Marat Balagula

Marat Balagula

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Marat Balagula is a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n - Ukrainian
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 Jewish immigrant, former mob boss, and associate of the Lucchese crime family
Lucchese crime family
The Lucchese crime family is one of the "Five Families" that dominates organized crime activities in New York City, United States, within the nationwide criminal phenomenon known as the Mafia . The family originated in the early 1920s with Gaetano "Tommy" Reina serving as boss up until his murder...

. He has often been referred to as "the Russian Tony Soprano
Tony Soprano
Anthony John "Tony" Soprano, Sr. is an Italian-American fictional character and the protagonist on the HBO television drama series The Sopranos, on which he is portrayed by James Gandolfini. The character was conceived by The Sopranos creator and show runner David Chase, who was also largely...

."

Early life


According to Robert Friedman,
"Marat Balagula was born in 1943 in Orenburg
Orenburg
Orenburg is a city on the Ural River and the administrative center of Orenburg Oblast, Russia. It lies southeast of Moscow, very close to the border with Kazakhstan. Population: 546,987 ; 549,361 ; Highest point: 154.4 m...

, a small Russian town, at the height of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. His mother, Zinaida, fled with the children from their home in Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

 after the German Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 swept across the Russian steppes. Marat's father, Jakov, was a lieutenant in the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

; Balagula claims that he was one of the armored corps that stormed Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 during the last desperate hours of the war. In the harshness of the Stalin era, the Balagulas led a comfortable. middle class life. Jakov worked in a factory manufacturing locks, as did his wife. Young Marat, an average high school student, was drafted into the Soviet Army
Soviet Army
The Soviet Army is the name given to the main part of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union between 1946 and 1992. Previously, it had been known as the Red Army. Informally, Армия referred to all the MOD armed forces, except, in some cases, the Soviet Navy.This article covers the Soviet Ground...

 at the age of nineteen and served as a bursar
Bursar
A bursar is a senior professional financial administrator in a school or university.Billing of student tuition accounts are the responsibility of the Office of the Bursar. This involves sending bills and making payment plans with the ultimate goal of getting the student accounts paid off...

 for three years, after which the Party assigned him to manage a food co-op in Odessa. Determined to get ahead, Marat attended night school, receiving diploma as a teacher of mathematics and then a business degree in economics and mathematics. Like many ambitious Russians with capitalist predilections, he promptly plunged into the country's flourishing black market. He quickly learned to attend to the demanding appetites of the apparatchiks, making certain that the choicest meats and produce was delivered to them."

Start in America


In 1977, Balagula decided to move his family to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment
Jackson-Vanik amendment
The Jackson–Vanik amendment is a 1974 provision in United States federal law, intended to affect U.S. trade relations with countries with non-market economies that restrict freedom of emigration and other human rights...

. At first he worked as a textile
Textile
A textile or cloth is a flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibres often referred to as thread or yarn. Yarn is produced by spinning raw fibres of wool, flax, cotton, or other material to produce long strands...

 cutter in Washington Heights, Manhattan
Washington Heights, Manhattan
Washington Heights is a New York City neighborhood in the northern reaches of the borough of Manhattan. It is named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed at the highest point on Manhattan island by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, to defend the area from the...

 for $3.50 per hour. His wife Alexandra later reminisced, "It was hard for us, with no language, no money."

According to Robert I. Friedman,
"Balagula's fortunes improved markedly when he relocated his family to Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach is an oceanside neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. As of 2000, it has a population of 75,692 with a total of 31,228 households.-Location:...

 and began to work for the infamous vor
Thief in law
Thief in law is a criminal who is respected, has authority and a high ranking status within the...

 Evsei Agron
Evsei Agron
Evsei Agron was a thief in law and boss of New York City's Russian Mafia during the 1970s and '80s.Born in Leningrad, Agron immigrated to the United States under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in 1975. He swiftly gained control of criminal operations among the Soviet Jews living in Brighton Beach...

... Agron, it turned out, was no match for the ambitious Balagula. While Agron's technical expertise didn't go beyond seeking sadistic new uses for his electric cattle prod
Cattle prod
A cattle prod, also called a stock prod, is a handheld device commonly used to make cattle or other livestock move by striking or poking them, or in the case of a Hot-Shot-type prod, through a relatively high-voltage, low-current electric shock...

, Balagula wanted to lead the Organizatsiya into the upscale world of white collar crime, and with the experience he had gained in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, he developed a business acumen that put him in a class by himself. surrounded by a cadre of Russian economists and math prodigies at the Odessa restaurant, he acquired a knowledge of global markets that enabled him to make millions in the arcane world of commodities trading. He also energetically cultivated the Italian mobsters he met as Agron's consigliere
Consigliere
Consigliere is a position within the leadership structure of Sicilian and American Mafia crime families. The word was popularized by Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather , and its film adaptation...

. After Agron was executed, Balagula organized his followers into a hierarchy, much like the Italian Mafia and before long, succeeded in transforming the Organizatsiya into a multibillion dollar a year criminal enterprise that stretched across from the tatters of Communist Eastern Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Ultimately, however, it was Balagula's spectacular success in the gasoline bootlegging business -- a scheme that would reportedly earn him hundreds of millions of dollars and an honored position with the Italian Mafia -- that would usher in the first Golden Age of Russian organized crime in America."

Russian mob


In the aftermath of Agron's murder, Balagula took over as the most powerful Russian gangster in Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

. According to a former associate,
"Marat was the king of Brighton Beach. He had a Robin Hood
Robin Hood
Robin Hood was a heroic outlaw in English folklore. A highly skilled archer and swordsman, he is known for "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor", assisted by a group of fellow outlaws known as his "Merry Men". Traditionally, Robin Hood and his men are depicted wearing Lincoln green clothes....

 complex. People would come over from Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and he'd give them jobs. He liked professional men. Guys came over and couldn't practice medicine or use their engineering degrees. He sought them out. He was fascinated with intellectuals. He co-opted them. He put them into the gasoline business, he put them into car washes or taxi companies. He'd reinvest his own money in their business if they were having trouble. He had a heart."


According to a former Suffolk County, New York
Suffolk County, New York
Suffolk County is a county located in the U.S. state of New York on the eastern portion of Long Island. As of the 2010 census, the population was 1,493,350. It was named for the county of Suffolk in England, from which its earliest settlers came...

 prosecutor, however, there was another side to Balagula.
"Everybody in Brighton Beach talked about Balagula in hushed tones. These were people who knew him from the Old Country. They were really, genuinely scared of this guy."

American Mafia


After the Colombo crime family
Colombo crime family
The Colombo crime family is the youngest of the "Five Families" that dominates organized crime activities in New York City, United States, within the nationwide criminal phenomenon known as the Mafia ....

 began shaking down his gasoline business, Balagula asked for a sitdown with Lucchese crime family
Lucchese crime family
The Lucchese crime family is one of the "Five Families" that dominates organized crime activities in New York City, United States, within the nationwide criminal phenomenon known as the Mafia . The family originated in the early 1920s with Gaetano "Tommy" Reina serving as boss up until his murder...

 consigliere
Consigliere
Consigliere is a position within the leadership structure of Sicilian and American Mafia crime families. The word was popularized by Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather , and its film adaptation...

 Christopher Furnari
Christopher Furnari
Christopher "Christie Tick" Furnari, Sr. is a Lucchese crime family mobster serving life in prison. During the 1980s, Furnari served as the family consigliere until his 1986 racketeering conviction.-Early years:...

 at Brooklyn's 19th Hole social club. According to Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso
Anthony Casso
Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso is a former New York City mobster who served as underboss and acting boss of the Lucchese crime family until he was arrested in 1993, becoming a cooperating witness for the Federal Government...

, who was a Lucchese soldier present at the meeting, Furnari declared,
"Here there's enough for everybody to be happy... to leave the table satisfied. What we must avoid is trouble between us and the other families. I propose to make a deal with the others so there's no bad blood.... Meanwhile, we will send word out that from now on you and your people are with the Lucchese family. No one will bother you. If anyone does bother you, come to us and Anthony will take care of it."


In the aftermath, New York's Five Families
Five Families
The Five Families are the five original Italian-American Mafia crime families which have dominated organized crime in America since 1931. The Five Families in New York remain as the powerhouse of the Italian Mafia in the United States.-History:...

 imposed a two cent per gallon "Family tax" on Balagula's bootlegging operation, which became their greatest moneymaker after drug trafficking. According to one former associate,
"The LCN reminded Marat of the apparatchik
Apparatchik
Apparatchik is a Russian colloquial term for a full-time, professional functionary of the Communist Party or government; i.e., an agent of the governmental or party "apparat" that held any position of bureaucratic or political responsibility, with the exception of the higher ranks of management...

s in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. He thought as long as he gave them something they would be valuable allies. Then all of a sudden he was at risk of being killed if he couldn't pay to the penny.


According to author Philip Carlo
Philip Carlo
Philip Carlo was a journalist and best selling biographer of Thomas Pitera, Richard Kuklinski, Anthony Casso, and Richard Ramirez.-Life:...

,
"Because Gaspipe and Russian mobster Marat Balagula hit it off so well, Casso was soon partners with Balagula on a diamond mine located in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone , officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of and has an estimated population between 5.4 and 6.4...

, Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. They opened a business office in Freetown
Freetown
Freetown is the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa. It is a major port city on the Atlantic Ocean located in the Western Area of the country, and had a city proper population of 772,873 at the 2004 census. The city is the economic, financial, and cultural center of...

. Casso also arranged for an Orthodox Jewish
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 friend of his named Simon Stein, a diamond expert and member of the DeBeers Club, to travel from the Forty-seventh Street diamond district to Africa to smuggle -- in the linings and collars of great overcoat
Overcoat
An overcoat is a type of long coat intended to be worn as the outermost garment. Overcoats usually extend below the knee, but are sometimes mistakenly referred to as topcoats, which are short coats that end at or above the knees. Topcoats and overcoats together are known as outercoats...

s and in secret compartments of very expensive leather luggage -- particularly brilliant diamonds back into the country."

Enemies


According to Carlo,
"It didn't take long for word on the street to reach the Russian underworld: Marat Balagula was paying off the Italians; Balagula was a punk; Balagula had no balls. Balagula's days were numbered. This, of course, was the beginning of serious trouble. Balagula did in fact have balls -- he was a ruthless killer when necessary -- but he also was a smart diplomatic administrator and he knew that the combined, concerted force of the Italian crime families would quickly wipe the newly arrived Russian competition off the proverbial map."


Shortly afterward, on June 12, 1986, Balagula's rival, a psychopathic hitman named Vladimir Reznikov
Vladimir Reznikov
Vladimir Reznikov was a Russian American gangster. After attempting to extort money from rival gangster Marat Balagula, Reznikov was shot dead by the Lucchese crime family, to whom Balagula was paying street tax. Reznikov's murder remained unsolved until the 1994 cooperation of Lucchese acting...

, entered the former's nightclub in Brighton Beach. Reznikov pushed a 9mm Beretta
Beretta
Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta is an Italian firearms manufacturer. Their firearms are used worldwide for a variety of civilian, law enforcement, and military purposes. It is also known for manufacturing shooting clothes and accessories. Beretta is the oldest active firearms manufacturer in the...

 into Balagula's skull and demanded $600,000 as the price of not pulling the trigger. He also demanded a percentage of everything Balagula was involved in. After Balagula promised to get the money, Reznikov snarled, "F--- with me and you're dead -- you and your whole f---ing family; I swear I'll f--- and kill your wife as you watch -- you understand?"

Shortly after Reznikov left, Balagula suffered a massive heart attack. He insisted, however on being treated at his home in Brighton Beach, where he felt it would be less difficult for Reznikov to reach him. When Anthony Casso arrived, he told Balagula, "Send word to Vladimir that you have his money, that he should come to the club tomorrow. We'll take care of the rest." Casso also requested a photograph of Reznikov and a description of his car.

The following day, Reznikov arrived at Balagula's nightclub to pick up his money. Instead, Reznikov was confronted by Gambino associate Joseph Testa, who fatally shot him on Casso's orders. According to Casso, "After that, Marat didn't have any problems with other Russians."

Downfall


In 1986, Balagula was masterminding a $750,000 credit card
Credit card
A credit card is a small plastic card issued to users as a system of payment. It allows its holder to buy goods and services based on the holder's promise to pay for these goods and services...

 scam when a business associate, Robert Fasano, began wearing a wire on him for the U.S. Secret Service. After being convicted on Federal charges, Balagula fled to Antwerp with his longtime mistress
Mistress (lover)
A mistress is a long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner; the term is used especially when her partner is married. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually,...

 Natalia Shevchencko. After three years as a fugitive, Balagula was arrested in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 on February 27, 1989. In December 1989, Balagula was extradited to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and sentenced to eight years in prison for credit card fraud.

In November 1992, Balagula was convicted at a separate trial for gasoline bootlegging and sentenced to an additional ten years in Federal prison. While passing sentence, Judge Leonard Wexler declared, "This was supposed to be a haven for you. It turned out to be a hell for us."

Balgula served his sentence and was released from Federal prison in 2004.

Quotation

  • "They claim I made $25 million dollars per day bootlegging. It's crazy! I got nothing. What have I got? The government took my apartment in Manhattan
    Manhattan
    Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

    , my house in Long Island
    Long Island
    Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

    , $300,000 in cash. They said, 'If you don't cooperate with us you'll go to jail for twenty years.' ...They want me to tell them about the Mafia, about gasoline, about hits. Forget it. All these charges are bullshit! All my life I like to help people. Just because a lot of people come to me for advice, everybody thinks I'm a boss. I came to America to find work, support myself, and create a future for my children."

In popular culture

  • In the video game Grand Theft Auto IV
    Grand Theft Auto IV
    Grand Theft Auto IV is a 2008 open world action video game published by Rockstar Games, and developed by British games developer Rockstar North. It has been released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video game consoles, and for the Windows operating system...

    , a Russian mob boss named Mikhail Faustin may be based on Marat Balagula.

Further reading

  • Devito, Carlo. Encyclopedia of International Organized Crime. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-8160-4848-7