By Anna Merlan
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Mogilevich's main activity in the U.S. appears to be money laundering, says a classified FBI report. He has set up companies in Los Angeles--FNJ Trade Management--and Newton, Pennsylvania--YBM Magnex International--as well as dozens of shell companies, which have received more than $30 million from Arigon, Ltd., the center of Mogilevich's financial operations.
Last Friday, U.S. Attorney Robert Courtney, head of the organized-crime strike force, led a a joint FBI, IRS, INS, and Customs raid of YBM's offices in Newton. Cartons of documents were seized, with Canadian and U.S. police citing the company's alleged ties to Russian organized crime. YBM is publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and two days before Friday's raid, trading in its stock was suspended by Canadian authorities.
The president and CEO of YBM is Jacob Bogatin, a professor of physical metallurgy. In May 1996, he contacted the FBI in Philadelphia to find out why the INS had denied visas to YBM employees arriving from Hungary and the Ukraine. When he was rebuffed, he had intermediaries step forward and pester the FBI. The State Department has banned Mogilevich himself from obtaining a U.S. visa because he's on the department's watch list of international organized-crime figures. Nevertheless, he has surreptitiously entered America under aliases and on visitor visas issued in Tel Aviv to visit Elson and Ivankov.
Bogatin admitted during a telephone interview that Mogilevich owns his company. When asked if he knew that numerous law enforcement agencies here and abroad considered Mogilevich to be a leader of one of the most ruthless organized-crime families in recent times, Bogatin replied, ''We have an investors relations guy. You want to talk with him about this stuff.'' He added that he had read allegations in the Eastern European press that his boss was a Mafia don, but didn't believe them. YBM vehemently denies that it is connected to Russian organized crime or has engaged in any criminal activities.
Bogatin is no stranger to the mob, however. His brother, David, a top Russian crime figure who once served in North Vietnam for the Soviets in an anti-aircraft unit, is now serving an eight-year term in a New York State prison for a multimillion-dollar gasoline tax fraud scheme. Just prior to trial, he had jumped bail, fleeing to Poland. There he set up the first commercial banks, which moved vast sums of money controlled by Russian wiseguys. (This after handing over his mortgages for five pricey Trump Tower apartments to a Genovese associate. The mortgages were liquidated and the funds were moved through a mafia-controlled bank in Chelsea.) Eventually he was caught and returned to the U.S. In the meantime, he lived like royalty in a five-star Viennese hotel, surrounded by a praetorian guard of 125 Polish parachutists, some of them bedecked in shiny gold uniforms.
Mogilevich has not refrained from associating with known killers in America, prime among them Elson and Ivankov. A confidential informant told the FBI that Vladimir Berkovich, an L.A. resident, is a chief lieutenant in Mogilevich's organization and has arranged contract killings here, supplying the weapons and spiriting the killers out of the country. The visas, says the report, were obtained through the Palm Terrace restaurant, a watering hole for Russian gangsters, which Berkovich owns. Berkovich told the Voice that he is aware of the government's charges, and that they are ''total bullshit.'' Although he has no criminal record in the U.S., Berkovich's son, Oleg, was convicted in Los Angeles of solicitation to commit murder on October 11, 1989. He was sentenced to four years. Oleg's business card identified his employer as Magnex, Ltd., a company owned by Mogilevich in Budapest. Oleg was recently arrested in Hungary on unspecified charges but was released.
Oleg's uncle, the colorful Lazar Berkovich, whose last known address was New York City, arrived in the Big Apple after having survived a shootout with Italian gangsters, says his brother Vladimir. The FBI report claims that Lazar was head of Russian criminal activities in Italy prior to his coming to America to recuperate from his wounds, though Vladimir Bercovich denies that Lazar was ever connected to the Russian mob.
Israeli and U.S. law enforcement sources agree that the Red Mafia, though in existence for a mere six years, has become one of the most formidable Russian organized-crime families in the world. Strongest in the Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the U.S., Mogilevich has increased his strength by forging ties with other powerful Russian mob groups as well as with the Italian Camorra. His reported ties to the German BND and expolice officers in Hungary keep him informed of police efforts to penetrate his organization. ''He also ingratiates himself with the police by providing information on other [Russian crime] groups' activities, thus appearing to be a cooperative good citizen,'' says a classfied FBI report. This, along with his strong leadership qualities, his acute financial skills, his talented and highly educated associates, and his use of cutting-edge technology, has so far made the ''Brainy Don'' impervious to prosecution.