The Most Dangerous Mobster in the World
Semion Yudkovich Mogilevich, nicknamed “the Brainy Don,” is a different kind of dangerous than most of us are used to. Because while there is rabid-dog dangerous, there’s also that other kind of dangerous. The kind who got way better grades than you, the kind who sits on top of a fortune reputed to be in the billions and, finally, the kind who can hit up his old pal Vladimir Putin if things get sticky. Fugitive member of the Russian secret service Alexander Litvinenko accused him of that once, in fact … right before he was poisoned to death.
Standing 5 feet 6 inches and pushing the scales at close to 300 pounds, the 69-year-old Ukrainian-born Mogilevich not only, according to the FBI, has his fingers in the usual pots — contract murders, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, prostitution and weapons trafficking — but also armament factories, oil companies, tax fraud, stock manipulations and big-time banking fraud via a bank that he owned, which gave him a convenient back channel to the world financial system. To describe his holdings as “vast”? A total understatement for this boss of bosses who, at last check, was living not in some mountain redoubt but in Moscow, where the father of three comes and goes as he likes — albeit with a security detail.
From fraud to fraud, cash grab to muscle to murder, Mogilevich has cut a swath across the globe.
“The Russians ain’t shit,” says retired New York undercover organized crime cop Fred Santoro when discussing the city’s new organized crimescape. They lacked the smarts of the Italian mob and the raw brutality of the Albanian mafia and in total weren’t good for much. “They commit a crime and run back to Russia.” That characterization would in all likelihood amuse Mogilevich who, by dint of his placement on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and his degree in economics — along with the aforementioned billions — is very much “the shit.”
The Solntsevskaya Bratva, the name of the crime family most directly aligned with Mogilevich and the name almost whispered by “Freddy,” a Coney Island car thief who originally hails from Soviet Georgia, “is very serious. We have a saying, though: ‘Don’t paint a picture of the devil.’ That’s all I have to say.” With family back in Russia, he’s already said too much. But “too much” when you’re talking about Mogilevich always seems like never enough. Likened to Dr. Mabuse, Fritz Lang’s international archvillain with 1,000 eyes, Mogilevich makes good on the fictional Don Corleone’s original dream as spelled out in The Godfather: that eventually organized crime would just be organized business. In Mogilevich’s case, mostly true, but crime is also a business, one he apparently has no qualms about leaning in to.
In the late 1990s, Mogilevich’s bank, the well-named Inkombank, pulled off a $10 billion money-laundering plot via the Bank of New York, according to the Moscow Telegraph, something he led up to with one of his more audacious grabs a few years earlier. The scam involved the selling of untaxed heating oil in place of the much more highly taxed auto fuel. Before it was uncovered, it ended up costing the Czech Republic, just one of the Central European countries conned, 100 billion Czech korunas, about $5 billion. Not only that, but on its way to being shut down there was mayhem galore, including the near hit of the reporter following the story.
So from fraud to fraud, cash grab to muscle to murder, Mogilevich has cut a swath across the globe. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by people whose job it is to stop people like him. In 2008, he was finally arrested in Moscow for “suspected” tax evasion — only to be released less than a year later. According to the Russian interior ministry the charges against him? “Are not of a particularly grave nature.”
We repeated the question, and she answered with the same question before waving her hands and saying, “Business partners.”
Perfect. If you’re Mogilevich.
And not too long ago, in St. Petersburg, Russia, with members of the Red Devil Sport Club, a mixed martial arts (MMA) academy, while covering one of its sporting events for a shadowy stateside fight promotion, we decided to decamp to the arena not too far from where we were staying, the Hotel Moscow. As we closed in to the arena, we noted a ring around it with no fewer than three Rolls-Royces, a bevy of Benzes and custom and tricked-out BMWs, dark-tinted windows, the works. When we asked who in this “Communist” country they belonged to, our interpreter repeated the question, “Who?” We repeated the question, and she answered with the same question before waving her hands and saying, “Business partners.”
We smiled. She did not.
The FBI isn’t smiling either. The agency’s advertisement of a $100,000 reward for information leading up to his arrest or capture is nonetheless comical in light of Mogilevich’s most recent U.S. cash grab, which cost U.S. investors in excess of $150 million according to the Feds, but it bears the distinctly not funny warning: “considered armed and extremely dangerous.” Probably beyond a shadow of a doubt.