Morbid Curiosity


Iakoubovski, Dmitri Olegovich: Russian James Bond – In August 1993, someone fired three shots at the palatial mansion belonging to Dmitri Iakoubovski in the Bridle Path area of Toronto. A note in Russian was found inside the gates of the $5.3-million home, warning Iakoubovski, twenty-nine, a former senior Russian government official, to stop complaining publicly about corruption in Russia.

With the bullets and note began a dizzying series of international investigations that included a multi-million-dollar baby-food scam, theft of priceless books, alleged forgeries of taped conversations, secret Swiss bank accounts, and the top levels of Russian politics.

Within a month of the shooting, Russian President Boris Yeltsin cited Iakoubovski’s allegations of corruption when he fired Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi and first deputy prime minister Vladimir Shumeiko.

Yeltsin was referring in part to the baby-food scam, in which Russian-produced cotton, valued at $20 million on Western markets, was allegedly traded to an Austrian company. In return, the Austrian company was to provide baby food for Russia, but the baby food had a value in Russia of only $10,000. Profits from the deal were allegedly transferred through a bank owned by a Toronto-based firm to a secret trust account in a Swiss bank.

Throughout the dizzying allegations and counter-allegations, it became quickly apparent that Iakoubovski – dubbed the “Russian James Bond” by one Moscow newspaper – wasn’t an ordinary crime victim. He certainly wasn’t ordinary and he wasn’t even much of a victim, either.

Born just outside Moscow on September 5, 1963, he was the son of a mid-ranking army officer who died when Iakoubovski was in his teens from lingering damage due to exposure to toxic fumes from rocket fuel.

The year of his father’s death, Iakoubovski entered a Soviet military academy, but was refused readmission for a second year. Apparently, the KGB security service gave him a bad report card, because his mother was Jewish.

He then turned to law and, by his late twenties, he was legal adviser to the prosecutor-general, a post roughly equivalent to that of deputy minister. After June 1992, his career was skyrocketing upwards, and he was made the liaison between the Russian government and its security forces, the former KGB and police. Then, his career stopped as suddenly as it had taken off. By September 1992, he had left both his job and his country.

He resurfaced in one of Toronto’s swankiest neighbourhoods, enjoying cream cheese and bagels poolside at his Bridle Path mansion, which was close to that of media mogul Conrad Black and watched over by security cameras and off-duty police officers.

Not yet thirty, he was involved in a Swiss-Canadian company at the centre of a storm of corruption allegations that were racking the Russian government, and still hailed as a hero by a Russian presidential commission charged with exposing and stamping out corruption. “I did not stop when I was asked to stop, and continued to go further,” Iakoubovski told reporters through an interpreter shortly after the shooting. He then went on to deny he has received any government money that was illegally spirited out of Russia, and said his lavish lifestyle was supported by “consulting work” and a wealthy family.

Within a year, he was back in Moscow, booking an entire floor of the capital’s most luxurious hotel for his law office. Then, in December 1994, his fortunes took yet another sudden reversal. Russian police charged him with participating in the theft of $130 million worth of rare and ancient European, Hebrew, Chinese, and Tibetan manuscripts from a St. Petersburg library.

As if the plot wasn’t thick enough, before his case went to court, the body of his defence lawyer, Yevgeny Melnitsky, was found by neighbours in his small apartment in Moscow. The lawyer’s throat was cut and his head bludgeoned and, according to the Interfax news agency, Iakoubovski now feared “the next corpse in his case will be himself.”

He survived the trial to be convicted in 1996, and was sent to a luxury jail in Siberia, whose inmates had included fallen members of the political elite. Upon his release in 1998, Iakoubovski boasted that his political enemies had failed to defeat him. “They were all punished by God. Some lost their posts, some lost their families.”

Within a few weeks of his release, he was pouring champagne at the debut of his new career as a television celebrity. He was host of a weekly show called Arrest and Release , inspired by his four years in Russian jails.

He said he planned to give legal advice and support to the country’s legion of convicted criminals, estimating that 15 per cent of all Russians have spent time in jail and 50 per cent have a close relative who served prison time. “It’s the biggest electorate in Russia these days,” he said.

He was also author of a new legal textbook, What Is Arrest and How to Fight It , and was featured on the cover of a popular Russian tabloid with his blonde wife, Irina, who sported only a black bikini brief, matching stiletto shoes, and a coil of barbed wire. The new Mrs. Iakoubovski – his fifth – had met him when she was his defence lawyer, and married him in a prison chapel a year before his release.

See also: Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, Joseph Sigalov, Vyacheslav Marakulovich Sliva .

Iannuzzelli, Louis: Depressed Loan Shark – When Iannuzzelli disappeared in October 1985, Niagara Regional Police suggested to reporters that he might have committed suicide. Iannuzzelli, who had interests in a wax museum in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and in a cruise boat, was also involved in loansharking, and police said he owned a large amount of money to “Johnny Pops” Papalia of Hamilton, who was horning in on his business.

“I’m sure he was depressed,” a police intelligence officer said to Peter Moon of the Globe and Mail . “You’d be depressed too, if you thought Johnny Pops was mad at you for some reason. He didn’t commit suicide. He was killed. And with him gone, there’s no competition for John in Niagara Falls.”

For his part, Papalia told Moon he had known Iannuzzelli for forty years and was aware that some police suspected him in the disappearance. “I had nothing to do with it,” Papalia told Moon, “and that’s presuming he is dead.”

See also: Carmen Barillaro, John “Johnny Pops” Papalia .

Ieuch, Dutch Henry – See Dutch Henry .

Interned in the Second World War: Mafia Roundup – In the Second World War, Ottawa feared an unholy alliance between mobsters of Italian heritage and Fascists. The RCMP submitted secret lists to the federal government on hundreds of Canadians with suspect loyalties, and mass roundups and internments followed quickly.

It was a time of rampant anti-Italian prejudice. In one case, a Toronto man was confined for two years for no greater offence than playing the Italian lawn-bowling game of bocce with Fascist sympathizers. But the intelligence files also included an inventory of the Ontario Italian underworld, and confirm that, despite later denials by politicians, Ottawa clearly considered Mafia association a serious security threat. Giovanni Durso of 200 Hess Street North in Hamilton was described in a secret RCMP report as a “criminal-minded Italian and a member of the Mafia.” Charles Calogero Bordonaro of Hamilton was listed as “the leader of the Maffia [sic] at Hamilton,” and Domenic Belcastro, Thomas Rasso, and Domenic Longo of Guelph were listed as “members of an international gang.”

Among those interned at Camp Petawawa were Rocco Perri, Hamilton’s King of the Bootleggers, who was not released until October 17, 1943, on a special order signed by then Justice Minister Louis St. Laurent. Also scooped up in the seventeen police cars that swept into Hamilton’s Italian community were Perri’s lieutenant Frank Sylvestro (alias “Frank Ross”), a bootlegger; Antonio “Tony” Papalia, a bootlegger, Perri associate, and father of “Johnny Pops” Papalia; and Calogero “Charlie” Bordonaro, believed to be a Black Hand bomber and Perri supporter.

From Niagara Falls, internees included Vincenzo “James” Sacco, a bootlegger and Perri associate; “Black Peter” Sacco, a gambler and bootlegger; and John (a.k.a. “Archie” and “Czar”) Saccone, an alien smuggler. From Guelph, there was suspected arsonist and counterfeiter Domenic Belcastro and Domenic Longo, a bootlegger and Perri ally.

But while about a dozen Ontario residents are bluntly listed as Mafia members by Mountie intelligence, none of the hundreds of Montrealers interned during the war were listed as having Mafia ties. The closest the intelligence material comes to mentioning Montreal underworld figures was in June 1942 letters to the government, suggesting that Luigi, Michele, Vincenzo, and Giuseppe Soccio be granted freedom only if they do “not belong to, or have any relationship with any secret society, band or gang, or any illegal organization.”

Almost everyone on the RCMP list from Montreal was a pro-Fascist immigrant of Sicilian heritage connected with the Sons of Italy. This was relatively easy information to get. The omission of criminals of Calabrian heritage, such as Vic Cotroni, was more an indication of police ignorance than underworld passivity.

See also: Black Hand, Antonio “Tony” Papalia, Rocco Perri .

Ivankov, Vyacheslav Kirillovich: “Little Japanese” – He exercised control in Toronto in the 1980s even when he was locked up in a Russian gulag for murders and hundreds of extortions.

A senior member of vor v zakonye (Russian Mafia), he even stole his nickname Yaponchick, “Little Japanese,” as it had been used earlier by the legendary Russian bandit Mishka Vinnitsky, who ran the Jewish underworld in the Black Sea port of Odessa in pre-revolutionary times.

While in maximum-security prison in Siberia, Ivankov continued to expand his crime empire and, with the help of two associates in Toronto, he was able to persuade Russian banks and investors to put $5 million into phony shares for a Siberian gold-mining company. Furious bankers sent a hit man to Toronto to kill one of his co-conspirators, but the hit man was arrested by the RCMP .

Vyacheslav Ivankov

Ivankov and his associate Vyacheslav Marakulovich Sliva headed to North America after the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Ivankov moved from Moscow in 1992 to the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn and became the most powerful Russian Mob leader in the United States, while Sliva settled in an exclusive condominium near Finch and Bayview Avenues in Toronto in 1995.

The FBI were having enormous difficulty gathering enough evidence to support a request to wiretap Ivankov’s telephone, since Mob leaders in Brighton Beach used a go-between to carry messages rather than communicating by phone.

However, the FBI was helped out by the Mounties in Toronto, who caught Ivankov in a conversation with his old associate Sliva.

Ivankov, fifty-seven, was arrested in June 1995, after an investigation that involved in part these wiretaps of his conversations supplied by the RCMP . Because of the Canadian help, a jury found Ivankov guilty of trying to shake down two businessmen who owed a $4.8-million debt to a Moscow bank.

Ivankov was sent to prison for nine and a half years after being convicted in an extortion conspiracy, but Sliva and Sigalov were not charged. The stocky, bearded Ivankov blurted out obscenities at FBI agents and government lawyers as he was led out of the courtroom.

Even before Ivankov’s arrival on North American soil, there were dark mutterings from law-enforcement officials about the spread of vor v zakonye . Insp. David Veness, head of Scotland Yard’s organized-crime unit, warned in 1993 that the world was facing an organized-crime threat on a scale it never had seen before from Russian mobsters from the former Soviet Union.

By 1995, the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada ( CISC ) noted that Russian-organized criminal syndicates had planted roots in Toronto and other Canadian cities, and that they were well on their way to changing the agenda of law enforcement everywhere in North America. “The international scope of the organized crime groups demands a co-operative strategy between law enforcement agencies around the world,” RCMP Cmsr. J.P.R. Murray, chairman of the CISC , said in his introduction to a special report on Russian organized crime.

Journalist Stephen Handelman, the Toronto Star’s former Moscow bureau chief and author of Comrade Criminal , an incisive look at the Russian mafiya , wrote that the 1999 “victory” by the West in the Cold War lulled North Americans into believing that the new Russia would soon become a carbon copy of capitalist democracies.

Handelman noted that the early reports out of Moscow about a “crime wave” set off few alarm signals. Most observers concluded the explosion of muggings, murders, and racketeering was the price Russia was paying for its transformation into a new society. Almost no one paid attention to the special characteristics of what Russians were even then calling the mafiya .

Meanwhile, the new powers were smuggling abroad billions of dollars gained from profiteering in Soviet property and strategic resources. Handelman wrote that some of that money was coming to Canada as early as 1991 and 1992. It aroused few suspicions, as it was often associated with the establishment of legitimate companies or real-estate investment.

Canada’s comparatively relaxed banking and investment laws made the country one of the world’s money-laundering havens – alongside such notorious money-laundering spots as the Cayman Islands.

By the time of his 1995 arrest, Ivankov already had set wheels in motion for his Russian Mob, presiding over a meeting of Russian gangland chiefs in Miami that law-enforcement authorities here privately compared to the Appalachia meeting of U.S. organized crime bosses in the 1957.

See also: National Hockey League, Joseph Sigalov, Vyacheslav Marakulovich Sliva .

Back to home and table of contents