California faces a "new and real threat" from mobsters from the former Soviet Union, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren said Friday.
Describing elaborate fraud schemes, Lungren said mobsters who have arrived in California from the former Soviet Bloc have demonstrated a "level of sophistication that in some ways is startling."
And the brutal 1992 murder of two men in West Hollywood, he said, shows "they're very direct about what they would do and what they will do."
At a press conference in his downtown Los Angeles office, at which he released a report on organized crime, Lungren conceded that the threat "was not the greatest . . . by any means." But, he said, "it is a threat. It is an emerging threat."
Most of the crime figures are probably legal immigrants from the Soviet Union who arrived in the United States beginning in the late 1970s, the report says.
Authorities estimate that there are now half a million immigrants from the Soviet Bloc states in the Los Angeles area alone, 300,000 of them Armenians. Most live in the Hollywood and Glendale areas.
Lungren took pains to stress that the vast majority of immigrants from the former Soviet Union are law-abiding. The report says law enforcement sources have identified about 300 former Soviet Union crime figures and their underlings in the San Francisco area, and 600 to 800 in Los Angeles.
Operating in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and San Diego, Russian and Armenian organized crime has been linked to fraud of various sorts, extortion, narcotics trafficking, auto theft and murder, the report says.
In January 1992, Andrey Kuznetsov, believed to be the mastermind of a fraud ring, and Vladimir Litvinenko, both 28, were killed execution-style in their West Hollywood home. Their fingers were cut off in a failed attempt to prevent identification of their bodies.
Serguei Ivanov, now 33, was sentenced in 1994 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the crime.
When Ivanov was sentenced, a prosecutor said reports that he was linked to a Russian mob were creations of "the media and the defense."
The murders, however, were described at some length in the attorney general's report. "When violence is utilized, it is utilized in much the same way it is used by the La Cosa Nostra, for a purpose," Lungren said Friday.
Far more typical crimes, he said, include cellular phone pirating and complicated fuel tax fraud schemes. Such tax frauds, he said, cost governments across the nation an estimated $2 billion in tax revenues each year.
In September, an FBI-led task force arrested Hovsep "Mike" Mikaelian, 44, of North Hollywood, the self-described "godfather" of Los Angeles' "Russian-Armenian mafia," and accused him and 13 others of running a black market diesel fuel network that supplied gas stations and truck stops throughout the region.