demilitarized and retrofitted to resemble an oceanographic research vessel, in Panama. From there, it would transport the drugs underwater to a mother ship near San Diego and outside the United States's territorial waters. The mother ship would then deliver the coke to ports along the Pacific coast. A consortium of St. Petersburg mobsters and two active-duty admirals wanted $20 million for the vessel, which was built in 1992 for $100 million. Tarzan negotiated its price down to $5.5 million, of which he was to take home $1 million. The Russians wanted the money passed through a dummy company in Europe in order to give the Russian politicians who okayed the purchase plausible deniability. Tarzan hired the retired captain for $500 a month and secured a crew of seventeen for a two-year contract. Tarzan even got permission to take several photographs of the vessel to send to the Colombians. At a party at a dacha, the godfather of St. Petersburg, a man called Misha, made a side deal with Tarzan to procure cocaine from Miami for $30,000 a kilo, far above Tarzan's $4,000 cost. To Tarzan, everything looked good.
On Tuesday, January 21, 1997, just after Tarzan dropped off his daughter at the William and Miriam Tauber Day Care Center, he was stopped in his gleaming white 1996 Jaguar convertible by a marked Metro-Dade Police Department vehicle in the Aventura area of Miami. As he spoke with the officers, DEA agent Brent Eaton and Detective Joseph McMahon, who had been trailing him in an unmarked car, approached. Eaton and McMahon introduced themselves and invited him to join them in their car.
They told Tarzan that he was in trouble and would be arrested. They asked him to take a ride with them to a secure location, where they and a few other officers could speak with him confidentially about his predicament. Tarzan agreed, saying, "I'm a nicer person than you probably thought. I haven't done anything wrong."
When they arrived at the interview site, a DEA training room near Miami International Airport, Tarzan was offered a seat at a table and given a cup of coffee. He was not handcuffed or restrained in any manner. Michael McShane, a DEA inspector, offered him a chance to work with the government rather than be arrested. Tarzan replied that he could be very useful to the government, but was not well acquainted with U.S. laws and preferred to consult with his attorney before making a decision. Eaton told Tarzan that wasn't a wise decision since his lawyer represented other targets of the investigation. "I thought you would tell me what you have and ask me questions," Tarzan said, according to a transcript of the interrogation. "I don't know what to say because I don't know what you think I have done."
McMahon asked Tarzan if he had ever bought liquor for Porky's or for Babushka from any source other than a legitimate wholesaler or liquor store. "Never!" Tarzan declared emphatically.
"What about your relationship with Anzor Kikalishvili?" the detective asked.
"Anzor, I know nothing about what he does in Russia," Tarzan claimed. "I met him at my club. He is a sex maniac, always looking for girls. I helped him once when he opened a bagel store in Aventura." Tarzan did admit that he had once picnicked with Kikalishvili.
"Tell us about your activities with Juan Almeida," McMahon said.
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"I don't know what he is up to," Tarzan said. "He speaks Spanish most of the time."
"You mean you travel all over the world with Almeida and you don't know what he's up to?"
"Yes," Tarzan replied.
"You know that those airplanes and helicopters you get go to Colombian drug traffickers," McMahon said angrily.
"They go to legitimate people," Tarzan insisted.
When the officers accused him of lying, Tarzan replied, "Maybe I should go to jail, then find out what you have." The agents had had enough. They handcuffed him, placed him under arrest, and drove him to the DEA processing room, where he was fingerprinted, photographed, and allowed to call his attorney.
Almeida surrendered to the authorities several days later. Not only had Tarzan talked about his activities with Almeida to various undercover agents, but he had even introduced Almeida to Yasevich, the DEA undercover agent, at La Carreta restaurant, in Miami. At the time, Almeida told the agent that he represented a client with unlimited funds who was interested in buying a Russian diesel submarine for illicit purposes, although he said with a laugh that the vessel was going to be used to transport stolen gold from the Philippines. Almeida, a suave man with a salesman's charm, told me the sub was intended for an underwater museum in South Florida. After he was arrested, his lawyer, Roy Black, said that the sub was intended to carry tourists around the Galapagos Islands. As for the Russian helicopters, Almeida claimed the aircraft were actually contracted by Helitaxi, a legitimate Bogota-based company, to do heavy lifting at oil rigs in South America. Helitaxi's president, Byron Lopez, is banned from the United States by the State Department because he has allegedly laundered money for drug lords.
The investigation produced 530 wiretapped conversations in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Spanish. On the tapes and in conversations with the undercover agents, Tarzan constantly implicated himself and others in numerous crimes. "We caught Tarzan bragging to our undercover agent about how he was hooked up with the Colombian drug lords, and how everything he was doing was for Colombian drug lords, and that he was getting the submarine for the same people that he got the helicopters for," DEA agent Eaton says. "A lot of that is on tape."
Louis Terminello, Tarzan's civil lawyer, insists that the only thing that Tarzan is guilty of is having a big mouth. "It's the high school kid who wants the high school girl to believe that he's got the biggest dick in the world."
After months of sullen denial, Tarzan decided to cooperate. "He's admitted to everything," DEA agent Pam Brown told me several months after his arrest. "He keeps saying, 'Well, this would have all been legal in Russia.'" For eleven months, Tarzan was kept in the snitch ward at Miami's Federal Detention Center blabbing about Russian mobsters and Latino drug lords. After negotiating at least six proffer agreements, the galled feds cut him loose to stand trial. Not only couldn't they corroborate much of his information, but he said that he would never testify unless he was released on bail. There was little likelihood of that happening. The feds had a good idea what Tarzan would do: a government wiretap picked up several powerful Israeli drug dealers in Miami discussing plans to help Tarzan flee to Israel, which does not extradite its nationals.
Finally, Tarzan, who faced a possible life sentence, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, including conspiracy to sell cocaine, heroin, and a submarine, and sundry other
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crimes. He testified against Almeida—who was convicted of importing and distributing cocaine and attempting to buy a Russian submarine for Colombian drug kingpins to further the drug conspiracy. (The charge of purchasing heavy-lift helicopters for the Colombians was dropped.) "Tarzan's big mouth ruined my life," Almeida says mournfully. According to a well-placed government source, Almeida, who is awaiting sentencing, has taken out contracts on the judge and the prosecution team.
As for the man who helped the feds the most, Grecia Roizes, the Cannibal, looked as if he had not a care in the world as he stood erect, his Popeye-like arms bulging through a lime green knit polo shirt, calmly awaiting sentencing in the ornate marble courthouse in lower Manhattan. On July 8, 1998, Federal District Court Judge John Keenan waived his jail time as a reward for services rendered to the government, and Cannibal set up a furniture business outside Naples, Italy.
About a year later, Roizes was in trouble again: he was arrested by the Italian police in Bologna for associating with the Italian Mafia, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, and smuggling. Most of his victims were small-time Russian entrepreneurs in Italy. Some of his illicit gains were allegedly passed through the Bank of New York. Apparently, while working for the DEA, the Cannibal had also been running a thriving criminal empire in Italy.
The Russian mob in South Florida today is the hub of a sophisticated and ruthless operation. But Ludwig Fainberg is no longer a participant. On October 14, 1999, after living in America for seventeen years, Tarzan was deported to Israel, with $1,500 in his pocket. He had served a mere thirty-three month prison term. His light sentence was in return for his cooperation, which reportedly included
providing intelligence on several alleged Russian mob heavyweights.
Even as he awaited deportation, Tarzan's enthusiasm was irrepressible. "I love this country!" he told me. "It's so easy to steal here!" He was already cooking up a new scheme. "I'm going to Cuba,' he said. "A few of my Russian friends already own resorts there." He said that with what he knows about the sex industry, he'll soon be rich again.
Donetsk, a bleak industrial city in the southeast cor-I ner of Ukraine, is not known for producing world-class hockey players. And when Oleg Tverdovsky, a scrawny seven-year-old, tried out for a local peewee team in 1983, he didn't show much promise: his ankles were weak—the result of a joint-swelling disease called Reiter's syndrome—and he was one of the worst skaters in the bunch. At first, he didn't even like the sport much. Still, a coach spied some potential in him and encouraged the boy to keep at it.
He did. By sixteen, Tverdovsky had blossomed into one of the highest-scoring defensemen in Russia, playing for a team called the Soviet Wings. But with the fall of communism, Soviet hockey also began a steady collapse. Arena freezers frequently broke down, melting the ice. Stadiums that once drew five thousand fans were lucky to lure several
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hundred. "People had a lot of problems in their lives," recalls Tverdovsky. "Hockey tickets are not very expensive, but if you can't feed your family, well, you don't think about going to a hockey game."
Like most of Russia's best players, Tverdovsky was eventually discovered by NHL scouts, and in 1994, at the tender age of eighteen, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim made him their first-round draft pick. He had awesome power and blazing speed, drawing comparisons to Bobby Orr—all the right stuff, said the scouts, to become a superstar. "I was excited to get drafted," he remembered. "To play with the best players in the world." When he arrived in Anaheim, he bought himself a house and a sports car. After a fine rookie season, he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets and signed a three-year deal worth some $4.2 million, a staggering sum for a young man whose countrymen were earning an average of $74 per month.
Tverdovsky's prosperity did not go unnoticed, however. One night, a former Russian hockey coach of Tverdovsky turned up on his California doorstep and demanded a share of his good fortune. The young phenom was terrified, for he knew, as did everyone in Russia, that hockey in the former Soviet Union was overrun by the Mafiya, and that it frequently brought its sadistic extortion methods to bear on successful players. "They'll take out a whole family," said a U.S. law enforcement official who specializes in the Russian mob. "But they'll torture victims first to send out a message—they'll cut off fingers, use acid, decapitate heads. It's gruesome."
In fact, the Russian mob's sinister grip on sports in the Soviet bloc dates back to well before communism's demise. In the Soviet era, sports stars—along with singers, artists, apparatchiks, and black marketeers—were all part of the Soviet Union's privileged elite. In this heavily criminalized
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society, top athletes and mobsters sought out one another's company to mutually enhance their image and prestige. They ate at the same choice restaurants, vacationed together at luxurious spas, and dated the same women. They also did business together. "The Mafiya has made the sports business one of its sources of revenue," a Russian sports historian has said. "Bribes, extortion, and killings are common."
Hockey—one of Russia's most popular sports—was no exception. From the small-town peewee leagues up to the powerhouse national teams, the Mafiya, by force or cooperation, had penetrated every level of the enterprise, just as it had most other businesses in Russia. "Many local teams in Russia are associated with the mob," said a Western law enforcement source, noting that they often used them for money laundering, as well as for many other illicit profits that could be sucked from stadium contracts, concessions, equipment procurement, ticket sales, player and management salaries, and tens of millions of dollars of untaxed vodka and cigarettes that the government gave to the teams.
When communism fell, the former Soviet Union's rich reservoir of hockey talent—the same players who had so often demonstrated their astonishing skills against the world in the Olympics—suddenly became available to the West. The NHL's U.S. and Canadian teams went on a buying binge, snapping up the country's current and future superstars, signing players like Tverdovsky to extraordinarily lucrative contracts. But the NHL teams discovered soon enough that they weren't importing only expert skaters and stickhandlers; they were also importing the brutal extortionists and gun-toters of the Russian Mafiya who followed in their wake. "Hockey in the former Soviet Union is controlled by Russian organized crime," said a top FBI official.
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"They control the players who play there and they control the players who play here. They can stay in Russia and make 2,000 rubles a year or kick back $1 million of a $2 million American contract."
Although Tverdovsky was well aware that being in America did not guarantee his safety, he nevertheless refused the Russian coach's demands to be paid off. But the gangsters did not come for him. Instead, on January 30, 1996, four goons—carrying a tear gas pistol, handcuffs, and a snapshot of Tverdovsky's forty-six-year-old mother, Alexandra—seized his parents outside an apartment building in Donetsk, where they had gone to visit relatives. Tverdovsky received a message from his father: the gangsters wanted $200,000 for his mother's safe return.
While his mother sat imprisoned in a dank apartment outside Donetsk, Tverdovsky suffered severe anxiety, causing his ankles to swell up. "I had a terrible time," recalled the lanky, six-foot player during an interview at a Tex-Mex cafe across the street from the hockey stadium in Phoenix, where he then played for the Coyotes. "I didn't have many details about what was going on." Still, he didn't inform team or league officials about his ordeal, nor did he reveal his problem to his own teammates, fearing that, if word leaked out, his mother would be killed. "We [Russian players] won't even tell each other" about extortion plots, said Tverdovsky. "Not even our best Russian friends."
A few days later the kidnappers escorted Alexandra Tverdovsky onto a train bound for Moscow, confident that they were on their way to make a trade for a few suitcases-ful of cash. Suddenly, in a rare case of Russian law enforcement competence, the police stormed the train and rescued the captive, arresting all four kidnappers in the process. Tverdovsky, however, wasn't taking any more chances. He spirited his parents out of the country and hid
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them away in a house he bought for them in a town in California that to this day he will not name.
In the NHL, where ex-Eastern bloc players make up 10 percent of team rosters, the list of hockey players who have been secretly shaken down, beaten, and threatened by voracious Russian mobsters reads like a Who's Who of the NHL. (In a few years that proportion will grow to 40 percent, and most of these players will be tied to the Russian mob, asserts the FBI.) Alexander Mogilny of the Vancouver Canucks, Alexei Zhitnik of the Buffalo Sabres, and Vladimir Malakhov of the Montreal Canadiens have all been targets of extortion. Even Detroit Red Wings superstar Sergei Fedorov was rumored to have had to pay gangsters to be left alone when he first came to America. Mike Barnett, Fedorov's agent, denies the story, though he admits: "If there was an incident, I probably wouldn't tell you. It's not something we would prefer to have publicized." Still, Fedorov doesn't go home to Russia unless he's accompanied by a swarm of bodyguards.
According to a May 1996 congressional investigation, as many as half of the league's ex-Eastern bloc players have been forced to buy a krysha, or "roof"—the euphemism for protection. "All the NHL teams are aware of the extortion," says an American law enforcement source. "It's a huge problem," Mike Smith, associate general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has told the Vancouver Province. "There have even been players who have been roughed up."
During the 1996 congressional hearings on the Mafiya, a Russian mobster who testified explained precisely how the system worked: "Often when a Russian criminal demands money, the threat is not explicit but is clearly understood," he said, speaking from behind a black felt curtain. "Alexei Zhitnik used to play for the Los Angeles Kings.
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He showed up at a Russian club in Los Angeles one night with a new car, expensive clothes, and a beautiful woman. He was young and naive.
"A man named Sasha, whom I know is connected to a Russian organized crime group, approached Alexei and demanded money from him. Sasha was sending Alexei a warning, to make sure he thought about his future in Los Angeles. Alexei did not go to the police." According to several knowledgeable sources, Alexei was later hauled under an L.A. pier and beaten. Eventually, the mob witness testified, " [Zhitnik] went to a more powerful criminal group to take care of the problem."
Zhitnik, for his part, tried to shrug off the incident. "It was not a big deal," Zhitnik insisted. "It was a stupid accident. It was my mistake. I was not kidnapped." When asked if he was beaten by thugs, he thundered, "Total bullshit! Nothing happened in L.A." On the other hand, he concedes: "I can't say extortion doesn't exist in the NHL. It exists."
Almost without exception the FBI has failed to bring extortion charges against gangsters shaking down NHL players. "We can't make a case unless somebody files a complaint," explains the FBI's John Epke, the head of the organized crime unit in Denver. But fearful ex-Eastern bloc hockey players, who often have the inherent distrust of the police that is a legacy of having grown up in a totalitarian state, are unwilling to go to the federal authorities. More significantly, like Tverdovsky, many of them still have vulnerable family members living in the former Soviet Union.
Even victims like Vancouver Canuck Alexander Mogilny are unwilling to acknowledge the presence of Russian organized crime in the NHL. Yet just a few years ago, Mogilny was abducted by two Russian goons who demanded that he deliver to them $150,000 in cash. As he
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drove to the bank, he picked up his car phone and called his agent, Mike Barnett, to ask what he should do. "Go to the FBI," urged Barnett. So he did: one of the extortionists fled the country; the other, thanks to Mogilny's testimony, became law enforcement's only successful conviction of a Russian NHL extortionist, and was subsequently deported. But today, when asked about extortion in the league, Mogilny says, "Why talk about it? It doesn't exist. There is no such thing." Oleg Tverdovsky has a similar response. "How can I say there is Russian organized crime in the NHL if I've not seen it? If you don't know, you don't know."
"It's their silence," says a law enforcement official, "that has allowed the Russians to become easy extortion victims" and made the FBI's attempts to convict the mobsters almost impossible.
Yet the corruption in the NHL goes much deeper than simply the extortion of individual players. Far from being victims, at least three of the league's top superstars have actively befriended members of the Russian mob, helping it to sink its roots further into North American soil: they are Slava Fetisov, who led the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998; Valeri Kamensky, who did the same for the Colorado Avalanche in 1996; and the Florida Panthers' Pavel Bure, the four-time NHL All-Star nicknamed the "Russian Rocket" for his mind-boggling speed and deft stickhandling. "There are as many as ten other NHL players that have associations to Russian organized crime figures," says Reg King, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police agent who specializes in the Russian mob.
Detroit's Joe Louis Arena is a dilapidated, shambling facility abutting a river of green sludge. The defending champion Red Wings had just finished up an intense, two-hour practice, and the brooding, six-foot-one-inch, 215-
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pound Slava Fetisov sat on a black swivel chair next to his locker, still dressed in his pads and sweating heavily.
At forty, he was the oldest player in the NHL, almost two decades older than some of the other Red Wings shuffling from the showers to their lockers. His forehead is deeply furrowed, and fissures run diagonally down his cheeks. It must have seemed like eons since the nine-time Soviet All-Star defenseman played in three Olympics, winning two gold medals and one silver. Many predicted 1998 would be his last season, and that he would return to Russia to run for political office. "I get lots of invitations to join [political] parties," Fetisov acknowledged. His friend, chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, has said unequivocally that Fetisov is so popular, he "could be the future president of Russia."
However, Fetisov may need a bit of practice at handling tough questions from reporters. For he was ill-prepared when I stuck a tape recorder in front of him and asked what he knew about extortion in the NHL.
"I don't know," he replied curtly. "I have never heard of it."
"To your knowledge it doesn't exist?" I asked.
"I don't want to talk about it," he grunted, his dark eyes averting mine. "It's not related anyhow to me and to anybody else in this room. It's a made-up story, and I don't want to talk about it."
"Who would make it up?" I pressed.
"I don't know," he said, his anger mounting. "I have no idea."
Fetisov's teammates call him "the Godfather." The nearly universal homage that other Russian NHL players accord him reflects not only on his skill on the ice, his sage advice, but on the fact that he was one of the first Soviet players to come to play in the league. According to law enforcement, it is also an allusion to the fact that he has
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long been in business with some of the most feared gangsters in the former Soviet Union.
"When Fetisov led the charge of Russian hockey players to North America and joined the New Jersey Devils, he was already mobbed-up," asserted a U.S. law enforcement source. In fact, the FBI says Fetisov's link to the mob goes back as far as the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a national sports icon, Fetisov was bound to attract high-level organized crime figures. But in 1989, according to a confidential FBI document, he got himself into a jam when he allegedly purchased a stolen Volvo in Sweden that he was supposed to bring back to Russia for Amiran Kvantrishvili, Otari's brother and co-head of a powerful Moscow-based crime family. Instead, Fetisov sold the car to another buyer for more money. Kvantrishvili in turn threatened Fetisov's father, which, the FBI believes, marked the beginning of Fetisov's increasingly complex ties to the mob.
His relationship with Kvantrishvili did not end when he left the country to play hockey in America for the New Jersey Devils. In 1992, Fetisov and Kvantrishvili were observed "engaged in serious conversation at a Russian discotheque in Moscow during which Fetisov was seen nervously signing papers," states a classified FBI report. In addition, "he [Fetisov] began investing in various business enterprises in Moscow in 1993, and was believed to have paid protection money to Kvantrishvili."
Kvantrishvili was assassinated by rival mobsters that summer. But where Kvantrishvili left off, Vyacheslav Ivankov picked up, and Fetisov, according to a classified FBI report, became the vor's "close associate." The year Ivankov arrived in America, he turned to Fetisov to fill a position in his global criminal empire. According to an FBI affidavit seeking a wiretap of his phones, Ivankov established a front company in New York called Slavic Inc. to conduct money
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laundering operations. But records filed with the New York Department of State show that on August 26, it was, in fact, Fetisov who signed the business incorporation papers, naming himself as president. It was notarized, and executed by two lawyers. Though Fetisov was the only named corporate officer, FBI documents assert that Slavic Inc. was really run by Ivankov—a fact that even the mobster's lawyer Barry Slotnick confirmed, although he insisted that the business was a legitimate import-export firm. In fact, according to the FBI, it was a giant Laundromat for dirty cash operating out of a storefront on Neptune Avenue in Brooklyn, as well as a front used to obtain fraudulent visas for mobsters and criminal associates. Illicit funds were passed through Slavic Inc.'s bank account to give it the veneer of legitimacy, "when in fact they weren't conducting any commerce whatsoever," said the FBI's Raymond Kerr. According to Russian and American intelligence sources, the millions flowing into Slavic Inc. had already passed through a number of front companies in Russia and Europe before winding their way to Brooklyn, where they fueled the Russian mob in America. On August 20, 1996, just a month and a half after Ivankov's extortion conviction, Fetisov signed the dissolution papers for the company, according to New York Department of State records.
Fetisov, of course, denied everything. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, perhaps knowing Ivankov well enough not to get on his bad side. "Is it true that you were the president of Slavic Inc.?"
Fetisov turned away, visibly fighting to control his temper. "No," he said. "That's not true."
"But your signature, in your handwriting, is on the documents, naming you the president of the company."
"Are you trying to instigate something or what?" he asked.
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"Is there a link between Slavic Inc., you, and Ivankov?"
"I've got nothing to do with this guy, this person, and with Slavic Inc. I have no relationship of any kind."
"But your name is on the incorporation papers."
"The papers you filed with New York State."
"I don't want to talk about this right now," he said. "I don't want to talk about anything."
Fetisov's patience was wearing thin, so I tried another tack, asking him to explain his acquaintance with a New York art dealer and hockey fan named Felix Komorov—the man the FBI asserts in a wiretap affidavit and confidential documents is Ivankov's "right hand man in New York," "who was laundering money" for his group, while claiming to be second-in-command in the Brighton Beach area, in "control of all the extortionist activities of Russian emigre businessmen." Though Komorov vehemently denies the allegations, he has admitted that he has been in telephone contact with Ivankov both before and after the vor was imprisoned.
What he cannot deny, however, is his avid courtship of Russian hockey players. Fetisov and several other Russian hockey players attended a reception at Komorov's New York Russian World Art Gallery on Fifth Avenue, across from Central Park. Its walls were decorated with photographs of the jowly Russian shaking hands with a panoply of celebrities, including Al Pacino, Pierre Cardin, and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.* Komorov also received
* Komorov caused a stir when the Washington Times revealed that the alleged mobster was the key organizer for a September 1997 star-studded gala concert at Carnegie Hall in celebration of Moscow's 850th birthday Moscow's mayor unsuccessfully lobbied Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to lift the State Department's travel ban on Joseph Kobzon so he could come to New York and sing at the festivities
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permission from the NHL to make each member of the 1997 world championship Detroit Red Wings a solid silver hockey puck, engraved with the player's name and the Stanley Cup logo, which he bestowed as gifts to the team.
"Some people like to give us presents," said Fetisov with an annoyed shrug. "Do we have to say no? Do we have to check his background or what? I don't know what you're talking about anyhow." Fetisov did admit, though, that he had "some business" with Komorov.
It is precisely such "business" connections with hockey players that worry law enforcement, for it is through them that people like Komorov can spread their influence, reaching into many levels of American society. Wall Street has been the Russian mob's prime target. Gavin Scotty, for instance, is a senior vice president at Paine Webber, and a onetime pro basketball player who handles large portfolios for a number of Russian NHL players. When he decided the time was ripe for the company to do some business in Ukraine and Russia in 1998, he invited in some of these clients to ask who the leading Russian business guru in New York was. They unanimously identified him as Felix Komorov.
As it happened, Scotty already knew Komorov. "A couple of my players had won the Stanley Cup so we've been invited to parties that he's thrown," Scotty said. "I thought he was a legitimate, nice guy." Scotty later met with Komorov at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station to inquire about potential business deals. The Russian had a number of ambitious plans, and was eager for Scotty to meet his associates in Kiev. After the meeting, Scotty was inclined to embark on some of the ventures Komorov proposed.
Then, by chance, he learned that his dining companion might in fact be a high-ranking member of the Russian mob. Scotty broke off contact. "I don't want to be in the middle
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of problems," he explained. "I've got a family, and I've got a big, big business, and I don't need this."
As the FBI's Kerr pointed out, the possibilities available to men like Komorov through friendships with hockey players are almost limitless: they can provide introductions to valuable business contacts, to high flyers on Wall Street, to their personal money managers, to league coaches, general managers, and agents. Kerr suggests one possible scenario: With the threat of violence, a mobster forces a player to surrender a kickback on his sports endorsements. From there, the mobster could get an entree into the sponsoring advertising firm, by having the player introduce a "friend" who's ostensibly skilled at marketing. " [The friend's] name is 'Svetlana.' She's an old KGB hand. And she works for the mob. She dates a married executive at the firm. The liaison takes place at a hotel, and lots of pictures are taken. Then the mob tells the ad executive what it wants him to do. This is how it's done. This happens all the time. All the time. It's as old as the KGB. Older," the FBI man recounted with a chuckle.
In certain respects, Kerr says, the current level of corruption in the NHL is strikingly reminiscent of the old Jewish and Italian mobs' infiltration of American society through their control of the garment industry and labor in the 1930s and 1940s. The mobs' first step was to take over many of the unions, ranging from the truck drivers and longshoremen locals to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "Then the LCN bled millions and millions of dollars from the Teamsters' pension fund, and built hotels in Las Vegas with this money," explained Kerr. "That helped them get into the legitimate gambling business and the hotel business in Las Vegas." These legal and quasi-legal operations were much harder for law enforcement to crack, and the vast sums of money made from them were later
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invested into other mob-controlled businesses. The FBI fears the NHL could similarly become not only one of the Russian mob's biggest cash cows but also a stepping-stone into legitimate society and commerce.
Komorov, according to the FBI, is already involved in such schemes. But Fetisov refused to see the importance of the connection between Komorov's relationship with NHL players and the FBI's contention that Komorov is a high-ranking member of the Russian Mafiya. "I know that Komorov owns a nice little art studio, and he made presents for all the Red Wings players," I said to Fetisov. "And according to the FBI, he's Mafiya."
"Why do you have to put all these things together?" Fetisov asked. "They are not related anyhow."
"If you go to Brighton Beach," I said, "and mention the name Komorov, it's like saying John Gotti. Everybody knows who he is."
Fetisov continued to insist that he has no criminal dealings with Komorov or Ivankov whatsoever, and called such charges "false allegations." He was completely exasperated. "You're probably not allowed to ask these kinds of questions, right?" Fetisov asked incredulously. "Are you allowed to ask any questions you want?"
"Sure. Yes. This is America."
Fetisov realized there was only one escape: furious, he stood and ordered me to leave. "The interview," he said, "is over."
Had Fetisov been the only Russian NHL superstar to have befriended the Mafiya, law enforcement might not have such cause for alarm. But he is hardly alone. When Ivankov ordered his brother-in-law, and second-in-command, Vyacheslav Sliva, to move from Moscow to take over the Russian Jewish mob's Canadian operation, Sliva turned
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for assistance to someone he considered an old friend— Valeri Kamensky, the left-wing All-Star for the Quebec Nordiques (which later moved to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche).
Though Sliva had lied to immigration officials about not having a criminal past, and though he had been able to provide a forged government document backing up that claim, the feared crime lord still needed the endorsement of a respected citizen to help him through the visa process.
Kamensky obliged, asking the co-owner and president of the team, Marcel Aubut, to write a letter on Sliva's behalf to the Canadian embassy in Moscow. "Please issue a visitor's visa to a friend of one of our players, Valeri Kamensky," wrote Aubut. The document succeeded and Sliva was granted an interview with Canadian immigration officials, at which he described himself as Kamensky's longtime friend. "The only reason why I'm coming to Canada," Sliva told the officials, "is to visit Kamensky." In 1994, Sliva was awarded the visa.
"So Sliva comes over here on the strength of that invitation," says a top Canadian law enforcement official. "Let's just say that their relationship was more than just having dinner together. Sliva was interested in making sure that Kamensky's career was going good and that he was looked after, that he wouldn't have any problems. Then later down the road, Kamensky would owe Sliva."
It didn't take long for Sliva, based in Toronto, to dominate Canada's thriving Russian Jewish mob. In the process, however, he drew the scrutiny of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "We covered Sliva like a blanket," says the Canadian official. According to testimony by Canadian law enforcement, Sliva was recorded talking to associates in Russia and North America, making death threats, and discussing drug deals, extortion, and money laundering. Seven of the taped conversations were with Ivankov in which the
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gangsters talked about how to diwy up their proceeds. In conversations held between April 28 and May 5, 1994, they were overheard plotting to assassinate Igor Golembiovsky, the prominent Russian editor of the newspaper Izvestia, which had published an article on April 28 about Ivankov's connection to some unsavory elements in the KGB.*
But the Mounties say Sliva isn't the only Russian crime lord that Kamensky is chummy with. More than one hundred phone conversations were monitored between Kamensky and Vatchagan Petrossov, whom the FBI contended is an Armenian vor v zakonye and the head of the Russian mob in Denver. According to law enforcement officials, the men are "very close," and their friendship became even closer when the Nordiques moved to Denver.
Petrossov, asserts a classified FBI report, was allegedly Ivankov's "strategic advisor" and involved with him in "drug trafficking and extortion." Ivankov frequently traveled to Denver, where he stayed at Petrossov's home, even using his address to apply for a Colorado driver's license.
Denver may seem like an unlikely refuge for the Russian mob, but by one estimate the area boasts as many as sixty thousand Russian emigres, many of them illegal. In addition, the relatively crime-free solitude of Denver offers a good cover for laundering money. In order to blend in, the Russian mobsters dress tastefully, drive Toyotas and an occasional late-model Mercedes, and live in fairly modest homes. They donate to charities and try to keep a low profile.
* Ultimately, Ivankov's treatment of irksome journalists turned deadly Vladimir Listyev, the director of Russian public television and a man as beloved as Walter Cronkite in this country, had fearlessly spoken out against the mob's attempt to steal the lucrative advertising revenue from his top-rated show Ostankino and other newly privatized programming In March 1995, Listyev was shot in the head near his Moscow apartment The hit was allegedly the joint effort of several mob groups, including Ivankov and his acolyte Sliva
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Petrossov has described himself as a philanthropist and a businessman, and an officer of a midtown Manhattan company called PetroEnergy International, which he claims develops new technology in oil production. However, PetroEnergy doesn't have any customers yet, and prominent oil and gas research firms in New York and Houston say they could find no information about Pet-rossov's purported company. The FBI, Customs, and the NYPD are looking into the enterprise.
One Petrossov business that did exist was a restaurant called the St. Petersburg, which he opened in the early 1990s in Glendale, a small, middle-class suburb of Denver. Ivankov was apparently a partner. (A business card identifying Ivankov as the owner of the St. Petersburg was found among his possessions when he was arrested in Brighton Beach.) The FBI and the IRS suspected that Petrossov and a Denver-based Russian partner constructed the restaurant to launder money: the more than $2 million it cost to build was wired into the personal bank accounts of both individuals at the First Interstate Bank in Denver in increments of $200,000 and $300,000. "All construction was paid for in cash, as were the land, their personal residences and cars," the FBI report says. "Russian emigres working on the project have been treated roughly, with payments to them delayed."
The sprawling restaurant covered over 16,500 square feet, featured a billiards room, and sported a state-of-the-art stage for Vegas-style floor shows. Despite its size and amenities, it was almost always empty, even on weekends, said federal law enforcement sources who surveilled the eatery. "The restaurant does not seem to generate enough business to pay the salaries of the employees brought from Russia to serve and entertain," said the FBI report. Beefy Russian wiseguys seemed to be its only customers. "I know Ivankov
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was there," Moody says. "Two or three other thieves-in-law that visited the United States stopped there, too."
The source of the restaurant's financing, the feds discovered, was apparently Intercross International, a company in Moscow in which "'Thief-in-law' Petrossov is a director," according to a classified FBI report. Intercross's income was derived from deals Petrossov made importing cigarettes from R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in the United States and manufacturing polyester goods for sale in Russia. Much of the cigarette trade in Russia is untaxed contraband dominated by the mob, and Petrossov was reported to have been able to stay in business by making payments to a people's deputy in the Russian government, says the FBI document. He also made contributions to political figures who allowed his shadowy company to operate unencumbered from a heavily guarded compound in Moscow.
It was no coincidence that the restaurant, which was partly owned by Petrossov's wife and renamed Maverick's Steak House in the mid-1990s, was Kamensky's favorite hangout. He was apparently so taken with it that he appeared on Denver television commercials as Maverick's pitchman. At one point, according to a well-placed law enforcement source, the Avalanche star was asked by the FBI if he knew Petrossov, or had any information about the extortion of Russian hockey players in the NHL. Kamensky denied all knowledge of both. "He lied through his teeth," says the source. (Kamensky, traded to the New York Rangers in 1999, never responded to requests for an interview.)
In June of 1997 the Mounties were able to prove that Kamensky's friend Sliva had forged the document averring his crime-free past—in fact, FBI records indicate that Sliva had spent ten years in the Gulag with Ivankov for extortion and torture. The Immigration Board, ruling that he posed a
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grave danger to Canada, deported the haggard-looking mobster via a jet bound for Moscow.
Unlike Sliva, Petrossov managed to sidestep an attempt in 1997 to deport him on visa fraud for failing to disclose his criminal past, which a confidential FBI document says included fifteen years in the Gulag for rape and inciting a riot. According to law enforcement sources, his lawyer convinced a judge not to give credence to the accusations of a corrupt communist regime, claiming that his client was set up by a prostitute, and that, moreover, his record was expunged by a Soviet court in 1989. Not surprisingly, one of Petrossov's character witnesses at the Denver deportation hearing was Felix Komorov, who was identified in court as president of Rolls-Royce of Moscow.*
*Petrossov almost didn't get into the United States in the first place He was twice banned from obtaining a U S visa at the American embassy in Moscow, and put on a list of rejected applicants VB Rushailo, chief of the MVD's organized crime section in Moscow, sent a letter to U S officials warning that Petrossov was considered a dangerous thief-in-law So Petrossov traveled to Riga, Latvia, and applied for a visa with a clean passport, without mentioning his previous conviction, which is required under U S. law, whether it has been expunged or not A frustrated State Department source says Petrossov slipped through the American security net because the Riga embassy was using an outmoded computer system
Like Ivankov, Petrossov's U S visa was sponsored by an American film company Its name was International Home Cinema Inc of Santa Monica, California Its chairman, Rafigh Pooya, an Iranian, was working on a $500,000-budget, Days of Our Lives-style potboiler set in Baku, Azerbaijan A filmmaker friend referred Pooya to Petrossov, then living in Moscow, who invested $50,000 in the production under the name of his company, Intercross International As Pooya tells it, Petrossov contacted him one day asking to visit his investment Pooya wrote a letter of recommendation to the U S embassy inviting Petrossov to be his guest Petrossov, whom Pooya described as a "small man with a small round face," turned up with a "fat lawyer and an associate " Pooya said they weren't interested in screening rushes, but instead bragged about jetting around North America, visiting their other investments
The FBI says Pooya's "company is known to have issued previous invitations which have been suspected of being fraudulent "
"Allegations, allegations," Pooya says indignantly
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Nevertheless, when Petrossov—Ivankov's cousin by marriage—last tried to enter Canada on unspecified business in 1996, "we kicked his ass across the border," beamed Glenn Hanna, a criminal intelligence officer of the RCMP's Eastern European Organized Crime Division. He added that a computer check identified Petrossov as a thief-in-law and a major Russian gangster.
Despite Petrossov's successful bid to remain in the United States, the FBI still considers him the leader of an increasingly active Russian mob in Denver. It has assigned one of its top agents—a veteran of the Oklahoma City bombing case—to reexamine the thief-in-law's extensive file line by line.
Petrossov's home is in leafy Glendale. One Friday afternoon in the winter of 1998, I decided to pay him a visit to ask about his relationship with Kamensky and Ivankov and extortion in the NHL. In a bit of a role reversal, I brought along an attorney built like a nose tackle, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon and is black belt in Sambo, a form of Russian martial arts. Usually, it is a big Russian who knocks on a victim's door; so when the freshly shaven and heavily perfumed Petrossov opened the door wearing an expensive Italian knit shirt, slacks, and shoes, he seemed a little taken aback. I introduced myself.
"Friedman, you are a bad man, a liar!" he barked— apparently, my reputation had preceded me. He accused me of persecuting the Russian people with fabricated stories about mobsters. His tirade was interrupted only when his pink shar-pei, Amy, darted out of the house and into the street, agitating him even more. "Amy, come back," he pleaded to the pooch.
"It's not proper," he said. "You come without calling?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Petrossov, but you have an unlisted number."
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Not surprisingly, he refused to answer any specific questions about whether he is involved with organized crime, has done time for rape, or is friends with Kamensky and Ivankov (although he attended Ivankov's month-long extortion trial in Brooklyn, and defended him in an interview with the New York Daily News, calling him "a hero to the masses." He still visits Ivankov in prison, and is allegedly the Armenian vor who handed Ivankov the suitcase stuffed with $1.5 million in cash when he arrived at Kennedy Airport).
"Why are you afraid to answer my questions, Mr. Pet-rossov?" I asked. "Law enforcement says you are a vor v zakonye."
"What is law enforcement?"
"They say that you are a godfather," I said, standing nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe with the dapper vor.
"I don't know what you mean!" He shouted. Shaking with rage, he finally threw me off his property. As a parting gesture, he slammed the front door so hard that it bounced back open, barely missing his precious little Amy.
Pavel Bure is as slick as ice. Despite his many ties to Russian mobsters, the twenty-seven-year-old four-time All-Star handles grilling like a veteran politician, claiming he has never heard of the Russian mob's extortion of hockey players.
"People have problems everywhere," said Bure with a shrug, as he sat, freshly showered and wearing a T-shirt and jeans, in the locker room of the spectacular Vancouver stadium that's home to the Canucks, where he was then playing. "But I never heard somebody who had, like, problems with the Mafiya or whatever. I don't know," he continued with a smirk, "what's Mafiya? It's the criminal, right?"
Bure, with his soft, blond good looks, isn't as innocent
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as he pretends, for he has never denied his close friendship with forty-nine-year-old Anzor Kikalishvili, the native Georgian the U.S. government considers one of Moscow's top crime bosses. In addition, he has been seen in Moscow in the company of singer Joseph Kobzon who is; according to a classified FBI report, "the spiritual leader" of the Russian mob, and his stunning New York University-educated daughter. As early as 1993 the Vancouver Canucks had ordered Bure to stop his unseemly associations with Russian underworld figures, and though he agreed to the demand, he has in fact never honored it.
"I spoke to an agent who spent a lot of time in the former Soviet Union," recounted a source close to the congressional investigation of the Russian mob and the NHL. "He said, This guy Bure, you just wouldn't believe who he hangs out with over there. He's constantly doing the town with the mobsters.'"
In fact, Bure is also in business with them. He and Kikalishvili have recently reestablished the watchmaking concern of Bure's great-great-great-grandfather, which was famous for the beautiful timepieces it made for the czars. They are "very, very expensive," Bure said proudly. "I gave one to the mayor of Moscow." Boris Yeltsin was also a recipient of one of the watches.
In early 1998 it was widely reported in Russia that Kikalishvili had named Bure president of his "nonprofit" company, the Twenty First Century Association—a promotion from Bure's former title of vice president in charge of sports. Billboards throughout Moscow depict a beaming Bure and Kikalishvili promoting the Twenty First Century Association. While the FBI asserts this business is a Mafiya front that is worth at least $100 million in illicit funds, Kikalishvili insists it is a legitimate enterprise. The company has extensive interests in real estate, hotels, banks, and as
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many as ten casinos. According to FBI records, it also retains a combat brigade of fifty ex-athletes to protect it from other mob families and carry out criminal activities such as extortion and arms trafficking, including the sale of high-tech weapons to Iran.
Yet when I asked Bure if he is president of the Twenty First Century Association, he denied it. "How could I be the president if I play here in the U.S.?" he asked.
A few weeks later, in a telephone interview from his Moscow office, I asked Kikalishvili the same question.
"He was the vice president for sports and still helps," replied Kikalishvili, carefully choosing his words. "So of course the vice president, when the president leaves, should assume the role of president."
The relationship between the Russian Rocket and the Russian gangster dates back to Bure's childhood. "I knew him when he was a boy and played on a children's [hockey] team," Kikalishvili acknowledged. A sportsman himself, he eventually became head of the Russian Youth Sports League and, later, the Russian Olympic Committee.
Kikalishvili, forty-nine, initially impressed his fellow gangsters as a pompous buffoon: he claimed to be a descendant of an ancient Caucasus prince named Dadi-ani, he used a royal crest, and he featured his own lordly visage on a vintage wine he produced. Over time, however, Anzor "demonstrated new maturity," revealed a classified FBI report. During his sojourn in Miami in the mid-1990s, he was allegedly involved in the drug trade with South America, in bringing Eastern European prostitutes to the United States, buying tens of millions of dollars' worth of real estate to establish a beachhead, and in extortion with Tarzan, according to an FBI wiretap affidavit and law enforcement sources. "People treated him like a god when he was in America," says retired FBI
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agent Robert Levinson, who specialized in Russian organized crime.
Kikalishvili, of course, denied all criminal allegations. "In my whole life, I've never been in a police station, even as a witness," he told me. "I've never stolen anything, not even a pack of gum." He insists that he is merely a philanthropist, though few philanthropists are currently on the State Department's watch list of organized crime figures. But even international law enforcement's opinion of Kikalishvili apparently isn't good enough for the Russian Rocket.
"I have to see [the evidence] with my own eyes, you know, to believe it," said Bure, who was traded to the Florida Panthers in January 1999. "I know the guy. He's really nice to me. So what am I supposed to say, 'You're not my friend anymore? I don't think it's fair and I think it's rude. There's got to be a really big reason why I don't want to be a friend with him. Like, if he does bad stuff, like . . . drugs or arms, some big deal, you know?"
While ex-Eastern bloc players like Pavel Bure have their own reasons to continue associating with the Russian mob, the real question is why the NHL tolerates its presence. Despite organized crime's frightening penetration into the sport, the NHL, according to several sources, stood by idly, even stonewalling the 1996 congressional investigation into the situation. "We had subpoena power," says the committee's chief investigator, Michael Bopp. "We were a congressional committee, and still doors were just slammed in our faces at every turn [by top league officials]."
Bopp first contacted the league's head of security, Dennis Cunningham, in the fall of 1995 for assistance. "He was all excited," Bopp recalls. "He said, 'Oh yeah, this is a problem. Players have come to me and told me about extortion
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attempts, actual extortion. I'm glad someone is looking into it. We're going to do everything we can to help you out.'"
Although Cunningham has claimed that he attempted to help with the congressional investigation, Bopp says that, "Slowly . . . over the next few months, [Cunningham's] demeanor changed 180 degrees, to the point where [he was saying], 'I don't know why you are looking into this. This isn't a problem.' The league just didn't want us poking around."
The FBI, likewise, has had little success in dealing with the NHL. "The teams won't let us talk to players about extortion," says a frustrated FBI official. "And we're here to protect them."
As a result, federal authorities have come to fear that the NHL is now so compromised by Russian gangsters that the integrity of the game itself may be in jeopardy and that the most dreaded word in sports might possibly infect professional hockey: "fix." "If you have a real high-powered scorer and you take him out of the game, it really helps out on the odds," says former top FBI official James Moody. "Gangsters play the odds. If they can cut down on the odds by taking out the prime scorer, or if the player takes himself out by purposely getting into foul trouble and is banished to the penalty box, then the potential to fix a game is there."
"Organized crime is in the gambling business," says another top FBI official. "If they can handicap the game with their players they will beat the spread. Do we know that Russian organized crime has tried to fix games in the past? What's the difference? That's exactly where they are going."
"That's the biggest concern," concurs Moody. "And I think as time goes on we're seeing more and more of that."
If the "fix" is in, the NHL isn't doing much to stop it. "I get really irritated with the National Hockey League," says
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another FBI agent in a large regional market with an array of pro sports teams. "Professional baseball, football, and basketball want us to be involved if we know of gambling, or dope, or anything that goes on with those leagues. But the National Hockey League, they don't care." Though the FBI office in New York has had some contact with the league, which has its headquarters there, the FBI man maintains, "I've never been asked to go talk to the National Hockey League [in my city], and as far as I know, none of our people has been asked to go to speak to any National Hockey League team."
After I wrote an investigative article documenting the Russian mob's infiltration of the NHL for Details magazine in May 1998, the league threatened to sue for libel and hired James Moody to look into the matter. Moody, who had left his position as the FBI's head of organized crime in 1996 to set up a private investigative agency, was asked to verify the claims of player extortion and mob collusion and provide an analysis. Moody had already worked occasionally for the NHL, having been responsible for providing the security for the Stanley Cup when the Detroit Red Wings' Russian players brought it to Moscow for a glittering celebration. To guarantee its safety, the cup was locked inside the KGB's notorious Lubyanka prison.
In the course of his investigation, Moody reinterviewed some of the article's off-the-record law enforcement sources, and tapped his considerable contacts in Russia. "Overall, the article was as fair and as accurate as it could possibly be," the FBI's John Epke told Moody.
Moody's probe unsettled him. "You look at some of the players like Slava Fetisov and . . . his association with Ivankov, and Kamensky's association with some of the thieves-in-law . . . [and] it is a cause for great concern." As for Bure's relationships with mob bosses, he says, "Anzor
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Kikalishvili and Kobzon have been ID'd before Congress as members of organized crime and if you ask anyone in Russia they'll tell you the same thing." Moody sent his report to NHL headquarters, and the league could no longer plead ignorance, for it confirmed a disturbing portrait of the mob's insidious influence over the league. "Russian organized crime has a major foothold in the NHL," said a top bureau source, "and we've talked to them and they say it doesn't exist. . . . Then they hire one of the top experts in the world with the best sources in Moscow to prepare a report [which] said [the piece in Details] was letter perfect, and that the situation is actually quite worse. [Moody] has an unassailable reputation. ... So now why wouldn't they cooperate with law enforcement or start their own investigation?"
Of course, the NHL has never made the Moody report public. Nor has Bure, Fetisov, Kamensky, or any other player associated with Russian mobsters been officially reprimanded, censured, or suspended. The league's corporate counsel has stated that he is not troubled by Fetisov's and Kamensky's alleged relationships with Russian crime bosses, and that Bure's friendship with Kikalishvilli was not at the point "where we thought it was problematic, either to the image or integrity of our sport." If it was, he said, "We would act on it." Meanwhile, Moody's confidential document is evidently gathering dust.
Since NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and head of security Dennis Cunningham both refused all requests for interviews, the reasons behind the NHL's apparent lack of concern for its players can only be surmised. A mixture of fear and greed seems the most obvious explanation. "Russian organized crime has a stranglehold over the league, [and] for the NHL to acknowledge it would be a PR disaster," said a top FBI official, noting that the league's top brass probably fear that its advertising revenue, its $600
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million deal with Disney to broadcast hockey over ESPN and ABC, and even its supply of raw Russian hockey players might vanish were it to challenge the Russian Mafiya. "The league would see it as an existential threat."
Finally, hockey's critics say the league's moral standards are simply lower than those of other major sports. For example, the National Football League and baseball have gone a long way to combat even the appearance of impropriety. New York Jets football legend Joe Namath was forced by the commissioner of the NFL to sell his popular Manhattan restaurant, which was frequented by mobsters, or give up his career. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball's American League for three years for having had a relationship with a gambler. Baseball great Pete Rose was banished from the sport for life for gambling on baseball.
Nevertheless, at the NHL, it is business as usual. Jittery NHL scouts, scouring the far corners of the ex-Soviet superpower for talent, are as vulnerable to mobsters as the players they are trying to sign. It is not uncommon for gangsters to demand that scouts pay protection money to be able to operate, international law enforcement sources say. If they're lucky enough to sign a promising prospect, they may also be asked to pay a percentage of the player's contract.Meanwhile, the NHL is reportedly exploring the possibility of expanding the league to the ex-Soviet bloc at a time when hockey there has perhaps never been more corrupt. In April 1998, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation's president, Valentin Sych, was gunned down near his country home by an assassin with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Sych had been foolhardy enough to crusade against the presence of organized crime in sports. Just before he was killed, he charged that senior Russian hockey league offi-