Russian Mafia in America - James Finckenauer, Elin Waring

I've read many books in the past few weeks, but I've been lazy about writing my thoughts about them.  So with this book, I'll try getting back on track.

This book is just one in a very, very, very small genre of literature about Eastern European criminal activity.  Right off the bat, I'm leery about this book in general.  For one, it is already more than a decade old which means much of it's research and conclusions need revision.  Another large issue with the book is that the authors had almost no personal eyewitness legwork to add to the book.  What this book is, is a collating effort to the data gathered by law enforcement agencies, DA offices, and journalists who do report from the trenches.  

The gathering of these different sources is the main strength of the book.  It imposes a level-headed look at various aspects of organized criminal activity among Eastern Europeans.  There are no breathless, hysterical, gossipy stories about "Russian" gangsters ala Robert Friedman (Red Mafiya was a good read, however it suffered greatly from lack of focus and over excitability of it's author).  However, I will say that I tend to agree more with Robert Friedman's analysis than with Finckenauer/Waring.  Friedman did after all meet his subjects face to face and mainly on their own territory.

What I found fascinating in this book were the charts of criminal association based on well known names (Ivankov, Nayfeld, Elson) at the time of it's publication.  It highlighted the very fleeting and fluid nature of the associations between these criminals and associates.  Their way of doing business is extremely different than prior Italian based mobs.

The authors did spend time interviewing middle and working class people in the Brighton Beach area.  While some denied witnessing any kind of organized crime, just as many attested to the fact that it was a problem in their neighborhood.  Many felt that it hurt their opportunities in America because many US citizens now assume that anyone "Russian" is shady and involved with gangsters.

There were many subjects in this book that could easily require their own books.  But since it was just an overview, nothing was really studied with any depth.  Since the authors used information that was most likely being used for ongoing investigations and court cases, they were definitely denied from revealing too much information to support their conclusion.  Which ultimately led them to write that they did not believe there was a "Mafia" of Eastern Europeans working within the US and that the organized criminal activity which has already taken place did not seem to pose too great a threat.

That conclusion surprised me to say the least and I couldn't help but think that the authors were wrong.  The organized criminal activity of this group may not be as stratified as the Italian mobs but they are still mobs.  This group requires new definitions appended to organized crime and the authors seemed extremely hesitant to be the people to create those new definitions.

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