NEW YORK Police and investigators in New York told The Observer that they are connecting a sudden string of brutal murders to the mighty Russian "Mafiya" who are taking over the city's underworld and pose what one source calls "by far our greatest threat to stability and the rule of law."
The link was made after the naked body of a Russian was found on Staten Island earlier this month executed by a bullet in the head and a missing Russian millionaire washed up dead in an oil drum on the same day. "The pretence is over, the hunt is on," said a police source.
The murders confirm the Russians as more ruthless than their Italian predecessors with whom they are partly allied, but have usurped ignoring the old Cosa Nostra code of "honor."
The connection between these and two other corpses coincided with the recent sentencing for money-laundering of a husband and wife.
Ex-Bank of New York Executive Lucy Edwards and Peter Berlin admitted to masterminding the largest money-laundering scheme in U.S. history involving as much as $10 billion in 160,000 wire transfers, mostly connected to the Russian mob, corrupt Russian banks and their gun-toting clients.
Two other murders have been handed over to the crime squad specializing in the Russian mafia. Orthodox Russian Jew Mark Simon's bullet-riddled body was found last month. He was allegedly involved in massive credit card fraud.
Then came the death of beautiful Russian emigre Veronika Chaschina, a stripper and mother of a 6-year-old boy. She was found dead in her Brooklyn home. Police were told her killers were two bald men who seemed to be identical twins and a woman.
This month also brought the mysterious naked man and the reappearance of millionaire emigre Boris Kiejilehes, whose corpse washed ashore near Rockaway in an oil drum, hands and legs "hog-tied" behind his back.
Kiejilehes, who disappeared March 26, owned a big aviation fuel firm. Investigators said financial dealing in oil and fuel stocks stolen in Russia is one of the major streams of money-laundering by the Russian mob in the United States.
Also recently, two Russian mobsters were charged with abducting and murdering a boxer who disappeared from a Brooklyn garage in 1995. Sergei Kobozev was U.S. cruiserweight champion, and a month away from a $100,000 shot at the world title.
The accused are said to have taken him to New Jersey, broken his neck and buried him in the grounds of a Russian mobster's home.
The spurt of violence is set against scandal over penetration of the U.S. financial system by Russian criminal syndicates, and $20 billion in IMF loans to Russia, which was mostly embezzled by criminals.
The laundering through the Bank of New York is believed to involve the world's most powerful mobster, Semion "The Brainy Don" Mogilevich, given the nickname because of his University of Lvov economics degree.
Mogilevich was accused by the FBI but not charged with laundering $7 million through the bank. He forged strong connections with the Italian mafia. Police regard the Don as possibly connected to at least one of the murders.
A few days before the boxer's case, 19 people with ties to the Russian mob were indicted in a stock fraud scandal, along with members of the Gambino crime family.
The Mafiya arrived in America after the fall of communism to usurp the Russian Jewish "Organisatsiya" and a beleaguered Cosa Nostra.
They are based in Baltimore and Brighton Beach, New York, an almost exclusively Russian area of neon-lit caviar and vodka joints.
Dick Coffman, a CIA veteran, said 35 Russian crime groups operate within U.S. business and banking. Crime writer Robert Friedman says there are 30 syndicates in 17 cities in finance, insurance, medical care and real estate. "Tutored in ... a brutal totalitarian state riddled with corruption," he wrote, "the Russians have a business acumen that puts them in a class by themselves. Russian mobsters in the United States simply don't play by the unwritten rules of gangster violence. Murder for them is a sport."