Brighton Beach a Den of 'Russian Dolls,' But What of the Mob?

Lifetime's reaality show Russian Dolls is about life in Brooklyn's
Brighton Beach, which is filled with Russian immigrants. Also
known as 'Little Odessa,' it has been featured on TV shows
and in films as ground zero for the Russian mob.
We have been watching Lifetime's Russian Dolls; some of the most beautiful women in the world are from Russia, and some quite adorable women are on this, the latest "reality" TV show.

We are hopeful a Russian mobster subplot will join the mix -- it would certainly hold our interest in the show, which at present is toilet-tissue thin.

We have already discovered a past connection between the Russian and Sicilian mob with a nightclub that appears in many episodes of Dolls. But we don't mean to besmirch the current owners in any way; published reports we have read say the club's "connections" are years old.

Dolls, of course, takes place in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach section.

"It's one square mile of Brooklyn, jampacked with crazy Russians," notes one of the show's "characters."

But the silent majority of residents not on reality TV living in the largely immigrant neighborhood say the show hardly reflects their reality, writes NPR in a story critical of the show: Bling And Borscht: 'Russian Dolls' Play Up Stereotypes.

"Russian Dolls is crammed full of short skirts, short fuses, plastic surgery and gaudy jewelry. It gives the impression that Brighton Beach's women hang out in bath houses all day and drink vodka in Russian clubs all night. In their downtime, they talk behind each others' backs," reports NPR.

Brighton Beach is "largely a working class community nestled under a subway trestle, the final resting place on the B train in Brooklyn. It became a stronghold of Jewish immigrants starting in the 1930s and '40s, and it's now often referred to as 'Little Odessa' because of the heavy concentration of immigrants who fled the former USSR to rebuild their lives," NPR reports.

Little Odessa is--or was?--also HQ for the Russian mob in America -- and we are waiting to see if the show ever heads in that direction. A new character -- Vlad -- well, let's just say there may be something there for us Mafia enthusiasts.

You don't have to be Russian to know about Brighton Beach's dark side. On CBS's Blue Bloods, the area is a haven for the Russian mafia. The area also is the setting for the 2007 film We Own the Night. And there is the Tim Roth film Little Odessa, about ... a Russian gangster.

Vyacheslav 'Yaponchik' Ivankov, the first major Russian organized crime figure prosecuted by the U.S. government, ran extortion operations out of Brighton Beach.

We may have won the Cold War, but one of the prices we paid is releasing the Russian gangs on the world. "The former Soviet Bloc's opening up... and the internationalization of its economy... gave the Russian mafia connections to other criminal organizations around the world, such as the Chinese Triads or the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. Connections with Latin American drug cartels allowed the Russian mafia to import cocaine into the country," reports Wikipedia.

As for what is going on in the Russian mob in America now, we read on a site dedicated to the FBI 10 Most Wanted Fugitives that "in a 2006 interview, former Clinton administration anti-organized-crime czar Jon Winer said, 'I can tell you that Semion Mogilevich is as serious an organized criminal as I have ever encountered and I am confident that he is responsible for contract killings.'"

Also on the site: "In 2003, the FBI put Mogilevich on the Wanted List for participation in the scheme to defraud investors in Canadian company YBM Magnex International Inc. Frustrated by their previous unsuccessful efforts to charge him for arms trafficking and prostitution, they had now settled on the large-scale fraud charges as their best hope of running him to ground."

The Village Voice in a 1998 article about Semion, titled The Most Dangerous Mobster in the World, writes, "The enigmatic leader of the Red Mafia [crime family] is a 52-year-old Ukrainian-born Jew named Semion Mogilevich. He is a shadowy figure known as the 'Brainy Don' -- he holds an economics degree from the University of Lvov -- and until now, he has never been exposed by the media. But the Voice has obtained hundreds of pages of classified FBI and Israeli intelligence documents from August 1996, and these documents--as well as recent interviews with a key criminal associate and with dozens of law enforcement sources here and abroad--describe him as someone who has become a grave threat to the stability of Israel and Eastern Europe.

"'He's the most powerful mobster in the world,' crows Monya Elson, who is listed in classified documents as one of Mogilevich's closest associates and partners in prostitution and money laundering rings. The Brighton Beach­-based Elson, who once led a pack of thugs and killers known as Monya's Brigada, is currently in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan awaiting trial for three murders and numerous extortions."

Flash forward to last year, and Jerry Capeci was writing about Elson, who grew into a large underworld figure in his own right. As Capeci writes on the Huffington Post, the Genovese family saved his life from another Russian gangster, Victor Zilber, who, along with a Genovese capo, were silent partners in... you guessed it, Rasputin!

"Monya Elson, one of the toughest, most feared Russian gangsters to ever make his mark on U.S. soil, has always seemed to live under a lucky star: From 1991 to 1993, as he practiced his chosen profession in both Brighton Beach and Los Angeles, he survived three shootings and even a bomb blast," Capeci writes.

"... Elson was only spared when his guardian angel in the Genovese crime family nixed [a hit] plan at the last minute.

"A key player in the murder scheme was Genovese capo Anthony (Tony D) Palumbo, who pleaded guilty last week to murder conspiracy charges that stemmed from lucrative gasoline bootlegging schemes by wiseguys and Russian gangsters during the 1980s and 1990s.

"Sources tell Gang Land that Palumbo set the murder plot in motion on behalf of Victor Zilber, a Russian gangster and Palumbo-partner in so-called 'daisy chain' scams that made millionaires out of many gangsters as they cheated the IRS out of more than $1 billion in federal excise taxes.

"At the time, in late 1992-early 1993, sources say Tony D was a silent partner of Zilber's in Rasputin, a glitzy Russian nightclub in Brighton Beach. Elson was a so-called employee of the club who was earning $3,000 a week, a pricey salary that likely had something to do with Zilber's decision to get him out of the way.

"Sources say that when Zilber, who, like Palumbo, was later charged with stealing millions of dollars in motor fuel taxes, asked Tony D to whack Elson, the mobster agreed... " But mob politics got in the way, and the Elson hit was never carried out -- or, a better way to say it would probably be: it was stopped after the aforementioned attempts.

So far, the only dished dirt centered on "stars" on the show (that we know of, anyway) has to do with the current owners of Rasputin.

From "The Levitis Family (matriarch Eva, her son Michael and his wife Marina) runs a restaurant and cabaret named Rasputin (a Russian historical figure whose life is enshrouded in myths and mystery)... their own life has been touched by scandal this year. This February Michael Levitis, who is a lawyer, and co-owns the restaurant, pled guilty to lying to FBI officers about his friend state Senator Carl Kruger’s pay-to-play bribery scheme.

"He was reportedly used as a go-between to help Sen. Kruger raise money for his campaign in exchange for 'official favors.' Levitis denied his involvement in the scheme while talking to undercover FBI agents, but they already had proof to the contrary. In 2009, an informant secretly taped a conversation where Levitis told the informant to pay off Kruger’s chief-of-staff Jason Koppel for assistance with an official business inspection.

"He was arrested in the summer of 2010, he pled guilty in February, and was sentenced to three years probation and a $15,000 fine. Reportedly Russian Dolls won’t address these issues, but may if the show is renewed."

Links to the complete articles:

Bling And Borscht: 'Russian Dolls' Play Up Stereotypes : NPR.

FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives « It dont Matter! Russian Dolls’ Rasputin restaurant owner Michael Levitis lied to FBI in bribery scandal.

Huffington Post: Jerry Capeci: Feared Russian Hitman Saved by Genovese Guardian Angel