From an award-winning investigative journalist comes an astonishing exposé of Russian organized crime, its growing power in the United States, and its terrifying implications for the rest of the world.
In the past decade, from Brighton Beach to Moscow, Toronto to Hong Kong, the Russian mob has become the world’s fastest-growing criminal superpower. Trafficking in prostitutes, heroin, and missiles, the Mafiya poses an enormous threat to global stability and safety.
The black-market corruption of the Brezhnev era proved the perfect breeding ground for organized crime. Beginning in the 1970s, Soviet émigrés – including a large number of felons and murderers the USSR was happy to get rid of – began arriving in the United States and a number of them quickly established themselves as a major criminal force in New York, Las Vegas, and elsewhere.
But it was the breakup of the Soviet Union that made the Russian mob what it is today. In a weakened, impoverished Russia, it quickly became the dominant power. And it has now spread to every corner of the United States, infiltrating its banks and brokerage firms – and American law enforcement is just waking up to this enormous problem.
No journalist in the world knows more about the Russian mob in America than Robert Friedman. At great risk to himself, he has made connections with a number of top criminals who have gone on record about their activities for the first time. The result of his discoveries is a revelation: the Red Mafiya is everywhere. The implications – for law enforcement, the economy, foreign policy, for the American people themselves – are staggering.
I would like to thank the following organizations for their support:
I would also like to thank Michael Caruso, Tim Moss, Jim Rosenthal, and my agents Kris Dahl at International Creative Management and Eric Simonoff at Janklow & Nesbit Associates.
|The Superpower of Crime
The Hit Man
The Little Don
Brighton Beach Goodfellas
Operation Red Daisy
Invasion of America
Colonization and Conquest
The Money Plane
The World’s Most Dangerous Gangster
God Bless America
Ihad just returned from a vacation in June 1998 when I found out how dangerous it is to investigate the Russian mob. Mike McCall, a top agent on the FBI’s Russian Organized Crime Squad in Manhattan, called me with chilling news. “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings,” he said gently, “but the FBI has reliable information that a major Russian organized crime figure has taken out a contract on your life.”
Belgian journalist Alain Lallemand, an expert on Russian organized crime who has suffered through hair-raising attempts on his life, once told me that the Russian mob would leave journalists alone as long they didn’t come between the mobsters and their money. In a series of revelatory articles about the growing threat of the Russian mob in such publications as New York, Details, and Vanity Fair, I had apparently crossed this dangerous line.
Stunned, I finally managed to ask McCall what I was supposed to do in response. “We are working on this just as hard as we can,” he answered, “but right now we can’t preclude the possibility of something happening to you, okay?” But how could I protect myself – and my wife? McCall bluntly replied that it wasn’t the FBI’s responsibility to offer that kind of advice. After some pleading, he at last offered a tip: “If you have the opportunity to lie low,” he said simply, “take it.”
At the time, I was getting ready to fly to Miami to interview a Russian crime lord nicknamed Tarzan, a man who had sold Russian military helicopters to Colombian drug barons and was in the process of brokering a deal to sell them a submarine, complete with a retired Russian captain and a crew of seventeen, when he was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency. McCall told me to forget about the trip to Miami, which has the second largest concentration of Russian mobsters in the United States; a hit man could easily trace me to my South Beach hotel. For that matter, he said, I should also forget about doing any more interviews in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn – ground zero for the Russian mob in America. In fact, he advised, I should consider forgetting doing any more reporting at all on the subject.
The next day, a magazine that had just published one of my exposés of the Russian criminals generously supplied me with some getaway money and a bulletproof vest. Before I could flee town, however, I noticed a thickly bearded, muscular Russian loitering around my apartment building whom I was certain I had once seen in the company of a notorious Russian don nicknamed Fat Felix. I didn’t waste any more time. I quickly collected my wife and drove up to a rented hideaway in Vermont.
One week spent pacing the floors of our retreat left me restless and upset, and I resolved not to be intimidated into silence or to spend another day underground. Despite the risk, I returned to my home. As far as the FBI was concerned, however, I was on my own; they refused to tell me anything further about the death order, feebly explaining that the bureau couldn’t jeopardize its “sources and methods.” One sympathetic DEA agent suggested that I buy myself a .357 revolver; as he explained, although it flares when it’s fired and there is quite a jolt, it’s more reliable than an automatic, which can jam if not constantly cleaned.
I later learned (though not through the FBI) that the author of the anonymous death threat against me was Semion Mogilevich, the Budapest-based leader of the Red Mafiya, the most brilliant and savage Russian mob organization in the world. It was after I had written a long exposé of his criminal career in The Village Voice that he put out a contract on my life, a threat that was picked up during a telephone intercept by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the New York Times. A European law enforcement official told the Times that the contract was for $100,000. At least one key witness in the murder plot was killed before he could testify against Mogilevich, the Sunday Times of London reported.
I first began exploring the shadowy world of Russian organized crime in the late 1980s. I had spent much of my career documenting the primordial struggle between Palestinians and Jews over a tiny, bloodstained strip of land on the Mediterranean that both sides passionately love and call home. On occasion, I’d tackle such diverse stories as AIDS, prostitution, and political corruption in India. While working on an Italian Mafia story, I was introduced by a Genovese organized crime family source in New York to several of his Russian criminal colleagues, a meeting that opened a door for me into this little known, nearly impenetrable ethnic underworld. I found them to be devilishly crooked wunderkinder, who in a few years’ time, I suspected, could establish a New World Criminal Order. Over the following years, 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.
In the sheltered, seaside community of Brighton Beach, I had become a polite, but persistent pest. One Brighton Beach mobster tried to bribe me; another tied me up in a frivolous, though costly, libel suit; other Russian wiseguys tried to scare me off with angry, abusive invective. Several gangsters simply accused me of being biased against Russian émigrés – a ridiculous accusation, as all four of my grandparents were Jews who fled czarist Russia for America to escape religious persecution.
Ironically, the first wave of Russian mobsters used the same excuse to gain entry to America. During the détente days of the early 1970s, when Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had agreed to allow the limited emigration of Soviet Jews, thousands of hard-core criminals, many of them released from Soviet Gulags by the KGB, took advantage of their nominal Jewish status to swarm into the United States. The majority settled in Brighton Beach, where they quickly resumed their cruel criminal vocation.
The Russian mob may act like Cossacks, but I never seriously considered running away an option. Yet then I received a second, particularly violent death threat: “Friedman! You are a dirty fucking American prostitute and liar! I WILL FUCK YOU! And make you suck my Russian DICK!” The obscenity-laced note was placed inside a Hallmark Valentine Day’s card that teased: “It was easy finding a Valentine for someone like you.” The author of the threat hadn’t bothered to hide his identity. It was signed Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov.
The FBI has described Ivankov as the most powerful Russian mobster in the United States. Before coming to the U.S. in 1992, he spent many years in the Gulag for a number of gruesome crimes, including torturing his extortion victims, and he had personally ordered the killing of so many journalists, police, and civilians in Russia that a ruling council of mob bosses banished him to America. He arrived with several hundred no-neck thugs led by a former KGB colonel. Using his considerable intelligence and muscle, Ivankov quickly seized control of the Russian Jewish mob, which by then had grown from a neighborhood extortion racket in Brighton Beach to a brutal, innovative, multibillion-dollar-a-year criminal enterprise.
Despite his conviction in 1996 of extorting two Russian Wall Street investors, and his subsequent sentencing to a prison term in a federal penitentiary until 2005, Ivankov, according to the FBI, had continued to issue commands from his upstate New York cell, ordering the execution of his enemies and underworld rivals. When he mailed me the handwritten death threat, the fifty-nine-year-old gangster was so brazen that he included his cell block unit and prison ID number.
This time, I phoned the FBI. McCall rushed to my cramped New York apartment, where he gingerly picked up the caustic message with rubber gloves, placing it into a clear plastic folder. The bureau later considered making Ivankov’s mordant valentine part of a multicount federal indictment against the godfather. “Our idea is to put him away for life,” an FBI agent told me, explaining that, the longer Ivankov was in jail, the less sway he’d have over his criminal comrades. I was asked whether I’d be willing to publicly testify against the Russian. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m on his hit list, too,” admitted one top FBI official in Washington. In fact, as one of the two agents who put Ivankov in prison, so was Mike McCall. But of course, they both had badges – and guns. Still, I agreed to testify, fully aware of the fact that the witnesses who had stood up against Ivankov in the Wall Street extortion case were now living secretly in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
However perilous the situation into which I was placing myself, I was aware that in Europe and the former Soviet bloc, the dangers faced by journalists are far, far worse. “Journalists pursuing investigative stories on corruption and organized crime have found themselves at great risk,” stated a 1997 report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “especially in Russia and Ukraine, where beatings have become routine. These physical assaults have had the expected chilling effect on investigative journalism, frightening some reporters into self-censorship or even quitting the profession, while many have resorted to using pseudonyms.”
In all, thirteen journalists from the Russian Federation have been killed by the mob since the fall of communism, according to the committee. In one of the worst incidents of intimidation, Anna Zarkova, a forty-year-old award-winning crime reporter, had sulfuric acid hurled in her face in downtown Sofia in May 1998. From her hospital bed, now blind in one eye, the mother of two appealed to her colleagues not to be cowed into silence. “If they don’t splash acid in your face as a journalist,” she said, “tomorrow they will kill you in the street as a citizen. That’s how crime escalates in this country.”
Russian mobsters, in the United States, simply don’t play by the unwritten rules of the acceptable uses of gangland violence. Rarely has the Italian Mafia, for instance, inflicted harm on a member of the American media, prosecutors, or judges, fully aware of the retaliation that would likely result. The Russians, however, have no such prohibition. Murder, for them, is a blood sport. “We Italians will kill you,” a John Gotti associate once warned a potential snitch over a government wire. “But the Russians are crazy – they’ll kill your whole family.” Some eighty Russian mob-related murders still languish unsolved on the books in Brooklyn alone. “The Russians are ruthless and crazy,” a retired New York City cop told me. “It’s a bad combination. They’ll shoot you just to see if their gun works.”
It is no small irony that the FBI has become my guardian angel, for if not for its own sluggishness in addressing the problem, the Russian mob in the United States would never have become as powerful as it is today. Though FBI boss Louis Freeh has said that Russian criminals pose an “immense” strategic threat to America, the bureau didn’t even set up a Russian organized crime squad in New York until May 1994, long after the Russian mob in America was well entrenched. It should perhaps come as no surprise that the FBI, which likewise failed to go after La Cosa Nostra for thirty-five years, is now playing a desperate game of catch-up.
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. “Remember when Khrushchev banged his shoe on a table at the U.N. and said he would bury the West?” a baby-faced Russian gangster once asked me in a Brighton Beach cabaret. “He couldn’t do it then, but we will do it now!”
With activities in countries ranging from Malaysia to Great Britain, Russian mobsters now operate in more than fifty nations. They smuggle heroin from Southeast Asia, traffic in weapons all over the globe, and seem to have a special knack for large-scale extortion. The Russian mob has plundered the fabulously rich gold and diamond mines in war-torn Sierra Leone, built dazzling casinos in Costa Rica with John Gotti Jr., and, through its control of more than 80 percent of Russia’s banks, siphoned billions of dollars of Western government loans and aid, thereby exacerbating a global financial crisis that toppled Wall Street’s historic bull market in August 1998.
Tutored in the mercenary ways of a brutal totalitarian state riddled with corruption, the Russians have developed a business acumen that puts them in a class by themselves. Many of today’s foremost Russian mobsters have Ph.D.’s in mathematics, engineering, or physics, helping them to acquire an expertise in advanced encryption and computer technology. “Hell,” a senior Treasury Department official remarked, “it took them about a week to figure out how to counterfeit the $100 Super Note,” which was unveiled in 1997 with much fanfare as “tamper-proof.”
More ominously, U.S. intelligence officials worry that Russian gangsters will acquire weapons of mass destruction such as fissionable material or deadly, easily concealed pathogens such as the smallpox virus – all too readily available from poorly guarded military bases or scientific labs – and sell these deadly wares to any number of terrorist groups or renegade states.
In North America alone, there are now thirty Russian crime syndicates operating in at least seventeen U.S. cities, most notably New York, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver. The Russians have already pulled off the largest jewelry heist and insurance and Medicare frauds in American history, with a net haul exceeding $1 billion. They have invaded North America’s financial markets, orchestrating complex stock scams, allegedly laundering billions of dollars through the Bank of New York, and coolly infiltrating the business and real estate worlds. The Russian mob has even penetrated the National Hockey League, where many players have either been its victims or become Mafiya facilitators, helping the mob sink its roots further into American soil. There is even fear that NHL games may be fixed. “The Russians didn’t come here to enjoy the American dream,” New York State tax agent Roger Berger says glumly. “They came here to steal it.”
Russian mobsters in the United States aren’t just Italian wiseguy wannabes. Merging with the even more powerful Mafiya groups that have flourished in post-perestroika Russia, they have something La Cosa Nostra can only dream about: their own country. Just as Meyer Lansky ran Cuba for a short time until Castro seized power in 1959, the Russian mob virtually controls their nuclear-tipped former superpower, which provides them with vast financial assets and a truly global reach. Russian President Boris Yeltsin wasn’t exaggerating when he described Russia as “the biggest Mafia state in the world” and “the superpower of crime.”
In 1993, a high-ranking Russian immigration official in Moscow told U.S. investigators that there were five million dangerous criminals in the former U.S.S.R. who would be allowed to immigrate to the West. It’s nearly impossible for the State Department to weed out these undesirables because the former states of the Eastern bloc seldom make available the would-be émigré’s criminal record.
“It’s wonderful that the Iron Curtain is gone, but it was a shield for the West,” Boris Urov, the former chief investigator of major crimes for the Russian attorney general, has declared. “Now we’ve opened the gates, and this is very dangerous for the world. America is getting Russian criminals. Nobody will have the resources to stop them. You people in the West don’t know our Mafiya yet. You will, you will!”
For nearly a year, the FBI promised to prosecute Ivankov for his death threat – or at least punish him by taking away some of his basic privileges. When they refused to act, I went to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which contacted the New York Times. On March 5, 1999, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Blaine Harden wrote a front-page Metro section story about the death threats. “I was a good soldier for a long time,” I told Harden, “but then I felt like a billy goat on a stake. I have been exposed too long and the people making these threats have gone unpunished too long.”
Within days after Harden called the FBI for comment, Ivankov was transferred in the middle of the night from his comfy cell at Ray Brook Correctional Institution, a medium-security federal prison near Lake Placid, New York, to the maximum-security prison at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The Times reported that Lewisburg would impose considerably tighter security restrictions on him because of the threat. “I want him to know I am behind this punishment,” I told the Times. “And I want him to know that he cannot threaten the American press the same way the Mafiya does in Russia.”
Robert I. Friedman has been covering the Russian mob for Details, Vanity Fair, and New York for years. He is the author of Zealots of Zion: Inside Israel’s West Bank Settlement Movement. He lives in the New York area.
The investigative stories of Robert I. Friedman (1951-2002) appeared from the early 1980s. Allegedly, he died of a tropical blood disease. But many had their doubts and believed he was poisoned. The daring Jewish journalist made headlines exposing politicians, bankers and mobsters who preyed on the powerless.
The ADL maligned him, death threats poured in, and he was badly beaten by West Bank thugs. Friedman warned the FBI of the threat posed by the first World Trade Center bombers and deliveered vital reports on the long arms of the Russian Jewish mafia, which offered $100,000 to have him killed.
FRIEDMAN, Robert I. 1950-2002
PERSONAL: Born 1950; died of heart failure caused by a rare blood disease July 2, 2002, in New York, NY; married Christine Dugas (a business journalist). Education: University of Colorado, B.A. (African and Middle Eastern studies); attended American University, Beirut; University of Wisconsin, M.A. (journalism).
CAREER: Investigative journalist. Worked on a defense plant assembly line, late 1960s. Village Voice, New York, NY, contributing editor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Alicia Patterson fellowship, 1987. An award in Friedman's name was established by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Washington, DC.
The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane: From FBI Informant to Knesset Member, Lawrence Hill Books (Brooklyn, NY), 1990.
Zealots for Zion: Inside Israel's West Bank Settlement Movement, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1994.
Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2000.
Contributor to publications, including Village Voice, Nation, New York Review of Books, New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Details, New York Times, and New York.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert I. Friedman was an investigative journalist who is perhaps best known for delving into the workings of the Russian mob in the United States, which resulted in threats to his life. His own contacts spanned the globe, and he worked in relative anonymity until 1999, when he was credited with uncovering the information that led to national headlines alleging that the Russian mob had set up a $10 billion money-laundering scheme through the Bank of New York.
Friedman grew up in Denver, Colorado, and worked on an assembly line while taking classes at the University of Colorado. He took time off to travel and audited courses at American University in Beirut, Lebanon and stayed in a red-light district where he was the only Jew living among members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In October 1973, he volunteered to work on a kibbutz in Israel while the men fought the Yom Kippur War.
Upton Sinclair's 1906 The Jungle was Friedman's inspiration. Freedman once said, "I wanted to be a writer and bring down the bastions of power that caused common people so much suffering. That's what I thought in eleventh grade. I guess I never grew up. I still feel that way."
Friedman was known for his attention to detail and attribution in his controversial and volatile reporting. The New York Times allowed him to break news on the op-ed page, and in 1987, a grant allowed him to report on the radical Jewish right, whose hope it was to establish a Greater Israel on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Friedman, who was of Russian-Jewish heritage, sometimes alienated other Jews for his criticism of figures like Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League. Nation reviewer Michael Rosenthal called his biography, The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane: From FBI Informant to Knesset Member, "a devastating, thoroughly convincing account of the career … of a world-class fraud, megalomaniac, and vicious bigot who rose to prominence – and a seat in the Knesset in 1984 – by exploiting the basest fears of Jews both here and in Israel. A genius in the marketing of racial and religious hatred, Kahane demonstrates what implacable ambition unsullied by any trace of decency or morality can do for you if only you are serious."
Friedman notes that Kahane was fired from his first and only job as a rabbi and then became an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He used a pseudonym, Michael King, and spent the 1960s infiltrating left-wing peace groups, lobbying for the Vietnam War, and reporting on various organizations, including the Black Panthers and other Black Nationalist groups in which the FBI was interested. He achieved greater public recognition when he founded the militant Jewish Defense League (JDL) in 1968.
"Capitalizing on the racial tensions of the late 1960s, the JDL purported to be ready to defend innocent Jews from the alleged anti-Semitism stemming from the increasingly militant black civil rights movement," wrote Rosenthal. "In fact, it never defended anybody from anything, except perhaps Kahane from his creditors. In providing Kahane a platform from which to spout his politics of hate and fear, it enabled him to galvanize the anxieties of thousands of Jews into pouring millions of dollars into an organization whose real mission was not their protection but the selling of Meir Kahane." Friedman notes that many of the contributors would never admit to their support.
Kahane became a hero to the Jewish right of New York and was in league with mob boss Joseph Columbo, who showed up in court and paid Kahane's bail of $25,000. In 1971, Kahane left for Israel after being indicted for manufacturing weapons, where he coined his slogan, "Every Jew a .22," as he called for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Occupied Territories.
Rosenthal concluded by saying that Friedman "negotiates the miasma of Kahane's life with both admirable restraint and a compelling urgency, exposing his cynicism, his dishonesty, his untroubled racism. He examines as well the human wreckage spawned by Kahane's fanaticism – altogether, a grim and unforgiving portrait of a man who has always feasted on confrontation."
Zealots for Zion: Inside Israel's West Bank Settlement Movement followed. Tikkun reviewer Rita E. Hauser wrote that "the details and color that Friedman provides about the agenda of the messianic Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza will surely deepen the foreboding that often grips supporters of a truly democratic Israel. Above all else, Friedman documents the extent to which Israeli political figures have used the settler movement for their own purposes."
Friedman had moved in mob circles for years, including for his reportage on the Cosa Nostra, and his connections helped him infiltrate the Russian mob early in the 1990s, after the cold war had ended. Russians with criminal records had taken refuge in the United States during the 1970s when Russia, under pressure from the U.S. government, allowed Jews to emigrate. Russia took advantage of this opportunity to rid itself of thousands of jailed criminals on an unsuspecting United States.
Friedman never gave away his informants, who continually fed him information because they trusted him. In a 1993 Vanity Fair article, he wrote about Marat Balagula and others in the Russian Jewish mob that were based in Brighton Beach on the Brooklyn shore and who were loosely connected to the Italian mob. Balagula was eventually convicted of evading taxes owed the federal government from the sale millions of gallons of gasoline.
Through the 1990s, Friedman broke other stories on various operations and figures, including Semion Mogilevich – whose network is the "Red Mafiya" of the title. A Ukranian Jew who was linked to prostitution, drugs, nuclear arms trafficking, and the New York money laundering scheme, Mogilevich employed a sophisticated staff that used modern technology to extend his operations around the world. Friedman drew on interviews and data contained in classified documents to expose the various schemes, and the FBI contacted Friedman and suggested that he and his wife go into hiding when death threats were made. They did, for just a week, then returned to New York City.
Friedman's reporting on the Russian mob culminated with his book, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America, in which he documents the corruption that has flourished since the end of the cold war, resulting in a "criminal colossus that has surpassed the Colombian cartels, the Japanese Yakuzas, the Chinese triads, and the Italian Mafia in wealth and weaponry." Friedman lists the schemes of dozens of Russian crime syndicates operating in the United States, including Medicare fraud, theft, stock scams, money laundering, and their activities in business and real estate. He writes of deals in which helicopters and a submarine were sold to Colombian drug lords and how the Russian mob is expanding into Africa and Australia.
In reviewing Red Mafiya for the New York Review of Books, Raymond Bonner wrote that Friedman's prose "sometimes makes it sound like a sequel to Pulp Fiction." Washington Post Book World's Peter H. Stone said Friedman "does a first-rate job of showing why FBI director Louis Freeh has said that the Russian mob poses an 'immense' threat."
In 1996 Friedman was on assignment in Bombay to investigate how political corruption and sexual slavery were contributing to the AIDS epidemic. Upon returning to the States, he experienced flu-like symptoms that were the first signs of a rare, incurable blood disease that eventually damaged his heart to such an extent that it not support him past the age of fifty-one. Nation contributor and friend Julian Epstein wrote: "Robbie was the real thing: a courageous reporter who, operating freelance, made headlines exposing how the thuggish and greedy, in all their guises as politicians, bankers, revolutionaries, and mobsters, were preying on the weak."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journalism Review, January, 2000, Sherry Ricchiardi, "The Best Investigative Reporter You've Never Heard Of," p. 44.
Journal of Church and State, autumn, 1993, Louis Gordon, review of The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane: From FBI Informant to Knesset Member, p. 916.
Middle East Journal, spring, 1991, Dennis King, review of The False Prophet, p. 354.
Nation, October 29, 1990, Michael Rosenthal, review of The False Prophet, p. 494.
New Leader, December 14, 1992, Yehudah Mirsky, review of Zealots for Zion: Inside Israel's West Bank Settlement Movement, p. 13.
New York Review of Books, October 25, 1990, Arthur Hertzberg, review of The False Prophet, pp. 41-47; November 16, 2000, Raymond Bonner, review of Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America, pp. 52-55.
New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1990, Robert Leiter, review of The False Prophet, p. 18; January 10, 1993, Peter Grose, review of Zealots for Zion, p. 21.
Oral History Review, winter, 1995, Sherna Berger Gluck, review of Zealots for Zion, p. 115.
Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The False Prophet, p. 54; October 12, 1992, review of Zealots for Zion, p. 58; May 8, 2000, review of Red Mafiya, p. 216.
Tikkun, September-October, 1990, Milton Viorst, review of The False Prophet, p. 86; March-April, 1993, Rita E. Hauser, review of Zealots for Zion, p. 65.
Times Literary Supplement, August 24, 1990, Patrick Seale, review of The False Prophet, p. 890.
Washington Post Book World, July 16, 2000, Peter H. Stone, review of Red Mafiya, p. 9.
Flak, http://www.flakmag.com (January 3, 2003), Ben Welch, review of Red Mafiya.
Salon, http://www.salon.com (May 18, 2000), Mark Schone, review of Red Mafiya.
American Journalism Review, September, 2002, p. 10.
Nation, August 5, 2002, p. 4.
Washington Post, July 9, 2002, p. B7.
Freedom Forum Web site,http://www.freedomforum.org
Robert I. Friedman, whose uncompromising investigative stories appeared in The Nation from the early 1980s onward, died July 2 in Manhattan at the age of 51. In an era of timid, corporatized journalism, Robbie was the real thing: a courageous reporter who, operating freelance, made headlines exposing how the thuggish and the greedy, in all their guises as politicians, bankers, revolutionaries and mobsters, were preying on the weak.
Robbie came to prominence reporting from the Middle East, starting with a gutsy scoop from Beirut revealing Israel’s relationship with the fascist Christian Phalange, a harbinger of its Lebanon invasion. Then came hard-edged portraits of Jewish fanatics like Moshe Levinger, leader of the militant Gush Emunim settlers, and Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League. Detailing the support those fringe elements were getting from US Jews and predicting they’d drive Israel far to the right, Robbie’s reporting provoked a barrage of attacks.
The Anti-Defamation League (which he called the Jewish thought police) maligned him, death threats poured in and he was once beaten up by West Bank settlers. To Robbie the worst was being called a self-hating Jew, since it was the humanistic tradition of Judaism that inspired him, and he feared, as he said in his last Nation article (“And Darkness Covered the Land,” December 24, 2001), that Israel was dangerously close to becoming a right-wing apartheid state – something, he wrote, “Israel did not set out to be.”
Although his sympathies were with the Palestinian people, he reported on the duplicity of PLO leaders and described how Islamic extremism oppressed Palestinian women. He followed the truth, wherever it took him. Branching out, he presciently warned that the FBI was ignoring the broader threat posed by the first World Trade Center bombers and delivered cutting-edge reports on the international reach of the Russian mafia (which put a $100,000 contract on his life); it was the subject of his last book, Red Mafiya.
Robbie was proudest of his Nation story “India’s Shame” (April 8, 1996), which detailed how sexual slavery and political corruption in Bombay had created an AIDS catastrophe. Alas, while reporting it, Robbie contracted the rare blood disease that ultimately took his life.
The Fund for Investigative Journalism has established an award in his name: Box 60184, Washington, DC 20039-0184.
Robert I. Friedman (November 29, 1950 – July 2, 2002) was an American investigative journalist.
In 1993, Friedman castigated the FBI for ignoring information it had developed on the Muslim extremists behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center. The report earned him a Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Award for Best Investigative Reporting in a Weekly.
Friedman is probably best known for his writings about violence-prone Jewish fundamentalists and the book “Red Mafiya” about the Russian mob and its entry into the U.S.
His reporting has resulted Friedman receiving death threats throughout his career. At one point he was informed by the FBI that Semion Mogilevich had put a contract out on his life.
Robert I. Friedman died on July 2, 2002 at the age of 51 as the result of a rare disease he contracted while in India working on a story about human trafficking and sexual slavery.
The "Robert I. Friedman Award" is given out to investigative journalists by the board of the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
Books by Robert I. Friedman
Copyright © 2000 by Robert I. Friedman
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First eBook Edition: November 2009