US Feds Bust Brooklyn-Based Drugs, Gambling Gang with Alleged Russian Mob Ties
US federal agents this week indicted nine members of a Brooklyn gang accused of multiple violations, including illegal drug trafficking and the continuing operation of a private, high-stakes poker game where as much as $150,000 was allegedly wagered. A statement from the Eastern District of New York USAO office described those charged as being members of an “Eastern European Organized Crime Syndicate.” Further details in the release described the gang as having direct ties to the “Thieves in Law” group of criminals that have been traced back to Russia-based crime syndicates.
Eight of the nine people charged were quickly arrested, while the ninth, reportedly the leader of the New York City-area operation, remained at large. Curiously, the ninth indictee’s name was redacted from court documents released in connection with the case. The eight men, all residents of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach and Coney Island neighborhoods, were charged with various offenses, including racketeering, extortion, loansharking, illegal gambling, and drug trafficking.
As alleged in the USAO statement, “Syndicate members in Brooklyn reported directly to members of organized crime — known as ‘thieves in law’ or ‘Thieves’ — based in various former states of the Soviet Union. The Thieves would, in turn, help the defendants extort money from individuals living abroad and authorize the use of physical force by the defendants in the United States.”
The USAO detailed some of the activity which led to charges being brought against the group, in this excerpt:
Since as early as March 2016, the defendants allegedly generated profits through their criminal acts. To collect outstanding debts, worth in the aggregate millions of dollars, they regularly used threats of violence. The syndicate’s reach was international and included extorting payments in the United States and threatening victims and their family members living abroad. For example, wiretap recordings reveal that the defendants tracked down the father of an extortion victim in Russia in order to determine where his son was living. After locating the victim — whom defendants claimed owed syndicate members nearly $200,000 — defendant Gershman announced, the “Thieves have found him . . . in Israel,” and “they were at [his] place today.” Another extortion victim who struggled to repay his debt was ominously reminded that, “the person who is going to work with you [to repay the debt] … is a boxer with cauliflower ears.” The interest rate being charged this particular victim was 100% per year.
Those arraigned this week included:
- Leonid Gershman, 33, a/k/a “Lenny,” “Lenny G.,” “Lyonchik” and “Lyonya”;
- Aleksey Tsvetkov, 38, a/k/a “Pelmin,” “Lesha” and “Lyosha”
- Renat Yusufov, 38, a/k/a “Ronnie” and “Ronik”
- Igor Krugly, 37,
- Vyacheslav Malkeyev, 32, a/k/a “Steve Bart”
- Isok Aronov, 32
- Yusif Pardilov, 52, a/k/a “Yosik”
- Librado Rivera, 36, a/k/a “Macho” and “Max”
Seven of the nine men indicted are naturalized citizens originally from Russia and the Ukraine, while Tsvetkov is a Ukrainian citizen who was deported a decade ago, then later allowed to return and was granted asylum. The eight men arrested to date face maximum sentences of 20 to 40 years if convicted on all counts.
As for the poker stuff (though it appears the drug trafficking was the greater area of interest for authorities) the USAO stated, “The government’s investigation revealed that the syndicate members ran high-stakes illegal poker games in various locations in Brooklyn, where a single game could involve wagers totaling as much as $150,000.”
Though of a smaller scale, the bust and the game’s strong connections to Russian organized crime are reminiscent of the prominent Taiwanchik-Trincher raids and indictments, also in New York City, which made headlines over the past couple of years. Despite the ties of both groups to European “Thieves” leaders, no other connections have yet been announced.
DEA Special Agent-in-Charge James Hunt stated, “This drug investigation’s path uncovered an alleged Russian organized crime syndicate operating in Brighton Beach and Coney Island, NY. As history often repeats itself, racketeering, loansharking, extortion, and illegal gambling are just some of crimes the defendants are charged with committing here in Brooklyn, similar to crimes committed by the Thieves in Law in the former Soviet states. Today’s arrests exemplify the effectiveness of the DEA’s Strike Force which comprises federal, state, and local law enforcement from 15 agencies.”
“The NYPD worked diligently with its law enforcement partners to take down this alleged criminal enterprise, whose Brooklyn operation had significant ties overseas,” said Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill. “These defendants operated with impunity, threatening loansharking victims with physical violence, trafficking large quantities of narcotics and hosting high stakes poker games. I want to commend the investigators working this case for their dedication in taking down these persistent criminals.”