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The Russians Are After Our Chocolate And Slot Machines

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When you think of mobsters involved in trafficking stolen goods, perhaps you drugs, cigarettes, and guns come to mind. But the more than 30 people associated with an alleged Russian crime syndicate in New York arrested this week are also accused of dealing in something a bit sweeter — 10,000 pounds of pilfered chocolate.

Federal prosecutors in New York City have charged 33 people who are allegedly involved with a Russian organized crime group with a “dizzying array of criminal schemes” committed by the syndicate: A murder-for-hire conspiracy, a plot to rob victims by seducing and drugging them with chloroform, a fraud on casino slot machines using electronic hacking devices, and the theft of cargo shipments containing over 10,000 pounds of chocolate.

Officials say the alleged racketeering effort was led by a man named Razhden Shulaya, and that this is one of the first federal racketeering charges ever brought against a Russian “vor,” which translates literally to “thief,” but is akin to what we know from movies as a “made man.”

For the Martin Scorsese fans out there, this guy is essentially the Godfather: The term refers to “an order of elite criminals from the former Soviet Union who receive tribute from other criminals, offer protection, and use their recognized status as vor to adjudicate disputes among lower-level criminals,” officials say.

As vor, Shulaya allegedly had substantial influence in the criminal underworld, and offered assistance and protection for members of his enterprise.

Among the alleged crimes committed by the group:
• The operation of illicit poker businesses in Brighton Beach;
• The extortion of gamblers who became indebted to the Shulaya Enterprise;
• Attempts to extort local business owners;
• Efforts to defraud casinos in Atlantic City and Philadelphia by using electronic devices and computer servers to predict and exploit the behavior of electronic slot machines;
• The theft of cargo shipments, including a shipment containing approximately 10,000 pounds of chocolate confections;
• The use of a female member of the Shulaya Enterprise to seduce men, incapacitate them with gas, and then rob them;
• Attempts to create an after-hours nightclub that would host, among other things, the sale of narcotics;
• The transportation and sale of numerous cases of untaxed cigarettes;
• Plans to pay bribes to local law enforcement; and
• Creation and use of forged identification documents, checks, and invoices.

“The suspects in this case cast a wide net of criminal activity, aiming to make as much money as possible, all allegedly organized and run by a man who promised to protect them,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. “But that protection didn’t include escaping justice and being arrested by the agents and detectives on the FBI New York Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force.”

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