Russian Mafia in America
James Finckenauer and Elin Waring
Boston: Northeastern University, 1998
303 p.

Subject, Methods, Database:
An empirical study investigates Soviet emigre crime in the U.S., particularly in the greater New York area. Data were obtained from interviews with law-enforcement officials, members of the Russian emigre community, media reports and from the intelligence gathered by the Tristate Soviet Emigre Organized Crime Project.

There is no Russian mafia in the United States in terms of a sophisticated criminal organization. Instead, Soviet emigre criminals belong to extensive and fluid networks. They are involved in various sophisticated, mostly fraudulent schemes either as individuals or in small ad hoc groups.
The illegal activities are not characterized by monopolies, violence or corruption.

Finckenauer and Waring present a sober and thorough investigation of Russian organized crime. Their findings contradict many commonly held views. New standards are set for organized-crime research in that broad access to intelligence data was obtained while maintaining scholarly independence. Also remarkable is the sophisticated application of network analysis methodology to analyze extensive surveillance data.
However, when the authors take the network analysis as proof that there is no hierarchical, centralized structure among Russian criminals in the Tri-State area, which seems very plausible from the other data and the theoretical arguments presented in the book, they probably go a step too far. Since they have analyzed the networks on a simple no tie/any tie-basis, all they could have come across from the beginning was networks. In order to rule out the existence of organizational structures, the nature of the network-ties, especially whether or not they are symmetric or asymmetric, would have had to be included in the analysis. In sum, it would have been worthwile to further pursue the structural analysis within a more refined conceptual framework.

Overall evaluation:
Despite reservations with regard to a couple of debatable conceptual and methodological aspects, the book has to be considered an essential contribution to the organized-crime literature and a much needed answer to the media produced and promoted myths surrounding the so-called Russian mafia.

Further Reading:
Finckenauer,James O., and Yuri A. Voronin, The Threat of Russian Organized Crime, Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 2001. (read review)
Galeotti, Mark (ed.), Russian and Post-Soviet Organized Crime, Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2002.
Varese, Federico, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New Market Economy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001.

© Klaus von Lampe, all rights reserved.