Morbid Curiosity

N

National Hockey League ( NHL ): Major Misconduct – Russian immigrant Sergei Fomitchev had fallen on hard times in New York City. Kicked out of two apartments where he’d been staying with friends, Fomitchev drove through the night on March 24, 1994, to Buffalo to look for his old acquaintance Alexander Mogilny. Mogilny was doing considerably better than Fomitchev, starring with the NHL Buffalo Sabres. He’d recently signed a contract worth $3 million a year.

The first time Mogilny and Fomitchev had met was during the world hockey championships in Stockholm, Sweden. Mogilny was then twenty and was impressed by the stereo in Fomitchev’s car, which was parked outside the Dalaro Hotel, where he was staying. First they talked about stereos and then, eventually, about how Mogilny could play hockey in the West. Soon, they were plotting how Mogilny could defect from the Red Army. A couple of days later, Fomitchev had hidden Mogilny in a hotel, while his wife, fluent in English, called the Buffalo Sabres, who had drafted his rights.

Things started off well enough in America for both of them. Mogilny gave Fomitchev half of his $150,000 signing bonus and the Sabres hired Fomitchev to live, travel, and translate for the young star. Fomitchev kept hanging around, trying to trade on their association to meet other hockey players.

However, Fomitchev had never been able to build from that, while Mogilny had gone on to become a star, wearing number 89 to celebrate the year of his freedom. When they had lunch in March 1994, as Mogilny later testified in court: “He blamed me for ruining his life … and asked for money.”

The sum Fomitchev wanted was $150,000. The hockey star refused and then Fomitchev later admitted saying: “In your sport, your legs are very important.” Mogilny recalled him asking: “How would you feel if someone stabbed you in your legs or shot you in the back?”

Mogilny, the first Russian player to defect to play in the NHL , now became the first Soviet player in the NHL reportedly to be hit with extortion demands.

Mogilny turned to police, who staked out his house and the Buffalo Auditorium while the smooth-skating forward stayed away. The official reason given was the flu. Fomitchev and another Russian were unarmed when they were arrested outside the Buffalo locker room after a game.

Charged with extortion, Fomitchev eventually pleaded guilty to the misdemeanour of menacing. At the time of his arrest, it was revealed that Fomitchev had returned to the Soviet Union briefly and was now in the United States illegally under the name “Sergey Pavlosky.”

The Mogilny case was considered by police to be an isolated incident, and not part of a larger scheme. However, by the time it reached court, there were already rumblings of far more organized efforts to threaten players with injuries of violence to their families back in the former Soviet Union if they didn’t hand over money to thugs.

An early mention of Russian criminals muscling in on hockey players came in December 1993, when Réjean Tremblay, a columnist at La Presse newspaper in Montreal, wrote that, in the 1990s, a number of Russian players in the NHL were forced to pay the Moscow underworld protection money for their families back home.

Tremblay wrote that New Jersey Devils defenceman Viacheslav Fetisov was among those targeted by the “new Russian mafia.” Fetisov strongly denied the story, saying, “I don’t know where this came from. There are [44] Russian players in the NHL. All would be paying [if it were true]. No one is paying.”

The newspaper wrote that some Russian players, such as Oleg Petrov of the Montreal Canadiens, feared extortionists in their homeland, while others had brought their families with them to North America.

Players who didn’t pay up were threatened with having their legs broken or having their families harmed, La Presse repeated. One unidentified Russian player was quoted: “Russian players aren’t safe anywhere in the world. The Russian Mafia leaders are in league with the former directors of the Communist party. They have all the contacts and control all the channels.”

It also said the underworld controlled the Russian hockey league, which received large transfer payments in hard currency for its players who sign with clubs in the NHL or in leagues in Switzerland or Germany.

Other respected newspapers picked up Tremblay’s story, including the New York Times , which cited an unnamed NHL executive as saying the league was aware of the situation and the Los Angeles Police Department was investigating at least one suspected case of intimidation. The Vancouver Province said the FBI tipped off Vancouver police about a Russian underworld figure who tried to take over player contracts.

At first, the allegations were roundly denied by players.

In December 1993, the Vancouver Province quoted city police sources as saying Canuck winger Pavel Bure was a target of organized-crime groups and had made two payments to a man who had befriended Russian players. Bure was then the NHL ’S highest-paid Russian player at a salary of $930,000. His father, Vladimir, and the Canucks’ general manager, Pat Quinn, denied any money had changed hands.

(Seven years later, Bure would tell Sports Illustrated magazine that he was a long-time friend of Anzor Kikalishvili, who has been identified by the FBI and Russian law-enforcement officials as one of the heads of the Russian mafiya involved in extortion and racketeering in the United States and Russia. However, Bure said he wasn’t linked to Kikalishvili’s businesses. Kikalishvili hadn’t been charged with a crime, and denied the allegations.)

After the extortion reports, the NHL investigated possible links between players and Russian organized-crime figures, then reported that no evidence existed of any attempts to fix a game or of any player’s involvement with organized crime.

For his part, Bure insisted he has done nothing wrong. “I can’t control what people say,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1999. “I don’t feel any guilt. I feel innocent. This is getting old. [Reporters] have nothing to say and they just write it over and over. I was really mad when it happened in 1995 and 1996. It’s the same thing now.”

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Province cited an unconfirmed report that Kings defenceman Alexei Zhitnik had been physically harmed by gang members.

For his part, Mogilny only sat out one game before returning to the ice on March 27, 1994, scoring a goal and an assist in helping Buffalo beat the New York Islanders 4–1. Then he said the threat was already behind him.

“The thing happened a few days ago,” he said. “I don’t know where the guy is. I don’t even want to know. It’s just a normal day, a normal, human day. What can I tell you?”

In court in Buffalo in April 1994, Fomitchev’s lawyer told a federal judge that Fomitchev was on a KGB “hit list” because he had helped Mogilny defect from the Russian army and join the Buffalo Sabres. For that reason, Fomitchev, thirty-one, used a false name and documents to obtain a visa to leave Russia in January, said attorney Robert J. Riordan.

Mogilny’s name surfaced again in May 1996, when a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington heard that at least three Russian players in the NHL had been targets of extortion and threats of violence from members of Russian gangs. The testimony came from a Russian criminal who was in a U.S. prison and who testified behind a screen to protect his identity. He said he believed he and his family would be killed if his name was made public.

The witness named Mogilny, then with the Vancouver Canucks, Vladimir Malakhov of the Montreal Canadians, and Alexei Zhitnik of the Buffalo Sabres as three of the players who had been threatened if they did not pay extortion money.

“Alexander Mogilny, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks, was threatened by Sergei Fomitchev, a man I know,” the Senate committee heard. “Fomitchev has ties to Russian organized-crime groups.”

The witness said Zhitnik was threatened when he played in Los Angeles, but did not go to the police. He said Malakhov was approached when he was a New York Islander, but the problem went away after he went to Montreal.

The witness said Russian gangs in the United States were active in extortion, money laundering, drug smuggling, insurance, gas-tax fraud, and murder. “What we have here is a problem that is growing. Just last week I heard that another vory v zakone , or Russian godfather, recently arrived in the United States,” he said.

In 1996, gangsters in Ukraine kidnapped the mother of Oleg Tverdovsky of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and held her for eleven days for $200,000 ransom. American and Ukrainian police broke up the plot. “At that time, I couldn’t talk to anyone. She was in danger,” said Tverdovsky, then just nineteen. “Yeah, it was pretty tough.”

The kidnapping was organized by a now-unemployed former coach of the star, who was jealous over his three-year, $4.2-million contract. Later, Tverdovsky said, “I think it is way better now. The country is changing from those times seven, eight years ago when things were out of control. The country is being put back together.”

However, his optimistic words seemed empty when, in April 1997, Valentin Sych, the head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, died in a hail of automatic-rifle bullets close to his home on the outskirts of Moscow.

His gangland-style slaying came two months after he complained to reporters that Russian criminals were increasingly muscling in on sports, trying to draw stars and officials into illegal activities.

René Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said the murder was a Mob job. “It is 100 per cent Mafia,” he stated.

See also: Introduction, Vyacheslav Sliva .

’Ndrangheta: Old World Gang, New World Prey – This organization was once derisively called the “lunch-bucket mafia” by some investigators, but police have come to regard it as a significant force in the underworld.

Originally from the province of Calabria in the southern mainland of Italy, it is also known as ’Ndrina. It’s a territorial phenomenon, with local ’Ndrangheta groups controlling geographic areas, and their leaders dictate what criminal activities are engaged in within the territories.

In its purest form, the organization has pyramidal structure, made up of twenty-four camorristas , or senior members; forty-eight picciotti at an intermediate level; and ninety-six honorable youths, or junior members.

In July 1972, the Toronto Star reported the police had proof that an Honored Society family was operating in Toronto. But the report created a furor of protest in the Italian community, and Allan Lawrence, then Ontario Attorney General, told a protest meeting that the newspaper’s use of the term Honored Society was “an unfair and misleading term.” He dismissed the group described in the story as “a minor extortion ring.”

The joint task force’s request for a public inquiry into the Honored Society was rejected and the task force was disbanded.

However, the existence of ’Ndrangheta was officially recognized by the Canadian courts after an RCMP specialist on organized crime testified on July 18, 1982, in a Hamilton courtroom that a three-year investigation by a police task force proved conclusively that the ’Ndrangheta, or Honored Society of Calabria, was operating in Canada.

Insp. Dino Chiarot made the statement while testifying as an expert witness during a pre-sentencing hearing in Hamilton in August 1982 for three men who were convicted of using fraud to take over a family pasta business in that city’s north end in 1977.

Chiarot, fluent in several Italian dialects, became an expert on the organization while spending several years in Italy as a criminal liaison officer at the Canadian Embassy in Rome and working as an investigator in Montreal and Toronto. In court, he filed a series of transcripts and summaries of conversations secretly recorded by the police between 1966 and 1972.

A new member is accepted into the group as a “youth of honour,” before advancing to the rank of picciotto and, ultimately, camorrista , Chiarot said. The inspector noted conversations in which members talked of how they were going to “bring forward” the sons of members for membership themselves.

Chiarot said the society has a built-in welfare-assistance program, by which members must contribute to other members in difficulties, such as when the head of a family is in jail or someone has been killed in gang warfare. He said one of the transcripts records an account of a collection for a widow of a person described as a capo (captain).

During the pre-sentencing hearing at which Chiarot testified, the owner of the pasta business testified the men warned him that members of his family might disappear if they questioned what was happening. The owner and his family had since been relocated outside Ontario by the police. That was a classic Mafia crime, Chiarot testified.

In the early 1950s, the ’Ndrangheta came to Canada with men like Toronto baker Michele “Mike” Racco, who left small, poor, and unsophisticated communities in which criminal pickings were usually meagre.

In Calabria, membership tended to be restricted to relatives by blood or marriage. For many Calabrian mobsters, the respect accorded them by their fellow members and by the people within their communities was often as important to them as any spoils from criminal activities.

When the first members arrived in Ontario and Quebec, they tended to prey on their fellow immigrants, who, following Old World ways, often would not complain or co-operate with police. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Italian communities in such cities as Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Hamilton were subjected to bombings, arson, and shootings, as the transplanted ’Ndrangheta members continued their traditional extortion and protection rackets and other activities.

In the process, many of the older members established comfortable business positions, since they eliminated much of the competition in the production and marketing of such food products as cheese, baked goods, meat, vegetables, and soft drinks.

In 1969, a joint task force of the RCMP , the Ontario Provincial Police, and the Metro Toronto Police was formed to investigate the organization in Toronto. They zeroed in on a group of Italian immigrants, many of whom, like Racco, had come to Canada from the Siderno Marina area of Calabria. They tapped their phones, followed them, and gradually identified about fifty men who made up a Toronto family of the Honored Society. They found its members were involved with extortion, loansharking, arson, bombings, murder, narcotics, counterfeiting, illegal firearms (including guns with silencers), and stolen bonds and securities.

The Toronto group had links with other members in several Canadian cities, such as Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, London, and Vancouver, as well as contacts with other ’Ndrangheta groups in Italy, the United States, and even Australia. It governed itself with what it called La Camera di Controllo, a control board that settled internal disputes and maintained discipline among members. The board consisted of seven senior ’Ndrina members, one of whom was Racco.

In the trial, Chariot noted a document that was found in Woodbridge, north of Toronto, that contained society rules and was full of references to blood, punishment, and violent death. It also contained an oath required of new Honored Society members: “It is better to die than betray the Honored Society.” In the initiation ceremony, according to the document, a new member recited phrases in which he talked about taking “a bloody dagger” in his hand and having “a serpent in my mouth.”

See also: Francesco Caccamo, Rocco Remo and Cosimo Commisso, Cecil Kirby, Giacomo Luppino, Domenic Musitano, Michele “Mike” Racco, Paolo Violi .

’Ndrina – See ’Ndrangheta .

Nelson, Charles “Red” – See Sam Kelly .

Nelson, Samuel: Homegrown Pirate – The son of a prosperous landowner in Prince Edward Island (then called the Island of St. John) around the time of the American Revolution, Nelson received a farm as a wedding present in 1805 and was also granted a commission in the militia. This wasn’t enough for him, and instead he bought a square-rigged brigantine ship and set up a trading business in Halifax.

What followed was some sort of sex scandal. He lost his commission, left his wife and their many children, and was able to secure a new commission as a lieutenant in the Nova Scotia Fencibles.

In Halifax, he met a retired privateer named Morrison, who suggested to him that they would make a good smuggling team, running goods into New England. Nelson had the financial backing and Morrison had the contacts and experience.

Nelson bought an American sloop with ten mounted guns and recruited a crew of ninety men from the Nova Scotia fishing fleet. They set sail for the West Indies, where they began raiding shipping vessels and plantations, and left tales of torture and murder in their wake. Off the coast of Newfoundland, they captured twenty fishing boats and took on more crew and supplies.

Nelson’s ship ran aground off Prince Edward Island and Morrison and most of the crew drowned, while Nelson survived to rejoin his family. At that point, he decided it was time to retire from piracy, with a fortune equivalent to that of a modern-day millionaire. He went into legitimate merchant trading in New York, ending his career as the most successful native-born Canadian pirate.

See also: Charles Bellamy, Eric Cobham, Cupids, Peter Easton, High Island, Captain Kidd, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Gilbert Pike, Pirates, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, John Williams .

Newman, Annie – See Bessie Perri, Rocco Perri .

Nicolucci, Sabatino: Money Exchange – No free calendars or toasters were offered at the chic, ground-floor Centre International Monetaire de Montréal currency exchange at the busy corner of Peel Street and de Maisonneuve Boulevard in downtown Montreal.

That didn’t matter to customers in the underworld. Centre workers didn’t ask prying questions when brought funds to the foreign-exchange house in hockey bags, grocery bags, shoeboxes, and suitcases, and converted it to U.S. currency. The money was then shipped through the centre to various countries.

The exchange was a magnet for some twenty-five organized-crime groups including the Hells Angels, Sicilian mobsters, Colombian cartels, the West End Gang, and the old Cotroni group. But all that attention put the business’s owners in a fluster, for they definitely weren’t in the business of making money – especially for criminals. The exchange’s secret owners were the Mounties, and undercover officers were running a police-sting operation there alternately called Operation 90-26C or Operation Contract.

Unfortunately, the Mounties’ lack of resources between 1990 and 1994 meant the force could investigate only two of the twenty-five crime groups that used its services to launder money. The Mounties didn’t even have the budget and manpower to identify all of the crime groups doing business, let alone crack down on them. They were so inundated with dirty money that, by the time the RCMP pulled the plug on the sting in 1994, it had laundered $135 million.

Sabatino Nicolucci had been a frequent customer, making some 168 transactions over a two-year period and appearing on some 405 RCMP wiretap conversations. Nicolucci was seen as an important member of the Montreal Sicilian Mafia, who was scheming with David Rouleau, leader of the Hells Angels’ Sherbrooke chapter, to smuggle cocaine to Angels in England and to help Chinese gangs import heroin into New York State.

Nicolucci’s illegal activities were conducted while he was on parole after serving prison time for another drug scheme. In the end, it was criminals and not police who put a halt to Nicolucci’s multitiered activities. He was kidnapped from a Jean Talon Street strip club in north-end Montreal after falling behind in payments to his cocaine suppliers from Cali, Colombia. First, he was held north of Montreal and, before police could locate him, he was taken to Miami and then Cali. There, he was allowed to try to work off his debt helping with drug deals while the cartel placed him under house arrest.

At this point, his future was precarious, to put it mildly. Canadian authorities wanted him on some 233 money-laundering and drug-trafficking charges, including the Hells Angels plot to ship 500 kilograms of cocaine into Britain, while the Cali cartel wanted the $1.7 million they said they were owed.

The American Drug Enforcement Agency liberated Nicolucci ninja-style from his Colombian capture, only to turn him over to American authorities in Bogota, who extradited him back to Quebec in May 1996. Nicolucci was sentenced to nineteen years in prison in December 1997 for his role in attempting to import more than 400 kilograms of cocaine and launder some $30 million.

See also: Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni, Hells Angels, West End Gang .

Nigerian Letter Scam: Junk Mail – At first, the letters were intriguing and enticing. Letter-writers identified themselves as officials of a large Nigerian institution, such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation or the Central Bank of Nigeria, or as civil servants. They asked for an urgent and confidential business relationship with the person receiving the letter, in order to transfer funds out of Nigeria.

The letter-writers stressed that they had a legitimate right to the funds, and the person receiving the letter was offered between 10 and 30 per cent of the total contract, then asked to forward personal financial information, including banking information, copies of corporate letterhead, and invoices so that the payment could be made through a contract claim in the victim’s name. The victim was also asked to wire a payment of approximately $15,000 for legal fees and administration costs.

The next step came when the person receiving the letters got a call, saying that the funds had cleared Nigeria and were now in an alleged clearing-house or mercantile bank in North America. The money could be claimed, just as soon as further outstanding fees were paid for things like taxes, duties, or environmental levies. Such fees ranged from approximately $75,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the victim paid these fees, he was later informed that there were further fees to be settled. This continued for as long as the victim kept paying, and he never received the money promised him.

If payments weren’t made, the letters could get nasty. A handwritten fax was sent to a Hamilton, Ontario, man from a man who claimed to be a lawyer for the Central Bank of Nigeria. The letter threatened: “You have just 48 hours to act according to our instructions if you actually do not want to turn your wife into a widow.… We are not as simple as you think because we are highly connected the world over. Do not say you were not warned.”

Nomads: Angels’ “Dream Team” – This elite chapter of the Hells Angels biker gang was set up on December 9, 1994, by Maurice “Mom” Boucher, forming what Quebec biker expert Guy Ouellette called a “dream team” of outlaw bikers.

Their name came from the fact that they had no clubhouse, although the Angels Trois-Rivières chapter was the closest thing they had to a home. They were soon seen as the Angels strongest cell. The idea of this rootless chapter was to be able to make it tougher for police to monitor them, as other chapters had regular meetings and clubhouses, which police regularly raided.

Only Hells Angels who had proven their mettle were admitted into the Nomads. A key goal was to spearhead expansion into Ontario, where there were about a dozen small gangs, most of them Canadian-based independents.

The original members of the Nomads were: Maurice “Mom” Boucher, head of the Montreal Angels chapter and sponsor of the Rockers puppet club, who became Nomads president; Wolodumyr “Walter” “Nurget” Stadnick, a former Angels national president; Donald “Pup” Stockford, Stadnick’s close friend and a stuntman from Ancaster, Ontario, outside Stadnick’s hometown of Hamilton; Louis “Melou” Roy, former president of the Trois-Rivières chapter, who was widely considered the richest and most powerful Angel in Quebec in the early 1990s; Richard “Rick” Vallée, Roy’s close associate from Trois-Rivières and an explosives expert; Denis “Pas Faible” Houle; Gilles “Trooper” Mathieu; David “Wolf” Carroll, formerly of the Halifax chapter, who wore a “Filthy Few” patch, which biker experts said signified someone who has killed for the gang; and Normand “Biff” Hamel, who ran the Death Riders puppet club.

Stockford was the only one of the group without a criminal record. Carroll had a strong interest in moving drugs in Northern Ontario, and Hamel moved drugs in Laval and the lower Laurentians. The Nomads became the fifth chapter in Quebec, after Montreal, Sherbrooke, Saint-Nicholas, and Trois-Rivières.

Eight years later, on September 11, 2003, the Nomads were dealt a potentially crippling blow, when nine bikers – including four Nomads – stood up behind bulletproof glass and pleaded guilty in Quebec Superior Court in Montreal to gangsterism, two counts of drug trafficking, and a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. The others included one Nomad prospect and four Rockers, a gang formed specifically to do the Nomads’ dirty work.

Wolf Carroll wearing a Filthy Few patch

In exchange for their pleas, the Crown dropped first-degree murder charges against the nine men for thirteen slayings. Most of the thirteen victims were rival drug dealers, but one of them, Serge Hervieux, was killed by gunmen who confused him with their intended target.

Evidence presented in another trial said the Angels targeted 134 people to be systematically killed.

At the time of the guilty pleas, two other Nomads were considered missing. David “Wolf” Carroll had fled the country after being hit with thirteen murder and murder-conspiracy charges, while Melou either fled police or was killed by fellow Angels. No one was left to attend to the day-to-day functions of the chapter.

The Nomads who pleaded guilty in September 2003 included:

• Denis Houle, fifty, a Grade Eight dropout and founding member of the Nomads, who did prison time for being an accomplice-after-the-fact in the 1985 slaughter of five Hells Angels at the gang’s bunker in Lennoxville. When asked by a prison psychologist in 1992 why he wouldn’t quit the gang, he replied, “With the Hells, I have found a family.”

• Gilles Mathieu, fifty-three, another founding Nomad, who was considered particularly intelligent, and owned advertising signboards at the West Edmonton Mall worth $2.3 million. He, Houle, and six other gang members were caught in February 2001 holding a meeting in a downtown Montreal hotel room and looking over photos of their rivals.

• Normand Robitaille, thirty-five, did time for a botched extortion attempt;

• René Charlebois, thirty-eight, earned $12,000 monthly while a member of the Rockers puppet club, moving drugs for the Angels; and

• Jean-Guy Bourgouin, thirty-seven, a member of the Rockers puppet club, who was involved in a 1998 altercation in a trendy downtown bar with players from the Alouettes football team, including linebacker Stephan Reid and quarterback Anthony Calvillo. Reid was clubbed with a metal pole outside the bar.

Evidence offered in the Nomads’ trial showed they were both ruthless and organized, as they waged a war with rival bikers for drug turf. One victim was killed in front of his eight-year-old daughter, who was left screaming for her mother, and another was shot dead when leaving a children’s birthday party with his wife and toddler.

Killers were paid from $25,000 to $100,000, depending on the ranking of their victims in rival gangs. They made their own 9 mm submachine guns – which could fire thirty-two shots in less than two seconds – with parts ordered separately to make a gun harder to trace. Silencers and extra-large trigger guards were added to the guns – so they could be operated while wearing heavy gloves.

They had moles in respectable jobs, who could comb through government automobile-insurance records to track down home addresses of enemies, and an electronics expert who could intercept phone numbers of people who called their enemies’ pagers.

The Nomads helped the Angels bring in $100 million yearly in cocaine trafficking, the court heard. During the war with the rival Rock Machine, bystanders were often endangered. Stray bullets tore into children’s bedrooms or neighbouring homes, as far as eighty metres from the shooting.

The sentences handed out to the nine accused on September 23, 2003, ranged from fifteen to twenty years, which meant, with time already served, even the worst killers could be out in seven and a half years. They were sentenced according to their rank in the gang, which meant that the four Nomads each got twenty years, while the four Rockers, as well as the Nomad prospect, received fifteen years for gangsterism, drug trafficking, and conspiracy to commit murder. Each had already served two and a half years behind bars, which count as double-time and were deducted from the overall sentence.

See also: Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Hells Angels, Dany Kane, Paul Porter, Rock Machine, Wolodumyr “Walter” “Nurget” Stadnick, Richard “Rick” Vallée .

Back to home and table of contents