Amid his efforts to expose the Russian mob, Robert I. Friedman learned from the FBI that "the most brilliant and savage Russian mob organization in the world" had put a $100,000 price on his head. Reading Red Mafiya
, it's not hard to see why: this is a brave book about a troubling subject. Friedman, a freelance journalist, describes the research behind it: "I ventured into the Russians' gaudy strip clubs in Miami Beach; paid surprise visits to their well-kept suburban homes in Denver; interviewed hit men and godfathers in an array of federal lockups; and traveled halfway around the world trying to make sense of their tangled criminal webs, which have ensnared everyone from titans of finance and the heads of government to entire state security services." Their racket involves heroin smuggling, weapons trafficking, mass extortion, and casino operation, among other activities. "Blending financial sophistication with bone-crunching violence, the Russian mob has become the FBI's most formidable criminal adversary, creating an international criminal colossus that has surpassed the Colombian cartels, the Japanese Yakuzas, the Chinese triads, and the Italian Mafia in wealth and weaponry," writes Friedman. They've even penetrated professional hockey, as Friedman shows in an eye-opening chapter ("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").
Red Mafiya benefits from a breezy narrative in detailing a master criminal operation whose influence on the United States is growing rapidly. Russian mobsters already have siphoned off millions of dollars in foreign aid meant to prop up their country's economy--and they may have a more direct impact on American national security concerns in the years ahead: "The Russian mob virtually controls their nuclear-tipped former superpower," writes Friedman. Now, there's a scary thought. Lifting the Iron Curtain seems to have been a mixed blessing: it let freedom in, and organized crime out. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
This disturbing, sharply rendered account tells how the post-Communist Russian Mafiya has infiltrated American life with tactical intelligence and a rare level of viciousness. Drawing from interviews with top Russian mobsters and police, journalist Friedman (Zealots for Zion: Inside Israel's West Bank Settlement Movement) trenchantly explores the brutal corruption of the U.S.S.R. and the anarchic greed that has flourished since its collapse, incubating a "criminal colossus that has surpassed the Colombian cartels, the Japanese Yakuzas, the Chinese triads and the Italian Mafia in wealth and weaponry." Friedman, whose reporting on this subject has appeared in Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and other publications, writes of one wise guy responsible for 100 hits and of "Tarzan"Dthe swaggering Miami mobster busted while attempting to tender a Russian submarine to Colombian drug lords. Friedman documents how the mobsters have imported their brand of terror tacticsDshakedowns, kidnappings, bombings and public assassinationDfrom Moscow to Russian communities in Denver, Brooklyn's Brighton Beach and elsewhere, and examines what he casts as the largely inadequate, uninformed responses by law enforcement. Perhaps most disturbing, he suggests, is this: following profitable 1980s-era gasoline bootlegging schemes, Mafiya criminals shrewdly expanded into numerous quasi-legal pursuitsDestablishing luxurious Russian-themed nightclubs, corrupting Russian migr ice hockey players and making inroads in Israel through their own Jewish ethnicity. Friedman isn't always in control of the bewildering array of players and narrative threads that make up his complicated tale. But there's much to praise in this frightening, urgent reportorial projectDa project that has resulted in death threats against Friedman, as he relates in his hair-raising introduction. Photo insert not seen by PW. BOMC alternate. (May)
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