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FRONTLINE

1803K

"Mafia Power Play"

Air Date: October 12, 1999

 

Produced and Directed by Neil Docherty

Linden MacIntyre, Correspondent

 

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, a story about players-

REG KING, RCMP Sergeant: He would brag about his relationships with NHL hockey players.

ANNOUNCER: -and mobsters.

REG KING: There were many discussions about murders and the protection rackets.

ANNOUNCER: Is the Russian mafia using professional hockey players to infiltrate North America?

EXPERT: These people are saying to them, "Hey, pay us this, or else your family's going to have a problem."

ANNOUNCER: Correspondent Linden MacIntyre investigates what the National Hockey League is doing to stop a power play by the Russian mafia.

ARENA ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen it's time for the 1999 NHL All-Star game. Please welcome-

LINDEN MacINTYRE, Frontline Correspondent: [voice-over] Professional ice hockey is now the fastest-growing major-league sport in America. Hockey players are now glamorous in places where people haven't seen ice outside of a cocktail glass since the glaciers melted.

ARENA ANNOUNCER: From the San Jose Sharks, number 20, Marco Stern! From the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Soon there will be 30 teams in the National Hockey League, so many new teams the scouts are looking far afield to find the talent to play on them, to the hockey arenas and the frozen rivers and ponds of Europe, and especially Russia.

ARENA ANNOUNCER: Alexei Zhitnik!

LINDEN MacINTYRE: There are so many foreign-born hockey stars in the league today, they have their own all-star line-up.

Pavel Bure, the "Russian Rocket," now with the Florida Panthers in Miami, exemplifies the new breed of hockey hero, with movie-star looks and world-class hockey talent. Playing for Vancouver in the mid-'90s, his scoring statistics put him in an elite group that included a handful of stars like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

PAVEL BURE, Florida Panthers: I think nowadays you can't really separate Europeans and North American players, I'm saying, in NHL because it's what NHL involve right now, all the players from all over the world come and play NHL.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: The Stanley Cup final in 1997 made the point emphatically. Detroit won it. But five outstanding Russians, including the star defenseman, Vyacheslav Fetisov, played a crucial role in the victory. The league acknowledged that role by letting them take the venerable trophy to Moscow. Rarely has Red Square seen visitors more popular or an icon more revered.

[on camera] What was the reaction?

SLAVA FETISOV, Detroit Red Wings 1995-98: Reaction of people was unbelievable. And I never forget when it was opening night in our soccer stadium, it's 90,000 people, the president of Russia and Prime Minister and all big shots there, and everybody was giving us standing ovation and drinking champagne from the cup with the prime minister.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But what Fetisov didn't know was that as the Russian players celebrated, their movements would take them in range of an FBI surveillance operation of mafia figures in Moscow.

Former agent Bob Levinson:

BOB LEVINSON, Former FBI Agent: The information we had collected prior to the Stanley Cup going over to Moscow was that at least some of the people in the sport had association with one particular organized crime group.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: One of the first unofficial calls the players made with the Stanley Cup was to this disco. Maybe an innocent visit, but to the FBI the disco had special significance.

BOB LEVINSON: I was fascinated about that because that particular discotheque is owned, operated and controlled by elements of the Chechen mafia.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Hockey, once a pillar of national prestige, has fallen on hard times in post-Soviet Russia, and connections with gangsters these days are almost impossible to avoid.

The once powerful Red Army team struggles to survive. They don't even have enough hockey sticks for everybody. The veteran coach, Victor Tikhonov, has led his team to more than a dozen world championships.

Until 1992, players like these benefited from generous government subsidies. Then the funding stopped, and Tikhonov and some other Red Army hockey officials came up with an unusual idea for raising new money: sell a piece of their team, called CSKA, to the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL.

ANNOUNCER: [promotional video] In the summer of 1993, a new chapter in the glorious history of CSKA was opened. A historic joint venture between the NHL's finest, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and CSKA was created, and the Russian Penguins were born.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: American Stephen Warshaw was a sports marketing consultant when the owners of the Penguins approached him to craft a good capitalist strategy for saving the old Red Army team.

Hockey star Mario Lemieux and actor Michael J. Fox were backing the new venture, the Russian Penguins. The first challenge was to spruce up the hockey players, no small task after several years of neglect.

STEPHEN WARSHAW, Marketing Consultant, Russian Penguins: Well, when we first got there, the team was so downtrodden and so bankrupt that they couldn't even afford to buy jerseys for their teams. They had one set of uniforms for six different teams. So one team would come off the ice, their jerseys wringing wet with sweat, and give it to the next guy, and he'd put it on. And I can't tell you how bad the locker room smelled. I mean, you could smell that clear to Vladivostok on the east coast of Russia.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: New jerseys improved morale as well as hygiene. But the larger problem was the fans' perception that the good players were all going west, and that Russian hockey wasn't worth watching any more.

STEPHEN WARSHAW: Well, at the very beginning we had an empty building, and we had to fill it quickly.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: There were strippers and other shameless gimmicks. And if that wasn't enough:

STEPHEN WARSHAW: Everybody loves beer around the world, so we had a few free beer nights from our big sponsor, Iron City Beer.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: It worked. The crowds came, then the big corporate sponsors, advertising for a potential television audience of 150 million.

Then it all collapsed.

[on camera] And what went wrong?

STEPHEN WARSHAW: We did it too well, and the criminal element started to come to our games, started to enjoy our games, started to evict our corporate sponsors out of their "super boxes."

LINDEN MacINTYRE: You mentioned just seeing Russian mafia figures at hockey games, that you knew they were mafia. How did you know that?

STEPHEN WARSHAW: I think the guns were a tip-off. Remember, it's cold in Russia and-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Guns?

STEPHEN WARSHAW: Long sawed-off shotguns down their side of their coats. They travelled in groups, and beautifully dressed businessmen, beautifully dressed, with security forces. And they'd come in with the limousines with the dark windows. And basically, our partners said just back off. And again, we had no way of knowing if they were getting paid by the mafia, or if they, too, were afraid.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] It was 1996. Among thousands of gangland murders in Moscow that year, the business manager of the Red Army club and a team photographer.

STEPHEN WARSHAW: Personally, I had my heart skip a few beats at the end of the second season when one of the mafia partners with our Russian partners came up to me and offered me a job with his company. And I asked him how much they'd pay me. And then, finally, when I told him it wasn't enough money and started to laugh, he didn't laugh. And he said, "Well, we'll kill you for $6,500.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] Kill you for 6,500 bucks.

STEPHEN WARSHAW: That's all.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Assassination, once exclusively political, became a common crime in the years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1993, Moscow alone recorded 5,000 murders, most related to gang turf wars.

JIM MOODY, Former Head, FBI Organized Crime Unit: The fighting here in Moscow is very similar to that that occurred back in the 1920s and 1930s in New York City.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Jim Moody, head of the FBI's war against organized crime, was surprised when he got a call to go to Moscow. The local authorities needed some expert advice.

JIM MOODY: I think I was the first FBI agent, as an FBI agent, to ever enter the Soviet Union. And at that conference, I met either the minister or deputy minister of interior of all the Soviet states.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] Now, did they tell you enough so that you had a sense of what kind of a problem they had?

JIM MOODY: Yes. Yes, they did.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And what was your impression of that problem?

JIM MOODY: It was beyond their capability at that time.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] If there was any doubt about the criminal penetration of the Russian hockey world, it ended with a sensational murder in 1997 and a dramatic trial early this year. Members of a Moscow gang were accused of murdering the president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.

Valentin Sych had been part of the golden age of Soviet hockey, and a friend of North American hockey stars like Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull. Sych was ambushed on a lonely stretch of road as he and his wife were driving toward Moscow. Identifying the likely killers would turn out to be a lot easier for the police than pinning down the motive. Sych was probably murdered because of a complex Russian tax deal that - for a while - pumped a lot of money into hockey.

In the mid-'90s, taxes from alcohol sales became a lifeline for sports federations. The government let them import and sell booze and cigarettes duty-free. It was worth millions, but not necessarily for hockey players. Predictably, the Russian mafia moved in on the deal. Valentin Sych complained publicly about the gangsters, and some people think that cost him his life.

JIM MOODY: It's awfully hard for a Westerner to understand that if you have an exemption on paying taxes on alcohol, how much that is worth in Russia is almost beyond belief because just a few years ago, almost 30 percent maybe even more, of the entire Russian federal budget was based on taxes received from alcohol.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Where there's money, there's mafia. In the old days, it was the Communist Party. Today even the smallest kiosk in the marketplace pays for a mafia protector. Most places it's called extortion. In Russia it's called "a roof," or krysha.

Saint Petersburg, the old imperial capital, is now controlled by four mafia groups. Today it's virtually impossible to do business here without paying a substantial fee for protection to one of them.

The leader of one local gang agreed to talk about the modern criminal world if we concealed his identity. He's a high-end "roof," offering high-tech protection for his clientele, for which they seem happy to pay a high price.

"Mr. ROOF": [through interpreter] How much they have to pay depends on the business and what kind of roof is required, but it is going to be a minimum of 30 percent of any profit. If you see a chain of Jeeps following you down the road, that is pretty low-level protection. A more sophisticated roof like us is going to cost more. For example, we have a sort of analytical group that listens to all pagers and phones, and then if we need to take some action, we will go and do it. But other than that nobody sees our work.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: It isn't just for locals. Foreigners, too, quickly learn that business overhead in Russia literally includes a roof. A foreign businessman who doesn't want to be identified has had a lot of experience there.

BUSINESSMAN: You meet people in restaurants. You meet people in businesses. They're there with money, fancy cars. They have their presence. They come to every business. They ask for their share. They will demand to put their own financial people in to supervise the business. And then they participate in the business and take the profits.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] How close to you personally have they come with their killing methods?

BUSINESSMAN: They've killed members of my staff. I sat in meetings, called resborka, "negotiations," mafia word for negotiations, where you try to negotiate your situation. And in there I was told I was going to be killed.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The foreign businessman took the warning seriously and has survived, so far. An American businessman didn't, and paid dearly. His name was Paul Tatum. That's him on the right. In the mid-'90s he bought into the Raddisson Hotel in Moscow.

Many of the high-priced new hotels have criminal ties. Tatum decided he didn't really like Russia's unique business culture

BOB LEVINSON, Former FBI Agent: He got into an argument over the control, the ownership, and got into a very, very quiet fight with the Chechen organized crime group that was controlling the hotel. When he began making so much noise in the media, there was a decision made to basically shut him up permanently.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Eleven bullets at close range as he walked towards a subway station not far from his hotel, and Paul Tatum became another case study of how not to deal with Russian gangsters.

In Washington, the Russian mob scene now has the attention of the assistant undersecretary of state specializing in crime and terrorism, Jonathan Winer.

JONATHAN WINER, Deputy Asst. Secretary, State Dept.: Corruption used to be a local matter. It's not a local matter now when somebody, where some thing, institution, is corrupt in one country. It draws together other bad things like a magnet, and those radiate outward as a result of globalization. So it's not local anymore.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: When Russian organized crime went global in the early '90s, one of the first North American stops was Toronto. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, working closely with the FBI, were monitoring a number of Russian organized crime figures who were hanging out in a north Toronto club called the Ambassador. In 1995, the Mounties noted a new arrival who seemed to get a lot of attention from the regulars. His name: Vyacheslav Sliva, who had connections to top Russian crime figures in the U.S. and Moscow.

Sliva set himself up in regal style in a Toronto condominium, and seemed to be on the phone most of the time to people in Denver, Los Angeles and New York.

In charge of the surveillance was an RCMP undercover officer, Sergeant Reg King.

REG KING, RCMP Sergeant: There were disagreements on the protection rackets, and who should be paying and who shouldn't be paying, and what to do if they did not pay. There were many discussions about murders.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And in the wiretaps, the Mounties heard surprising references to hockey players.

REG KING: He would brag about his relationships with certain NHL hockey players.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And according to wiretaps, Sliva was especially friendly with one hockey player in particular, Valery Kamensky, now with the New York Rangers. Kamensky declined to talk to FRONTLINE about Mr. Sliva, but according to government files, he played a key role in getting Sliva into Canada.

Kamensky's hockey team, then the Quebec Nordiques, officially requested a visa for Sliva, explaining that Sliva, quote "is a friend of one of our players."

REG KING: I interviewed Mr. Sliva for many hours. He told me that he knew Mr. Kamensky in Russia before he ever arrived in North America. So the relationship, I think, is a close relationship. But I want to clarify. I do not know if that is a criminal relationship or not.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: But the Mounties were determined to nail Sliva, and got him on an immigration technicality and deported him back to Russia.

Many of Sliva's intercepted phone calls were to the Brighton Beach area of New York City, and to a man police officials believed to be the Russian godfather in North America, Vyacheslav Ivankov. In just a few years, he'd managed to grab a substantial piece of the American dream- and the attention of the FBI.

JIM MOODY: We targeted him. We finally found him, and we went after him. And he's like any other criminal, professional criminal, organized crime guy. With time, you can always develop a criminal case against them because that's what they do. They're always involved in ÆMD+DNÆMD-DNÆMD+DNÆMD-DNcrime.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: From the time he left home in the morning, the FBI was monitoring Ivankov, following him and taking photos of anybody he met, and recording the conversations they'd later use to shut him down.

VYACHESLAV IVANKOV: [FBI tape] [subtitles] These f-cks? I'm sick. I'm f-cking dying here, and now I have to manage everything in the world!

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] What kind of stuff were they getting into?

JIM MOODY: Primarily, it was extortion of legitimate businesses.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Old-fashioned protection?

JIM MOODY: Protection racket. And they were- we believe they were involved with narcotics.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] This was the address of record for Ivankov's company, 6A Neptune Avenue, Brighton Beach, now a pet store. It was called Slavic, Incorporated. And in a sworn affidavit, the FBI claimed that Ivankov was using Slavic, Inc., to launder money.

In June, 1995, fearing that a murder in Russia would lead to a cover-up, the FBI arrested Ivankov on extortion charges that would eventually lead to a 10-year sentence in a federal prison. [www.pbs.org: Take a closer look at Ivankov]

JIM MOODY: We had to bring the case down sooner than we really wanted to because we didn't know the full impact of his organization or everything that he was involved in. But we were able to arrest him and get him convicted of extortion. The reason we had to bring the case down early is we thought other people may get killed.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: With the Slavic front office shut down, investigators discovered another startling link to the world of ice hockey in company records. The FBI learned that the president of Slavic, Inc., was none other than Slava Fetisov, the man who'd helped lead Detroit to the Stanley Cup and who'd taken the cup to Moscow.

Today he's with the New Jersey Devils as an assistant coach. On the ice he was rated as one of the top defensemen in modern hockey, but nothing raises his defenses quicker than a question about the Russian mafia.

SLAVA FETISOV, Asst. Coach, New Jersey Devils: The Russian who make a business, somehow it's a criminal, right? Or every Russian who in a government position criminal, also. I think it's wrong. Big-time. Big-time.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] What was your understanding of the business for Slavic? What did you think Slavic was in business for?

SLAVA FETISOV: It was trading.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: A trading company.

SLAVA FETISOV: Yeah.

JIM MOODY: Slavic, Inc., it's my understanding, among the things that they were doing was ensuring that criminals could come into the United States, getting "L" visas, business visas, you know, unlimited travel back and forth for up to seven years with renewal.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Pretty good deal.

JIM MOODY: Well, yeah. In fact, there were flyers on the street in Moscow offering the service for, like, $5,000. And that's part of what Slavic, Inc., was set up for.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Vyacheslav Ivankov is in jail now. What's your reaction to that situation?

SLAVA FETISOV: What situation?

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Mr. Ivankov being in prison.

SLAVA FETISOV: And what kind of reaction supposed to be?

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Well, I don't- I mean, he was involved in Slavic also, wasn't he?

SLAVA FETISOV: He never was involved in any Slavic situation. [www.pbs.org: Read more of the interview]

JIM MOODY: Ivankov ran Slavic, Inc., and Fetisov was the president of it, listed as president of it. That's my understanding.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Slavic, Inc., went out of business in 1997, but Fetisov's involvement in the company was one of the highlights of a report in Details magazine, an expose that raised serious questions about dubious ties between Russian mobsters and hockey stars.

The report had a lot of the elements of old scandals in other sports- baseball, football, basketball. Many saw it as a wake-up call for the NHL. The NHL saw it differently. League officials issued an indignant statement. "The League is absolutely stunned by how ludicrous, how inaccurate, blatantly inaccurate the article is. We are exploring legal avenues as necessary."

That was their public position. Privately, they went to an expert for an assessment of the problem. The NHL was worried enough to hire none other than Jim Moody, the now retired former head of organized crime investigation for the FBI. What Moody found out alarmed him.

JIM MOODY: You look at some of the players, Slava Fetisov and some people that he's associated with, Ivankov- I'd have great concern, as the league, with the people that he's associating with. I think Kamensky associated with some thieves-in-law which is the old Soviet Union's closest things to the mafia.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: But today at NHL headquarters in New York, league officials still aren't convinced that there was anything wrong with the ties Fetisov and Kamensky had with known and suspected criminals. The League's chief legal counsel, Bill Daly:

BILL DALY, NHL Chief Legal Counsel: I don't think it can be established that Mr. Fetisov personally has had that association with Mr. Ivankov. I think- I think maybe his company may have. And you know, he claims not to have been involved in his company, so-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] Well, the corporate documents say otherwise.

BILL DALY: There are a lot of-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: That the president of the company is involved.

BILL DALY: There are a lot of corporate niceties involved in setting up a corporation. A lot of people lend their name to shell organizations. Should he have been more diligent as to what the operation was doing? Maybe. But that's an error of omission, certainly. We looked into the situation. We investigated the situation. We're satisfied there was no personal association at all.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: You had another hockey player by the name of Kamensky-

BILL DALY: Uh-huh.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: -who was associated, again through a legal document, with an apparent criminal figure from Russia.

BILL DALY: Again, we couldn't establish a real association between Mr. Kamensky and the individual you're referring to. The legal document that you're referring to is something that the individual submitted to the government, not that Mr. Kamensky ever submitted to the government.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Well, it was even worse than that, from your point of view, the hockey team's, the hockey team. Quebec Nordiques submits a document to the Canadian authorities on the strength of an endorsement from a hockey player that gets a man a visa.

BILL DALY: And we looked into it and found that there was no real association.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Friendship.

BILL DALY: No real friendship.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: So Mr. Kamensky lied to the team, and the team lied to the government of Canada?

BILL DALY: I'm- I'm not prepared to conclude one way or the other on what Mr. Kamensky did.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But the Canadian Mounties' investigation revealed that there was an intimate association, with Kamensky making friendly phone calls to the suspected gangster, Sliva. And as for Sliva:

REG KING, RCMP Sergeant: He bragged to me about his relationship with Kamensky. He told me about how Kamensky went to his apartment many times for supper.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] How many of these kinds of relationships are you aware of?

REG KING: It's more than 5 and less than 10 of NHL hockey players and the association to organized crime.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: These are relationships that concern you beyond just optics?

REG KING: It's not a hockey fan/hockey player relationship.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Business relationship?

REG KING: It may be a business relationship. I'm unclear of what those relationships are.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: But they're too close for comfort.

REG KING: Yeah.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: What are the practical concerns here? I mean, if I was to say "So what? So why should I be concerned about a hockey player or a ballplayer or whatever consorting"-

JIM MOODY, Former Head, FBI Organized Crime Unit: You have to worry about the down sides of how they could affect your league or the reputation of your league. And the biggest concern would be them using or influencing the people to bet on the games or to fix the games.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: The gambling factor.

JIM MOODY: Right. Which the Russians aren't really into yet. They will be.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The temptation will be hard to resist. Gambling on sports is already big in places like Las Vegas. Gamblers have only recently begun to take hockey seriously, but interest is growing.

CASINO ANNOUNCER: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, we've got third-period betting on the chaser, Canadiens and Panthers. We've got 'em picked. Minus-130 on the Panthers. The total, minus-one-and-a-half over, minus-130. That's for the third period only in the Canadiens and the Panthers.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Gambling generates new enthusiasm for the game, but it can also breed corruption. Estimates of illegal gambling on sports in North America range between $10 billion and $50 billion, a jackpot the Russians have already showed interest in, as the FBI found out.

Bob Levinson:

BOB LEVINSON: Some time around 1995, there was a failed attempt by Russian organized crime elements in New York to form an alliance with one of the families, particularly the Gambino family, in an effort to do something on international sports and international sports betting. The plan never got off the ground. That does not mean that these same elements may decide, "There's something in it here, and let's get back into it."

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Illegal gambling made a lot of money for Michael Franzese, who used to be a lieutenant in New York's Columbo crime family. He has mended his ways, but hasn't forgotten the lessons he learned when he was a senior Mafioso.

MICHAEL FRANZESE, Former Mafia Official: Being in organized crime, we had major gambling operations that we ran, and sports figures were attractive to us because of what they represented to our gambling business. Quite frankly, we wanted to get to them. We wanted to get close to them. They were targets for us, and we wanted to use them.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: The Mafia's most tempting target is an athlete who is vulnerable to blackmail, and there have already been documented cases that illustrate the perils confronting young Russian hockey players.

Alexei Zhitnik, believed to have been victim of an attempted shakedown by Russian thugs in 1992.

Oleg Tverdovsky, now in Phoenix, was earning more than a million a year in Winnipeg when he learned that Russian goons had kidnapped his mother and wanted $200,000 for her safe return. Russian police eventually rescued her. Tverdovsky's parents now live in California.

Alexander Mogilny, subject of a $150,000 shakedown in Buffalo. The police caught the extortionist, an old acquaintance named Sergei Formachev, who had ties with organized crime groups in the old country, Russia. And hockey players, like Mogilny, with families still in Russia, are the most vous vulnerable.

MICHAEL FRANZESE, Former Mafia Official: That's a whole 'nother situation and adds a whole dimension to the problem, and I really feel for those guys. I've had the opportunity to speak with a number of NHL players, and they referred me to other players in the NHL that were having problems with the Russians, but these were other Russian players.

And to me, the problem is serious because, you know, oftentimes their families would be in Russia or somewhere other than the United States. And you know, the Russian organized crime people would- you know, would have them do things and threaten them with the lives of their family or the welfare of their family.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] The kind of vulnerability that you describe among the Russians creates relationships that could turn into a gambling relationship or some other kind of relationship. I mean, how real is that danger?

MICHAEL FRANZESE: Well, I think that's very real because, I mean, I would have loved to have had that information at the time because if I was dealing with one of the organized crime figures, Russian organized crime figures, I would tell him, "Listen, get this hockey player to throw a game for us. I mean, we can win a lot of money that way. You know, let him do it over a period of time." So I think it's certainly something that could lead into a gambling situation, a gambling problem, as it could lead into other things.

JONATHAN WINER, Deputy Asst. Secretary, State Dept.: What is extraordinarily frightening to me today is seeing on-line Internet gambling begin to develop as a phenomenon. It's transnational. Anybody can do it. It's impossible to regulate right now, impossible to control, and it provides every opportunity for corrupt activity, for money laundering and financial crime.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Not to mention the corruption of professional sport itself.

JONATHAN WINER: It has that risk, as well, because how are you going to know who's placing bets for how much where? How are you going to know when somebody's throwing a game because they've got an offshore account somewhere that they've got a huge amount of money riding on? It is a very substantial threat.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] That general threat, combined with the potential for extortion against particularly vulnerable sports stars like young Russian hockey players, raises serious issues for the NHL, according to the man they hired to investigate the problem.

JIM MOODY: If they sign multi-million dollar contracts and it's published in the papers over there, which it will be, they are very, very vulnerable to being extorted. In fact, I would bet on them being extorted.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] What would that mean for your typical hockey player?

JIM MOODY: Number one, he can pay the extortion. Second, he can go to another organized crime group and negotiate with them, the krysha, a Russian word meaning "roof" or "protection."

The third thing they can do is they can go to law enforcement. But if it goes back into Russia, the Russian authorities, I believe, working with the FBI, will address the problem right then. The problem of it is after that, is that they may ultimately be extorted by the law enforcement authorities.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: You see, it paints a grim picture of the state of virtually every Russian hockey player in the NHL today.

JIM MOODY: That's right.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] If big NHL contracts mean danger for Russian hockey players, then you'd guess that the Florida Panthers' Pavel Bure, who earns more than $9 million a year, lives with constant peril. But curiously, when we met Bure at his Florida condominium, he seemed to live in a world far above the fears that to haunt so many of his countrymen.

[on camera] There's has been a suggestion that Russian hockey players are in danger of things like extortion and pressures, right? [Bure laughs] He checked it out.

PAVEL BURE, Florida Panthers: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, it just make me laugh right now. You know, it's- for you to understand, it's- you have to be born in Soviet Union, in Russia, to understand whole society, whole mentality of the people, which you never will. I can explain you, but it just- it never would make sense for you.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Well, try. I've been there four or five times and-

PAVEL BURE: I know, but-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: -in the old days and in the modern times.

PAVEL BURE: It's- you have to-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Tell me about the krysha, then. Tell me what you understand by the notion of krysha, which is part of the mentality that you're talking about.

PAVEL BURE: About what?

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Krysha, the roof.

PAVEL BURE: The roof?

LINDEN MacINTYRE: The protection.

PAVEL BURE: Protection from who?

LINDEN MacINTYRE: That's the point, you know.

PAVEL BURE: I can't really explain that because I don't have a roof. I don't need a roof.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The source of Bure's remarkable nonchalance about the threats that face Russian hockey players can be found back in his homeland. Here he enjoys celebrity status and the fawning attention of some of the most powerful people in the country, like the man on his left, a Moscow mogul called Anzor Kikalishvili. Kikalishvili calls himself Bure's spiritual father. They move in the highest circles of cultural and political power, wealth and celebrity, fused in one of Moscow's most influential alliances.

PAVEL BURE: Yeah, he is my friend, and I really like him as a man. I think he is really generous. I think he helps people a lot. You know, I have seen how many times he helped poor people and singers and actors. And, like, he is helping a lot of people.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: The Intourist Hotel on Moscow's Ulitsa Tverskaya. Way up on the 20th floor, Anzor Kikalishvili manages a vast and mysterious business empire.

ANZOR KIKALISHVILI: [through interpreter] I was the man of the year in all categories- politics, art-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Kikalishvili is much more than a successful businessman. Among other assets, he has his own political party and clearly aspires to political power, perhaps even the presidency.

ANZOR KIKALISHVILI: [through interpreter] My party is called the Russian People's Party, and we will certainly be putting forward a candidate. I didn't choose politics, the people asked me to come into politics, so it's the will of the people. Our main interest is to stop world hunger.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Anzor Kikalishvili has come a long way in the new Russia since his more modest days as a functionary in the old Soviet order. But far away from the chorus of admiration that surrounds him in Moscow, there is another, darker view of Pavel Bure's powerful friend.

Back in the United States, a lot of people, including former FBI agent Bob Levinson, think that Anzor Kikalishvili got where he is by becoming one of Russia's top crime bosses. He first bumped into him in the Miami area back in the early '90s.

BOB LEVINSON, Former FBI Agent: One of our sources told us the place you want to go, the place you want to watch is a entertainment bar, a topless bar called Porky's. We were told if you go to Porky's, you will see all kinds of Russian mobsters coming in and out of there. And we began our observations at that point, surveilling the location and starting from square one, figuring out who was in town.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: A businessman named Anzor Kikalishvili seemed to be in town quite a lot.

BOB LEVINSON: He was attempting, as far as I'm concerned, to portray himself as a legitimate businessman who had really no ties to Russian organized crime.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: The FBI's suspicions deepened in 1994, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, when they infiltrated an unusual conclave of influential Russians. Anzor Kikalishvili was one of them. To the FBI, there was little doubt why he and the others were here.

JIM MOODY, Former Head, FBI Organized Crime Unit: It was a meeting of Russian organized crime figures all getting together in Puerto Rico to describe and work out how they were going to work on an international basis to conduct illegal activities.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] And how important was that meeting?

JIM MOODY: It's almost like going back to Appalachia in 1957.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: When you got your first real look into the-

JIM MOODY: Organized crime in the United States, yeah-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: -Italian mob.

JIM MOODY - the American La Cosa Nostra.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Kikalishvili and his business partner, Russian singer Joseph Kobzon, also spotted in Puerto Rico, have both been named in a Congressional hearing as organized crime figures.

ANZOR KIKALISHVILI: [through interpreter] This is a mistake. Yes, it's true I was in Puerto Rico. It's true. I was invited by my friend, Kobzon, who was vacationing with his family, wife, daughter and son, for a party. I was there only one day. Not even that. I arrived for dinner and flew out the next morning. [www.pbs.org: Intelligence report on Russian mob]

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] Anzor Kikalishvili tells us that that was nothing more than a social gathering.

JIM MOODY: Oh, a social gathering of infamous Russian criminals all getting together. It was our understanding it was all Russian criminals getting together to divide up the world.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But in Moscow there was little doubt about his ties with Russian organized crime, especially since April, 1994, when the man who started the company he now heads was rubbed out in a gangland hit. His name was Otari Kvantrishvili. The foreign businessman who we interviewed knew him well.

[on camera] How did he die?

BUSINESSMAN: He was assassinated. He was walking from the banya, from the sauna, to his bulletproof Mercedes 600, and he was surrounded by guards, but he was shot from 5th-story window by sniper. Two bullets in the head, one in heart.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Law enforcement officials say Kvantrishvili had turned his company into a vast criminal enterprise. It was called the 21st Century Association. With his death, a lot of people wondered who could possibly fill his shoes. But they weren't wondering for long.

[on camera] Who runs 21st Century Association now?

BUSINESSMAN: Anzor Kikalishvili.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Can one deduce from that that Mr. Kikalishvili is also in the criminal hierarchy of Moscow?

BUSINESSMAN: It's generally recognized, yes.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: You don't cross Anzor Kikalishvili.

BUSINESSMAN: Or you die.

ANZOR KIKALISHVILI: [through interpreter] This is a big mistake. It is a misunderstanding of the facts in regards to the association. It's as if everything they say about it is misunderstood. Never did Otari Kvantrishvili have any real link to the association or its organization. They have always mixed up our names because they are similar- Kikalishvili, Kvantrishvili.

JIM MOODY: You're dealing with people who understand that if you say a lie long enough, it becomes the truth. I don't agree with what he says. He has been identified by the FBI and by the Russian authorities as being the head of the- the co-head of an organized crime group in Russia, and I don't see any change to that at all.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He's been labeled a mafia boss. He's no longer allowed to enter the U.S. because of alleged criminal ties. And yet he remains a VIP in Russia, a political contender, a high-profile benefactor of struggling artists and athletes, including the Russian Olympic team. He collects celebrity friends the way small boys collect baseball cards.

JIM MOODY: These people who are involved in criminal activity love to get their photograph taken with people of importance.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And his vanity collection is impressive: the famous magician, David Copperfield; Ross Perot the presidential candidate; a former Russian president, Mikhail Gorbachev; the tennis star, Steffi Graf; even the American media mogul, Ted Turner- visual character references hanging on his wall.

JIM MOODY: Whenever anybody asks them something, they'll point it out. They're very proud of it. "See? I've got all these friends. Look at all these photographs here. The politicians are in my pocket." The more photographs like this they have, the more they can lie about their importance or their connections. And then they use it.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And what about his this picture of the rising NHL hockey star, Pavel Bure?

In Russia he has the fame of a Michael Jordan. He's from a family of prominent athletes. In a country where hockey is a national passion, he was a star before he ever went away. And today he's captain of the Russian national team when he's not playing for the NHL. He has the makings of a contender for real power.

ANZOR KIKALISHVILI: [through interpreter] He has been given awards by the president of our country. He has met all the leaders of all the political parties. He is so famous that presidents of other countries visit him.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And even a dictator like Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, better known at home as "Batka" or "Big Daddy." Bure is on hand to give Big Daddy a warm welcome.

It's the kind of access to celebrity and credibility that Anzor Kikalishvili enjoys all the time through his friendship with the "Russian Rocket."

[on camera] Pavel Bure consorts quite openly with Anzor Kikalishvili in Russia. What do you make of that, as a law enforcement person?

BOB LEVINSON: I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I don't understand why someone would run with a person who's been excluded from the United States and who's been identified as an organized crime figure.

PAVEL BURE, Florida Panthers: Yeah, I know all those rumors about him, but it's rumors. And my- I guess my point of view on that, because I have so many rumors about myself- and trust me, I have so many rumors which doesn't make sense at all. And I just said to myself I'm going judge people how they're treating me, how they're treating other people when I'm around them and when I see that. And rumors are just rumors.

BOB LEVINSON: Anzor Kikalishvili can say "I have never been convicted of a crime. I am a legitimate businessman. The authorities have made all this stuff up." Well, I'm here to say that nobody made this stuff up, that there are people out there - and he knows who they are - who have been, basically, hurt or threatened, that there are people who know his stature in the underworld and his association with people in the underworld. So I can't explain the reason why people are associating with one another. I can just say I think it's a shame.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Pavel Bure says he's checked out his friend through the Russian government and found no reason to avoid him. They've not only remained close, but Bure is also said to have taken a top position in his friend's company.

[on camera] Now, there's been controversy about your business arrangements with Anzor. Can you tell me, what is that? What is your position in his company, 21st Century? It keeps coming up.

PAVEL BURE: There is no position at all. And I think I said this to everybody, like, two or three years ago. I said I'm going to play hockey for now, and that's what I've been doing. [www.pbs.org: Read more of the interview]

LINDEN MacINTYRE: But people keep asking you, and you don't answer it. You know, are you an executive officer of the company?

PAVEL BURE: No. I said no.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Or a figurehead or-

PAVEL BURE: No.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: You have nothing to do with it?

PAVEL BURE: No. That's what I'm trying to explain you. That's what I said two or three years ago. I said I want to concentrate on my hockey, and I am a hockey player.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He denies his role in 21st Century Association when he's in Florida, but on the streets of Moscow, scores of billboards declared "The future belongs to 21st Century Association," and there seemed little doubt who the 21st Century Association belonged to.

JIM MOODY: Well, they have a very close working relationship, is my understanding. And the 21st Century Association has kind of changed around, so Bure is the president of it. And here is basically a conglomerate that is made up of entertainment companies, going to work as agents for all the athletes coming out of Russia, the Soviet Union. They have their own distillery. They have their own bank and stuff like this. And Bure's going to be a very, very important man- now and in the future in Russian sports, in entertainment.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] But as president of an organization that's considered by law enforcement officials here and there as a criminal enterprise.

JIM MOODY: Right. That is what we consider it. That's what they consider it over in Russia.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But regardless of how he's considered, even his detractors point out Kikalishvili has never been convicted of a crime. He, like Pavel Bure, has won high honors in his own land. He scoffs at the idea he's a crook.

ANZOR KIKALISHVILI: [through interpreter] If I have any links to criminal elements, then I would not be sitting in this office today. I'm only 100 meters from the Kremlin and the president of our country. All these windows and doors are always under scrutiny. If I am not considered a criminal in my own country, then how can I be considered a criminal in another country?

LINDEN MacINTYRE: A few weeks after our interview, somebody tried to remove him from that office by planting a bomb. Authorities there believe it was part of a gang turf war, which raises the stakes for people who keep company with the intended target, Anzor Kikalishvili.

[on camera] Pavel Bure is associated with a man who is considered to be a criminal. Does that not bother you?

BILL DALY, NHL Chief Legal Counsel: That does bother us.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And what are you doing about it?

BILL DALY: Well, I think if we ever got to a point where Mr.- you know, we thought his relationship was problematic either to the image or the integrity of our sport, we would act on it.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: Well, what's it going to take?

BILL DALY: I'm not going to- that's a hypothetical question. I mean-

LINDEN MacINTYRE: There's nothing hypothetical about the relationship between Pavel Bure and Anzor Kikalishvili. Joe Namath had a restaurant that crooks used to come to.

BILL DALY: Uh-huh.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: And he had to sell the restaurant or give up his football career.

BILL DALY: Right

LINDEN MacINTYRE: I'm reading an NHL rule here that says, "The player shall agree to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the club, the league or professional hockey generally." A lot of people would say that Pavel Bure has really broken that rule.

BILL DALY: That's a slippery slope. I told you, it's a relationship we're concerned about and a relationship we're monitoring.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Monitoring this relationship shouldn't be difficult, emblazoned as it is along the streets of Moscow. And it may yet attract the attention of an even higher power than the NHL, according to Jim Moody.

JIM MOODY: I think the hockey players, the Russian hockey players themselves should be worried about is their associations could lead to their visas being pulled.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [on camera] But what if it threatened your visa. What if it threatened your status in the United States?

PAVEL BURE: Well, we'll deal with it. I don't know because there's no reason, and- [laughs] I don't think it's going to happen because- well, actually, it could, but we'll deal with it. I don't know.

LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Pavel Bure is working hard at hockey these days, seemingly unconcerned about what anyone thinks of his off-ice relationships.

Paris, just this past July, the unlikely locale for a ceremony that inducted an unlikely individual into an ancient Russian religious order. The man being honored is Alimzhan Tokhtakunov, AKA "Little Taiwanese." Police officers in Europe and America say "Little Taiwanese" is a key member of Russia's extended family of crime bosses.

The man anointing him with the sword is Joseph Cobzon, who has been barred from entry to the United States because his alleged criminal associations. The guest list also includes the Anzor Kikalishvili, also banned from the U.S. for alleged criminal associations.

And, still undaunted by the mounting criticism of the company he keeps, the NHL hockey star, Pavel Bure.

ANNOUNCER: For more of this report, check out FRONTLINE's Web site for reports on Russian organized crime in North America, a look at the rise and fall of Russian hockey, a glossary of Russian mafia slang, a selection of the interviews with key figures, and much more at pbs.org.

ANNOUNCER: Next time on FRONTLINE: They're young, they're affluent, and they have secret lives.

CYNTHIA NOEL, Public Health Nurse: We don't expect to see a 14-year-old with 40, 50 or 100 sex partners.

NICOLE: Just everybody having sex with everybody.

CYNTHIA NOEL: We saw syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes.

OBSERVER: They wanted to be part of this group so desperately.

D.J.: Everybody knew it, but the parents never knew.

ANNOUNCER: Has America lost its children? Watch FRONTLINE.

To order tonight's program on videocassette, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

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