Glorious times of Russian mafia: Boris Nayfeld, Razhden Shulaya and other mobsters in the US 

Glorious times of Russian mafia: Boris Nayfeld, Razhden Shulaya and other mobsters in the US
Boris Nayfeld Photo: Seth Wenig / AP

The Russian mafia took over the US, tired of this all and just wants home.

At the end of January, media reported that Boris Nayfeld (or Biba in criminal circles), the most famous Russian mafioso of New York, declared his desire to return to his homeland. In an interview with the Associated Press, Biba said that he had lost everything and asked to give him a chance to start a new life. Russian news portals and Prime Crime decided to take a closer look at the story of the mobster missing his homeland, and found out the other criminals of the Russian mafia operating overseas these days.

Cry from the heart

Boris Nayfeld, 70, has been sentenced several times. His third prison term and the following divorce have totally warped his life. He has unsuccessfully tried to find a job in the US, at least one that would fit his experience.

An AP correspondent met Biba at a restaurant a few blocks north of Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighborhood, which has been a haven for immigrants from the former Soviet Union since the 1970s.

"I can't do nothing," Nayfeld griped. "Give me a chance to start a new life."

He has a shaved head, piercing eyes and a strong body all covered with tattoos. Biba has been one of the most influent people in the Russian-speaking districts of New York. In his interview with AP, Biba told that he wants to return to his homeland, where he could use his skills. However, Neyfeld is not allowed to leave, still facing his three-year probationary period in the US. He was released from prison in October of the last year. Nayfeld was serving his sentence for involvement in an attempted murder, which turned into extortion.

"I lost everything," Nayfeld grumbled over a multi-course meal capped with a meringue dessert called the Pavlova. "I lost job, I lost my time for stay in prison. I lost my wife. This is enough punishment for me."

First time, Nayfeld came to the United States from Belarus in the late 1970s amid a wave of emigration of Jews from the USSR who were fleeing religious persecution. Biba confessed that he got into crime as soon as he arrived in the United States.


Boris Nayfeld (Biba), Givi Beradze (Givi Rezany) and Rafael Bagdasaryan (Svo Raf)

He has been convicted of fraud, tobacco smuggling, and transportation of heroin stashed in TVs from Thailand via Poland. Nayfeld publicly threatened to kill his rivals and survived an attempt on his life. A bomb that was placed under Biba's car failed to explode. In 1986, the mafia boss was wounded in the arm during a raid of militants with automatic rifles in his office killing a friend and fellow criminal. A year earlier, Nayfeld was a witness of murder of Evsei Agron, the leader of the Russian mafia in the United States. As AP notes, after the murder of Agron, Biba became a bodyguard and a driver of the next boss of the Russian mafia, Marat Balagula.

The US customs intelligence report of 1997 calls Nayfeld the "organizer, enforcer and narcotics distributor" for the Russian mafia, yet the mobster has no regrets about his criminal experience.

"Never. No. When I'm born again, I do it the same," he said.

During announcement of a verdict to the mobster last July, an assistant US attorney told the Federal Judge despite the fact that Nayfeld "for most of his adult life been in Russian organized crime," he no longer poses threat to people. 

"And so I think perhaps we are at a moment where the reinforcing cycle of the myth of Boris Nayfeld has probably reached its end," said the prosecutor, Andrew Thomas.


Biba says that he does not want to go back to prison. He lives on a social allowance of $750 a month and tries to avoid places where his former partners and young criminals gather. The only exception for him is a sauna. Nayfeld is trying to make money on his experience. For example, he thinks of participating in reality shows with other mobsters of the Russian mafia. Boris is an active supporter of Donald Trump. The President "is a businessman, he doesn't care who give him money for project," Nayfeld said. "I'm the same."

As AP notes, Brooklyn that Nayfeld has returned to doesn't resemble the rough-and-tumble streets he once roamed, when crime, especially violent crime, among Russian immigrants in New York hit historic highs in the early 1990s. Back then, warring outfits of Russian crooks littered the streets with bodies. Nowadays, the Russian mafia specializes in fraud with credit cards, as well as organization of gambling and prostitution.

The glorious times 

"Boris Nayfeld is a well-known person, especially in emigrants’ circles. Biba has never been a thief in law, as it is believed. As far as I know, he has been involved in drug distribution, as well as in a famous story of a submarine of the 90s," says Victoria Gefter, editor of Prime Crime.

The famous story concerns a large-scale project, which had been developed by members of Russia’s Tambov gang and Medellin cartel of Colombia. The international criminal tandem wanted to buy a Russian diesel submarine of 27-meter length called Foxtrot (project 641), capable of transporting up to 40 tons of cocaine.


Foxtrot submarine

The criminals managed to reduce the initial price of $20 million to $5 million. But after some of the key figures in the criminal community were killed, the deal never took place.

Despite the failure, the world's first drug submarine became a real legend of that times. Media wrote that Tambovskaya OCG and the Medellin cartel even wanted to shoot at the Santa Barbara coast in California with torpedoes stuffed with cocaine... The role of Boris Nayfeld in this crazy project is not known for certain.

The overseas King 

Today, criminal ‘patriarch’ Boris Komin (or Borya Ushaty), 91, is considered to be the main thief in the law in the United States. He was born in 1927 in the city of Stalino (today’s Donetsk), Komin is a Jew. He was one of the first (according to some sources - the first) thief from the USSR who moved to a permanent residence to the US in the 70s. Ushaty is believed to be the keeper of the thieves' traditions: in 2008, during the bloody struggle of two key figures of Russian criminal world, Aslan Usoyan (Ded Hasan) and Tariel Oniani (Taro), Komin came to Moscow to resolve the dispute between the opponents. The old thief listened to both sides then gave a brief and harsh answer. 

"I settle disputes between thieves, I don’t see thieves here. It’s is not thieves’ business to judge businessmen," Ushaty said and left overseas. Komin plays such a crucial role in the criminal world: he is beyond all the ratings and enjoys unquestioned authority among the criminals. At the same time, he stays in shadows. One can hardly find any information about him. Komin is the only criminal authority who lived in the US and had such a great influence on thieves in law in Russia.


Boris Komin

"During the times of Ded Hasan, Ushaty used to be an honored guest, he was always invited to Moscow in January, on his birthday (Komin celebrates his birthday on January 17 – Lenta’s note). Thus, he had some influence on thieves in Russia. The rest of the American thieves can hardly enjoy such treatment," Victoria Gefter explains.

It is worth noting that the myths about Russian mafia gathering on the Brighton Beach refers mostly to the Jewish mafia. So, it concerns Boris, as well. Other representatives of the criminal world of Russia do not gather at the only place in the United States. Except for the Armenian mafia, which chose California to hold their meetings.

Goes into overdrive 

However, if Borya Ushaty is more like a living symbol of thieves' traditions, then in the US there are criminal authorities that do not skulk and force the local press to publish mind-blowing articles about dangerous Russian mafia again and again. 

"As far as I know, Shulaya (Razhden Pitersky) and Armen Ghazaryan (Pzo) are living overseas. The US persecutes both of them - and both go into overdrive, doing everything - from racketeering and smuggling to all sorts of frauds," says the interlocutor of

Shot caller from St. Petersburg Shulaya was crowned in May 2013 at the gathering in Cyprus by leader of the Sukhumi thief clan Merab Dzhangveladze (Merab Sukhumsky) allies. In June of the same year, Razhden was detained in Lithuania during a large-scale police raid on the territory of nine EU countries (13 thieves in law were detained following the results of the operation). However, this did not prevent him from moving overseas and create a full-fledged organized criminal group in the United States, whose members, according to the American investigation, were involved in contract killings, robberies, thefts, extortion, fraud, drug and arms trafficking. 


Razhden Shulaya

According to the US law enforcement agencies, Razhden’s gang includes 33 participants. Shulaya‘s right hand 37-year-old Zurab Dzhanashvili (Zura) and most of the gang members have lived in Brooklyn, New York. As for the leader, he lived in the town of Edgewater (New Jersey). According to the prosecution, the Shulaya‘s gang operated in five states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada. Among other things, gang members organized an underground casino in Brighton Beach and chased up debts of gamblers who lost out, hacked the Atlantic City and Philadelphia casinos by using special devices predicting the behavior of slot machines and engaged in extortion from businessmen.

Also Shulaya‘s gang robbed transport cargo (including 10 thousand pounds of chocolate sweets), opened a nightclub for the distribution of drugs, bribed police officers and used forged documents, checks and bills. The gang includes women who robbed men using soporific drugs.

On June 8, 2017, the New York City Prosecutor's Office filed charges against members of the Shulaya’s criminal group; exactly 22 years before, the king of the Russian mafia, thief in law Vyacheslav Ivankov (Yaponchik), was arrested in New York. If Razhden Pitersky's guilt is proven, he will face a total of 60 years in jail: 20 years for extortion, 15 - for attempting to break into a casino, as much for using fake documents, and five years for the transportation and sale of stolen goods and contraband cigarettes. 

Following Ostap Bender

Unlike Razhden Shulaya, who did not hesitate to use force in his American affairs, another thief in law settled in the US, Armen Ghazaryan (Pzo), placed a bet on clever fraud. Born in 1964 in Yerevan, Pzo became famous as the leader of a large local organized criminal group. He was crowned in 1991 in Rostov-on-Don, and since 1996 Ghazaryan has been living in the United States. As the portal noted, Pzo, a supporter of the Ded Hasan’s clan, is one of the organizers of multi-million theft from the Medicare program (federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older).

The scheme of this large fraud as it is: the attackers abducted the identification data of physicians working for Medicare and its insured elderly participants, and then opened fictitious clinics. They rented premises sometimes; more often they just registered service mailboxes. After that, Medicare was billed on behalf of dummy clinics with real doctors whose data was stolen. The federal program transferred money to scammers - and they immediately withdrew and laundered funds. 

According to the portal, Pzo, with two accomplices, organized a fraudulent network of 118 fictitious clinics in 25 states. The Medicare program lost about $163 million out of Pzo’s criminal activity; a joint federal-state program that provides health coverage to certain categories of low-asset people Medicaid lost another $50 million. According to some reports, part of the stolen funds was transferred to the common fund of Ded Hasan’s clan.


Armen Ghazaryan

Nevertheless, the FBI agents eventually revealed a large scam with insurance: the agency charged 78 defendants in the case. Ghazaryan, who could face up life imprisonment for all the charges, made a plea deal with the enforcers and got only charge - in racketeering. As a result, in February 2013, Pzo was sentenced to 37 months of arrest, a fine of $60.000 and confiscation of property, including a $600.000-worth house in California, by the federal court of the New York Southern District. 

And as the term of Ghazaryan’s arrest was reckoned, in September of the same year he was released. Portal notes that some representatives of the Armenian diaspora in the United States ‘contributed’ to Pzo's release. By the way, the thief in law successfully escaped extradition to Armenia: it turned out that Ghazaryan received a green card as a refugee from Azerbaijan and could not be expelled to Armenia. 

Lukewarm reception 

Meanwhile, despite all these examples, Russian thieves in law live mainly in European countries. Despite all the prospects, they are hampered by the US strict legislation. 

"I do not know any of the thieves who is trying to move to the US. Mobs often live on sufferance in Europe, this is life," Victoria Gefter explains.



It is worth to mention the example of Vyacheslav Ivankov, who managed to move to the United States and live there for a while. But the story with the move of the Russian underworld king abroad had underpinning. 

"There is an opinion that Yaponchik moved to the US on the instructions of the state security. And then he was brought back as well-known Soviet intelligence agent Rudolf Abel, who was arrested in the States and later extradited to the USSR," says the editor of Prime Crime

Therefore, Ivankov's example is rather an exception to the rules. And no one from across the pond waits for Russian thieves in law, and they, knowing this, are leery moving to the US.



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