The Russian Mobster Who Hid out in Trump Tower and the Taj Mahal
Vyacheslav Ivankov was a top Russian mob boss, wanted in Russia and in America.
He was a Vory v Zakone, a member of the “thieves-in-law,” the highest criminal echelon in the Soviet Union before the Communist government collapsed.
An infamous 1995 FBI affidavit describes Semion Mogilevich, considered by the bureau as the most dangerous Russian mobster in the world, as “one of IVANKOV’s closest associates.”
It was Mogilevich, according to Alan Block’s All Is Clouded by Desire, who paid a Russian judge to arrange for Ivankov’s early release in 1991 from a tough Siberian prison where he was being held for ‘robbery and torture.
After his release from prison, Ivankov was accused of murdering two Turkish nationals in a Moscow restaurant in January 1992. Later that year, he fled Russia for New York.
Journalist Robert I. Friedman tells the story of where the FBI found him in his book Red Mafiya (which you can read for free at this link).
Despite Ivankov’s flagrant, multinational criminal activities, during his first years in America, the FBI had a hard time even locating him. “At first all we had was a name,” says the FBI’s James Moody. “We were looking around, looking around, looking around, and had to go out and really beat the bushes. And then we found out that he was in a luxury condo in Trump Towers” in Manhattan.
[A copy of Ivankov’s personal phone book, which was obtained by the author, included a working number for the Trump Organization’s Trump Tower Residence, and a Trump Organization office fax machine.]
But almost as soon as they found him, he disappeared again leaving nothing but vapor trails for the FBI to follow. “Ivankov,” explained an FBI agent, “didn’t come from a walk-and-talk culture,” like Italian gangsters who take walks to discuss family business so they can’t be bugged or overheard by the bureau. “As soon as he’d sniff out the feds, he’d go into hiding for days at a time,” a trait that made him harder to keep tabs on than Italian mobsters. “He was like a ghost to the FBI,” says Gregory Stasiuk, the New York State Organized Crime Task Force special investigator.
Stasiuk picked up Ivankov’s trail at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, the Trump-owned casino that the real estate magnate boasted was the “eighth wonder of the world.” The Taj Mahal had become the Russian mob’s favorite East Coast destination. As with other high rollers, scores of Russian hoodlums received “comps” for up to $100,000 a visit for free food, rooms, champagne, cartons of cigarettes, entertainment, and transportation in stretch limos and helicopters. “As long as these guys attract a lot of money or spend a lot of money, the casinos don’t care,” a federal agent asserted. Russian mobsters like Ivankov proved a windfall for the casinos, since they often lost hundreds of thousands of dollars a night in the “High-Roller Pit,” sometimes betting more than $5,000 on a single hand of blackjack. “They’re degenerate gamblers,” says Stasiuk. Although the FBI still couldn’t find Ivankov, Stasiuk managed to tail him from the Taj Mahal to shipping mogul Leonard Lev’s sprawling home on a dead-end street in Far Rockaway, Queens, and on another occasion, from the Taj to the Paradise Club, a notorious Russian mob haunt in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, then managed by godfather Marat Balagula’s youngest daughter, Aksana, the onetime aspiring optometrist.
The implication here is that Trump or his organization was welcoming these Russian mobsters because they were laundering huge sums through his casino. “The casinos don’t care” means Trump didn’t care either.
Friedman’s reporting is backed up in a report by the Tri-State Joint Soviet-Emigre Organized Crime Project, an effort by New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to come to grips with Russian mob influence:
Russian emigres have also been conducting various types of money laundering schemes in hotels and casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. Casino operators indicate that a significant number of Russian emigres frequent casinos. Many of them are “high- rollers” recognized as favored customers and, as such, have received such perks as limousine service, plush hotel suites, meal and alcohol allowances, and seating for prime events. One of the schemes observed by various law enforcement agencies, including the United States Secret Service and the New Jersey State Police, involves the use or attempted use of counterfeit currency and traveler’s checks. Russian-emigre criminals use the bogus currency, in amounts below the federal Currency Transaction Report threshold, to obtain cash and/or playing chips.
The Taj Mahal repeatedly failed to properly report gamblers who cashed out $10,000 or more in a single day, according to a 1998 IRS settlement unearthed by CNN. The casino violated anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s.
Ivanov’s stay at the Taj Mahal came to an end in April 1993 when Ivankov’s presence in the United States was reported by The Associated Press’ Charles Hanley.
Ivankov was arrested in 1995 and sent to prison for conspiring to extort $3.5 million from two Russian emigres who ran an investment advice company in lower Manhattan. He served nine years.
After his release he returned to Russia where he was assassinated.