mafia power play
Join the Discussion: Do you think the Russian Mafia is influencing hockey games?  Or are they just establishing a presence in North America?
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Dear FRONTLINE,

PBS has always been at the pinnacle of fair journalism and enlightening programming Ė what happened? I canít believe that PBS and Frontline could succumb to sensationalistic journalism. Do not misunderstand me - I abhor Mafia of any kind, but it is beyond me that, in the interest of journalistic freedom, anyone could potentially ruin the careers of these NHL hockey players and cause emotional trauma for their families with no more fact than appears here. I see little difference between Mafia extortion of money and journalistic extortion of pride, self-esteem and career. In all that I read here: nothing is proven, no FACTS were presented, no one in the know SAID that ANY NHL hockey players were connected with the Mafia, I didn't see any of the FACTS from the FBI, nor did I see any FBI individual interviewed. It was all innuendo! I am also dismayed that so many of the respondents (a jury of our peers?) were able to condemn these individuals without PROOF? What ever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?" There is a very good message about the Russian Mafia here but it was lost because of its obvious sensationalism. I was surprised and pleased that the press saw through the hype.

Bruce Wilcox
howell, mi


Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program, as alwasys, was excellent, the best TV program on the air, bar none. For ten years, I have never missed a show.

The Russian Mafia program illustrated that the United States continues its historical trend of defeating other countries in wars, either hot or cold, and then being one -upped by those countries in the peace that follows...

The arrogance and blatant lying of Pavel Bure -- a criminal ensconced in his Miami penthouse, was infuriating, all the more so because he knows the criminal justice system in this nation will do nothing to him. Our nation always seems to take the worst elements of other countries into the fold. Castro's Mariel boatlift is the best example. Once criminals from other countries come here, then our creaky and overburdened criminal justice system, it's dockets already groaning under huge caseloads, it's prosecutors constrained by our wonderful but demanding civil liberties protections, cannot cope with these new, imported problems.

I realize that the poem that begins "Give me your tired, your poor, your wretched refuse yearning to be free" is an expression of one of our national myths, the myth that we are the beacon for the rest of the world. But myths have limits. The elements that make this society a beacon are depleted by our willingness to let anyone and everyone live here and take advantage of our people.

j. allen browning
bremerton, wa


Dear FRONTLINE,

Having worked and lived in Moscow for 5 years, I would have to agree with the sentiment that unless you've been there you will never understand. Unfortunately this seems to be used too often as an excuse for associating with the criminal element.

Having had several "roofs" I can honestly say that I never respected or considered any of them my friends. Guys like Mogilny should be heralded for their courage to stand up for what's right, and not perpetuating the problem. The criminal element runs deep in Russia, to the very top? Probably. But what the documentary did not show was that there are plenty of people in Russia who stand up to crime everyday, and win. It is just unfortunate that men like Pavel Bure, naive or not is not for me to say, have chosen not to ignore the glamour and glitz that has always surrounded organized crime.( Let's not forget men like Sinatra )

atlanta, ga


Dear FRONTLINE,

Mr. Domenico makes some very strong points. I would like to add that I think US policy toward the Soviet Union in its waning days laid the seeds for what has now borne fruit.

Mr. Reagan's rebuke of 'detente' and choosing to approach our relationship with Russia as 'Gunfight at the OK Corral' created an environment where the best and brightest emigrated. This does not make them any less Russian. Bure, Fetisov,(not to mention ice skating stars, women's tennis stars, et al), are proud, patriotic Russians. I think this is what Bure meant when he said 'We would not understand'. By rejecting, detente Reagan created an environment where Russians cannot remain Russian AND contribute to Western Culture. You would think he would have learned something about what happened in Germany after WWI. A proud, wise people that are forced into humiliation are dangerous(...but then again, if you only read Louis L'Amour novels...).

Slavic people have a strong, wild Asian spirit in them as well as what Peter the Great developed.

God help the West if that is unleashed because of our ignorance. Dostoevsky described this dualism in the Russian spirit eloquently.

Terry Knies
st. louis, mo


Dear FRONTLINE,

I cannott stress enough the fact that Americans cannot possibly comprehend the ideology of the average Russian.

The criminal element is so pervasive in that country that a person cannot rise in ANY profession without having to deal with organized crime. These NHL players had to deal with it when they played with their respective clubs in Russia, so it naturally follows that these contacts flow to America with these players. Again, Americans don't see this connection, but to any Russian it is perfectly natural.

You cannot condem the players because they are involved with forces MUCH more powerful than themselves. Besides, paying "tributes" is part of the natural course of business in Russia. If they were to decline the advances of their extorters, who knows the penalties they may have to pay?

Who among FRONTLINE's viewers would stake their life, or the lives of their loved ones, on such lofty principles? By making the claim that Russian NHL players acted improperly they are imposing a morality that is rather hard to live up to. In any case, it is important to remember who the victims are. These people were being extorted. The fact that they paid, and lied about it, only attests to the power of the forces behind this mess.

boston, ma


Dear FRONTLINE,

Churchill summed it up rather well when he said, "[Russia] is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Your coverage of this dark activity tells us to wake up and be mindful of the deep cultural differences between the American and Russia mindsets.

new york, new york


Dear FRONTLINE,

This Frontline report was both very interesting and very disturbing. Having spent considerable time in Russia and Ukraine over the last 10 years, it is unnerving to come to grips with the fact that all the "new" economic development in the NIS could be, or is, in fact corrupt. Unfortunately, any casual observer could easily come to this conclusion.

However, there is another side to the story that is independent of uncontroverted facts.

Having experienced America as an Italian American, I can attest to the fact that many times Italian Americans have been painted with one brush. It haunted me through the broadcast that this too could be the case with the Russian hockey players.

The truth is that hockey, and sport in general, has been a mechanism for some "average" citizens of the former Soviet states to move up in the world. Not long after, we in the west began to make value judgements regarding their associations, business partners, and "off ice" conduct. As Pavel Bure said in his interview, "You wouldn't understand."

We in the developed West, and the United States in particular, have wedded ourselves to an economic "reform" policy that has virtually turned Russia and the other NIS countries into economic basket cases. These so-called reform policies would never be applied to our own economy, let alone to a fragile one like Russia's. The result has been to plunge the Russian people into a morass of poverty and unemployment with no viable way out.

Therefore, what appears to us to be corrupt may very well appear to others to be prosperous and idyllic. Add into the mix a healthy dose of patriotism, and what was revealed in the broadcast is no longer so hard to understand.

Reno Domenico
pine hill, new jersey


Dear FRONTLINE,

Bravo Frontline. Your courage to investigate and report it makes me begin to understand the power of the media. It struck me deep to see someone stand up for the good of future society.

chicago, illinois


Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline:

The most interesting aspect, I find, in your report was the statement made by Pavel Bure in his interview that you will never understand the Russian mentality.

He was obviously alluding to sixty years of a corrupt system that forced and continues to force individuals to resort to criminal connections to achieve their goals -- any goals, whether it is extra bread for their family or playing professional ice hockey.

This is, indeed, something Americans can only attempt to grasp. So fascinating is the concept, that I would think Frontline might want to devote an entire program just to this--'surviving, Russian-style.' What about it, Frontline?

Claude Brickell
los angeles, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

I found your program on the Russian Mafis, just a little more than interesting. I spent a good amount of time in the former USSR last summer (98), and I got more than an eye and and ear full of the real world to which your program only scratched the surface. The corruption in all of the former Soviet Union is something that I dare say would shock the pants off everyone who saw last evenings show.

Most of those who have written you have no idea of how fair and understated the facts of your show truly were. I traveled to Moscow, St Petersburg, Kiev, Minsk and yes even small unassuming Belarus; the entire trip was a real shocker to me and a reality that most Americans watching your program would find hard to believe.

I saw common Kiosk vendors being fleeced daily by the street thugs that you were so kind as to treat with kid gloves. From the former In-Tourist Hotels to the poor chap selling his personal possessions to make a living, the thugs have their hands in your pocket or you don't do business. The corruption there is from the very top to the lowest person on the street. I saw it daily over and over again throughout my entire trip.

The biggest problem is that the people there have no way to combat this corruption as they have never been allowed to have one orignal thought for the more than 50 years of communist domination, and the strong grip that those who were the Party Faithful have been lucky enough to stay in the halls of power after the official fall of the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, those who have the power of the government and the mafia behind them are one in the same.

The power of the former party leaders is still there, only hidden, and your program only scratched the surface of what is really going on. I know for a fact that millions of the IMF and World Bank dollars that went to Russia to help them with their transition to a free market economey went right into the pockets of some of the individuals that you spoke of in your piece. It is a sad fact that the hockey players ARE targets of these bloodsucking crooks, because if they don't play the game they and their families will just become more statistics in the cruel reality of the modern day way that ALL business is conducted in Russia today, as well as most of the former Soviet Union Federations. Sorry folks, but once again Frontline only told you what they thought they could get away with telling. The Western World as a whole "Can't take the truth".

The former Soviet Union is one of the most corrupt societies on the face of the planet, and the cruel reality is the mafia is running most of the show.

Don Nelson
san francisco, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

You are, by far, the best in-depth news reporting source on television today. Your report on the Russian Mafia & the NHL was disturbing to say the least. It's incredibly obvious that these Russians are "selling-out" their countrymen for huge personal profits. The NHL is no better...winning = big money. The "rules" apply to some, but not others. I guess it's simply a matter of how tall the money tree is and in whose pockets the fruit falls.

Jeanette Daley
las vegas, nv


Dear FRONTLINE,

Although a very interesting story on the Russian Mob, I'm very dissapointed with this report. I found this to be very one sided. The journalist took advantage of people who have limited command of the english language. How can you deliberatly try to ruin the carrers of so many dedicated and talented hockey people. I would like to remind you that all of the comments about Bure's involvement in the mob was ALLEGED, not fact. What about the credibility of the people slandering these hockey players? Who are they friends with? Why are they more credible than these players? Frontline you should know better than that.

vancouver, bc


Dear FRONTLINE,

Before any naive individuals doubt the integrity of Pavel Bure, Slava Fetisov and any other Russian NHL's implicated by Frontline's inaccurate and biased report "Mafia Power Play", please hear this: These players are commodities. Americans cannot presume to understand the powers that force them to maintain both public and private allegiance to the people they must. It is an unavoidable fact of life for any Russian with fame, fortune and influence. Frontline neglected to show this side of the story, and by such omission presented an unfair and slanderous agenda.

phoenix, az


Dear FRONTLINE,

While there may not be any proof of wrongdoing, there is definitely some type of relationship between these players and criminals and the fact that Fetisov and Bure are caught in lies is enough to make you wonder what they are up to. There isn't a mother out there who cannot look at Bure's face and tell he is lying through his teeth! As far as other responses calling these men "heroes" in America....Based on what? The fact that they have a God-given talent? If Bure would spend his time with charities instead of criminals, then he might be worthy of some admiration.

colonia, nj


Dear FRONTLINE,

Once again you've proven that FRONTLINE does the best investigatory reporting in the industry. I was troubled by two distinct persons with seemingly distinct agendas, yet curiously similar in their demeanor, the approach to answering your questions and their conclusions. The General Counsel for the NHL either did a particularly poor job of preparing for the interview and thus of answering questions or the NHL is involved in protecting itself in the fact of undeniable evidence that criminals and their associates have infiltrated, in one way or another, the NHL. Mr. Daly failed to answer any of the difficult questions posed to him about what the NHL knew, what is policy is to deal with criminal elements, and what it knows regarding Mr. Bure's relationship with Mr. Kikalishvili. I can certainly understand Mr. Daly doing his best to protect the interests of the NHL, but his answers seemed to be so evasive as to suggest that he had a lot to hide. He also was combative when he shouldn't have been which lead me to the conclusion that his defensiveness was a way of showing disdain for the truth. Bure was just plain old disingenuous. He refused to answer any of the hard questions posed to him and then when pressed for answers he gave some of the lamest excuses I have ever heard like I stick by my friends (even though there is overwhelming evidence that his "friend" is a criminal of the first order). I guess his answer to the question I would have posed which is "Do you stick by your friends even if they are established criminals", would have been something like "well, you're assuming stuff that I don't know anything about." Talk about flat out avoidance. Mr. Daly and Mr. Bure proved one thing that should concern us all: they obfiscated and avoided so much that they are not worthy of our trust. We must and should proceed with investigations of a criminal nature to get to the bottom of things. Thank you FRONTLINE for your outstanding job. And thanks to Details Magazine.

Frank Guzman
el paso, texas


Dear FRONTLINE,

I think it is a shame that these men are being accused by the media of crimes that, if anything, are being committed by others. Slava Fetisov is a legend in his homeland and a hero to many in the United States, especially in the Detroit area. Just being Russian and knowing crime figures (of which there are many) does not make you a criminal. Going to a disco run by Mafia figures to show off the Stanley Cup does not mean you are Mafia. I've been to clubs that may be run by the underworld too, does this put me under suspicion?

boulder, colorado

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