trump tower
Credit: Krystal T/flickr

Back on April 17, Josh Marshall unearthed the news that Michael Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, owned a Brooklyn social club called El Caribe, that long served as the headquarters for Russian mob bosses. Furthermore, Marshall learned that Mr. Levine is still alive and had revealed that “all his nieces and nephews owned shares of the El Caribe and still do” and that Michael Cohen only gave up his share after Donald Trump was elected president.

I had some ideas about what this must mean, but I wanted to get a better sense of it so I went looking for more information. In the process, I read plenty of old articles that had been published in New York City newspapers and magazines in the 1980s and 1990s, but the most comprehensive source I found was a book written by Robert I. Friedman called Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America. The book, which was originally published in 2000, is available at Amazon but you can also read it in installments at a website Friedman set up back in 2007. If you don’t want to read an entire book, I suggest you browse the third and fourth installments.

It’s in those sections that you’ll get the full bloody history of the gang wars involving El Caribe mafia bosses Evsei Agron, Marat Balagula, Boris Nayfeld (also profiled recently by the Associated Press), and Monya Elson. You’ll also learn about the arrival of the “Great White Shark” Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov who took the violence to another level and consolidated power over Russian organized crime in America.

When Michael Cohen’s boyhood friend Felix Sater set up a pump and dump stock scam in the early 1990s, he was really working for Ivankov. I’ll have more to say about this later, but I have a school function for my son to attend at the moment. You won’t regret perusing some of the links I’ve provided above because it will give you a hint to what kinds of activities the Feds are investigating and some insight into what kind of information The Taxi King might be able to provide.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at