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Challenging the Russian Mafia Mystique

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Dated: April 2001 Pages: 2-7
Date Published
April 2001
6 pages
Publication Series
This article described the historical context of Russian crime, the types of crime in which Russian criminals in the United States have been implicated, the extent to which the activities fit definitions and understandings of organized crime, and whether what is seen is mafia-like.
In 1992, the Tri-State Joint Soviet-Émigré Organized Crime Project (TSP) was established as a consortium of law enforcement organizations in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to gather and collect information on Russian organized crime. This article presented research obtained from the TSP and other research that described the history of Russian crime, Russian crime in the U.S., and an understanding of Russian organized crime. Russia’s past was laced with bribery, black markets, and other survival skills. Within this atmosphere, three tiers of organized crime developed. The first tier was high-level government and party bureaucrats; the second was shadow economy operators who produced goods off the books; and the third was professional criminals. These tiers resulted from an economy where the government could not provide people with the basic necessities. Due to an unpredictable economy, informal practices such as bartering and deal making became the means to an end. Therefore, it was not surprising when criminals emigrated from the Soviet Union their crimes reflected past experiences. Fraud was seen as the most common crime among Russian criminals in the U.S. In addition to fraud, Russians are involved in drug and drug paraphernalia markets. In the Tri-State region, Russian criminals have shown a willingness and ability to use violence (murder, extortion, and assault). It is believed that Russian crime networks and organizational structures in the U.S. are not similar to the La Cosa Nostra. It is conceived that former Soviet Union criminals operate mostly as individual specialists instead of the traditional hierarchical structures. This suggests that the Russian crime groups are not rigidly authoritarian and those involved do not answer to anyone in particular. What was not found in the research was evidence of mafia-like structures. They adopted a structure of many legitimate organizations. With this said, it was noted that with Russian crime and the nature of Russian criminal activity still evolving in the U.S. this picture could change.

Date Published: April 1, 2001