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Yearly archives "2015"

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Thieves in Law and the Russian Mafia

In the last couple of decades, organized crime and Russia has had a reputation for goinghand in hand. Ever since the 1930s, an elite group of the Soviet underworld, known asThieves in Law (Vory v Zakone), has controlled the criminal activities in the country, andtoday they make up the leaders of the loosely affiliated organization known as the Russian Mafia. Here is a look at how these “thieves” came to power in Stalin’s Gulags and Russian prisons after World War 2, but also how the situation has changed since the collapse of theSoviet Union in 1991. 

Even though there were plenty of criminals in the days of the Tsar, the communist revolutionin 1917 would completely change the Russian underworld. Vladimir Lenin, and especiallyJosef Stalin were in charge of a totalitarian state that had no room for disobedience or peoplequestioning the authorities. Countless persons were executed in the 1930s, and millions ofcriminals and political prisoners were sent to Gulags and prisons, were they were forced to work under extremely harsh conditions. Inside these Soviet prisons, criminals uninterested in the marxist indoctrination of the communist party, decided to form their own society and set of rules. This criminal world had a strict sense of honor and rank, and the elite members were known as thieves by law or “Vory v Zakone”. A prisoner could only be crowned a “thief by law” if he was accepted and respected by other “vory”, and he would have to reject the laws of the outside world, instead submitting himself completely to live by the criminal code.

A “vor” was not allowed to have any family, he couldn’t “snitch” on other thieves, and he was also prohibited from having any legal income. One of the most important aspects of the“Vorovskoy Zakon” (the thief law), was that he could under no circumstances cooperate with the authorities or participate in political activities. This meant refusing to work and not obeying prison guards, risking to be punished by the rest of the brotherhood if they broke the rules. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin was in desperate need ofsoldiers, and he offered to pardon any prisoner that would fight in the war. The “thieves”were of course strictly opposed to this, but many of the other criminals accepted.

The “Thieves in Law” were on top of the ladder in Russia’s brutal prisons

When the war was over though, many of the freed convicts would return to prison after committing new crimes. They were known as “Suki” (the Russian word for bitches), and now found themselves on the bottom of the prison hierarchy. Other inmates would beat, harassand even rape them for their decision to serve the state. The “Suki” were professional criminals connected by the tough experiences in the war, and as more and more of them wentback to jail, they decided to organize and cooperate with the prison guards, in order tosurvive. This was the beginning of the infamous “Bitch Wars” between the two sides, that would last until around 1953, when Stalin died and millions of prisoners would be released. The prison guards didn’t just do nothing to stop the violence, they encouraged the rivalry between what they saw as “unwanted elements” in Soviet society, and thousands of people would die in the conflict.

Tattoos were an important part of being a “thief in law”, and just with a quick look at somebody, you could know a lot about his rank, criminal activities and prison sentences. The “vory” used a complex system, and sometimes they same symbols could mean different things. One of the most popular images is a church on the chest or back, where the numberof towers and stairs can reveal rank and the number of times he has been to jail. Another famous symbol is stars on the knees, which symbolizes that the “thief” is not ready to kneel forany man or authority. A cat symbolizes a career criminal, while skulls can representmurders. A barbed wire across the forehead means that the person will spend the rest of hislife in jail.

Tattoos can also be used to punish people who have broken the criminal code. A sex offender will for example have a dagger on him, while an informer is marked with a goat. Prisoners who use symbols they have not earned will be beaten severely, and the tattoo will beforcibly removed. Vory also had their own language (jargon) called “Fehnay”, that only theycould understand

A Russian criminal who has had quite an active career

In the 1970s and 80s, the “Vory v Zakone” would change some of their rules to adapt to themodern world. They were able to marry and form families, and they even began to work withthe authorities when it was in their interest. There was a lack of many consumer goods in themarxist economy of the Soviet Union, and the “thieves in law” would control the black market, even opening many illegal small businesses. Corruption became a growing problemin the communist state, and politicians and criminals started to create bonds. A nationalorganized crime network started to form throughout the country, and leaders from thedifferent regions would meet to coordinate their criminal activities. By avoiding armed conflicts and cooperating, the criminals could stay off the radar while at the same time making a lot of money.

Older “vory” like Aslan Usoyan (killed recently by a sniper in Moscow) and Vyacheslav Ivankov (who would organize the Russian Mafia in the USA), became role models to the new generation of “thieves in law”, and they were also in charge of the “Obschak” (a common fund the criminals used to finance their criminal activities, but also to help families ofthieves in law who were in jail). Usoyan and Ivankov became two of the leading “Vory v Zakone” for several decades, but they would both end up dead after conflicts with rival gangs.

Vyacheslav “Yaponchik” Ivankov was one of the most notorious figures in the Russian Mob

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 would completely change the landscape for crimein Russia. The country was in an economic crisis, and many people wanted to exploit thetransition to capitalism for their own good. Criminals, police, bankers, oligarchs, former KGB agents and politicians all played their part in what would be known as the “Wild East”,competing for the oil, steel, banks, arms and other huge state-owned sectors that were nowprivatized. There was a drastic increase in violence, and everyday murders in Moscow became the norm.

Organized crime had an iron grip on the entire society, controlling over 50 percent of the country’s economy , and the 90′s was seen as a golden era for the criminal groups that were now known as the Russian Mafia. Protected by the legal system, they could do almostanything they wanted. The Russian mob managed everything from drug trafficking, arms trade, prostitution, gambling, extortion, money laundering and contract hits, but also started to invest in large companies that were completely legal.

Moscow in the 1990s was a very brutal place

Many of the kingpins of the Russian Mafia were traditional “Vory v Zakone”, but there was also a new generation of criminals that wanted their piece of the cake. Even though the Soviet Union had split up into several independent states, the criminal network was intact, and gangs from countries like Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan were still very much cooperating. The most powerful group today is called Solntsevskaya Bratva (brotherhood) with its base north of Moscow, but “the Red Mob” has become a truly global phenomenon. The wave of immigrants that went west also helped the Russian Mafia establish itself in other countries like USA, Germany, England and Spain. The violenceslowed down by the start of the millennium, and Vladimir Putin launched a crack down onorganized crime. There is no doubt though, that  some of the leaders in the Russian Mafiastill have very close connections with both the political elite and various Russian intelligence organizations.

The traditional “Vory v Zakone”, who called prison their “home”, are on their way out. Instead,highly educated criminals with international connections that control legal businessesthrough corruption and threats, are taking over more and more. The excessive tattoo tradition is also on its way out, making it harder for outsiders to recognize who the “bad guys”really are. Many other of the old codes have also been forsaken, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the “Vory” and the Russian Mafia isn’t as dangerous and violent as ever. It just means they are adapting to a changing world in order to get what they really want; moremoney and more power!

World War 2: The Battle of the North Pole!

Even though the second World War began only 25 years after the first one, World War 2 was a much more all-embracing conflict, with the different sides battling for the hegemony oversea, air and land. One of the lesser known aspects of the conflict took place on the North Pole and the near by islands. In the book Sledge Patrol, by the american historian David Honwart, we get a unique inside look at the dramatic Arctic battles between the Nazis andthe Allies. Check out the story here!

Reliable and up to date meteorological information is an important prerequisite for any army. Establishing meteorological stations in the far north therefore became an important goal for Germany, and after they invaded Norway and Denmark in 1940, they were able to go through with their plans.  The german submarines threw automatic probes in the sea, that picked upfresh information from the stations every 6 hours, sending it back to the Oberkommando inBerlin. These were by the way the best catch a British fisherman could hope for, because thegovernment had put a 1000 pound sterling reward on each probe ( 200 000 Euro in today’s money). Not only was this very important for the blitzkrieg the German Luftwaffe was conducting against Britain, but it was also vital for the operations of the Wehrmacht and thesubmarines of the Kriegsmarine. The Nazis began sending teams of 15 soldiers that had gone through special training to the Arctic and the islands of Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen and Franz-Joseph land. It didn’t take long for the Americans and the British to do the same of course, and the Battle of the Arctic had begun.

Allied forces enjoying captured German rations

The conditions were hard for both man and machine, and the cold made any kind of mobilityand flying very difficult. The Americans actually recruited Eskimos that were experts in seal hunting and accustomed to the demanding conditions, to hunt germans and to sendmeteorological reports. A less experienced german patrol for example, tired of eating the same scarce rations, decided to kill and barbecue a polar bear (poor thing). After they all gotsevere headaches and diarrhea, the soldiers had to be sent back to Germany.  While the germans were more successful in locating and blowing up British and Americanmeteorological bases, the Allies relied on airstrikes to defeat their enemy. As the war went on, the Americans had gained an advantage, and a group of 200 Special Forces were used toeliminate the Nazi presence.

By 1944, almost all of the german bases in the Arctic were wiped out. At the end of the year there was only one undetected base left on the Island of Spitsbergen. This was germany’sbiggest and most important station, but they were dependent on air supplies every 3 months. The radio system broke down in January 1945, so they were only able to sendinformation, while receiving nothing. They continued their work though, and sentmeteorological data every day to Berlin. After the air supplies did not show up, there was afood shortage on the island. They decided to kill 80 polar bears, and miraculously, nobody gotsick this time. The situation become more and more uncertain, and the soldiers had no idea that Germany was losing the war.

Since the Oberkommando was bombed to ruins by the Red Army, there was nobody in Germany that knew about 15 of their men stuck on an island close to the North Pole. 4 months after the war, they were picked up by a norwegian fishing boat, but the joy did not last long, after they found out the war was over and their homeland destroyed! That group was actually the last german military unit to surrender in World War 2. An other interestingand funny fact is that the automatic probes kept sending information all the way to 1952!

Remember Little Hercules?

Remember the little boy who had a body like a professional bodybuilder? Richard Sandrak is in his 20s now, and he didn’t choose the road that many people thought he would. Pushed by his father, Richard was able to bench press over 200 pounds at the age of eight, and manyexpected him to become a famous bodybuilder. Instead he has focused on acting, starring in“Little Hercules in 3D” from 2009 and he is also attending a college in San Diego.

Although he still trains regularly, it is much less than he used to, and he doesn’t look asshredded as when he was a kid. Thank god for that if you ask me. This video is over 3 years old, but it seems he turned into a normal teenager!

The Amazing Faberge Eggs!

Fabergé eggs are known all around the world, and they are seen as a symbol of luxury, power, and incredible craftsmanship. The 50 biggest and most famous are called theImperial Fabergé eggs, and have belonged to some of the most significant people in the last century. They were originally gifts to the Tsar and Tsarinas of Russia, but have later beenspread all around the world.

It all started in 1885 when the russian jewellery firm “House of Fabergé” made an Easter present to the wife of the Tsar, Empress Maria Fedorovna. She was so delighted with the gift that the head of the house, Peter Carl Fabergé was made responsible for providing the Tsar family with one (sometimes two) every easter. Every egg had its unique theme, and there were little (valuable) surprises inside the eggs. This went on every year until the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, when the communists took over power and executed the royal family. There are thousands of ordinary Fabergé eggs, but it is the Imperial eggs that are the most valuable, and they are among the most famous and popular art and jewelry artifacts in the world. The house of Fabergé made some exceptions for a few notable clients, and provided therussian Kelch family, the swedish Nobel family, and the banking family Rotchild with eggsequally as luxurious as the tsars.

Peter Carl Fabergé working on his world-famous jewelry

42 of the 50 Imperial eggs are intact today, and they are scattered all around the world. The Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg  is the biggest private owner with 9 eggs, while the Kremlin Armoury museum in Moscow has 10. Others are spread out among various museums and private collectors, with some of the most famous being the British Royal Family, Prince Albert of Monaco  and The State of Qatar. The most expensive Fabergé eggever sold was the so-called “Rotchild Egg” that went for 9 million dollars in 2007 at an auction held by Christie’s. Here are some of the masterful eggs made for the Tsar and noble families, but you can see them all right here.

Lance Armstrong Doesn’t Care!

Lance Armstrong hypocrite and pompous a#s ! So much for him defending his honor and integrity but the moment Tyler Hamilton’s subpoenaed testimony and affidavit laid bare everything the team had done this fu##ing a#shole (Armstrong) didn’t have a leg to stand on . His former team manager Johan Bruyneel has been suspended three times by his own national cycling federation in the past eight years , for a number violations . Yet here in the US , I’ve read so much bull#hit written by individuals who not one goddamn clue about the sport of cycling , let alone who has jurisdiction over the sport at their national level and internationally . Anally retentive individual morons , to my mind ! .

To me he is the biggest cheater in sports history. And still he doesn’t want to come clean!

Armstrong will come clean the day they have reusable female hygiene products (tampons) for women .

Armstrong has lost A LOT of fans in the last weeks. I remember the exciting Tour De France’s of the 90′s, but it turned out it was all a scam!

Joe Morgan: The Croatian Godfather of the Mexican Mafia!

The story of Joe “Pegleg” Morgan (upper right corner) is a fascinating tale of how a white man could reach to the top of the most feared Hispanic prison gang in the USA. For severaldecades, Morgan was one of the leading figures in the so-called Mexican Mafia, and he was asloved by his friends as he was feared by his enemies. Check out the story here!

Joseph Morgan was born in the San Pedro District of Los Angeles, California in 1929. Joe was raised by his Croatian mother in a predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood, and it didn’t take long before he got involved in the street gangs of East LA. When he was 17, Morgan wasconvicted of murder after he killed the husband of his older girlfriend with a tire iron . While in custody, he took on the identification papers of his cellmate and escaped, but he was soon captured. Joe was sentenced to 9 years in jail, and he became the youngest inmate ever at the San Quentin State Prison. Morgan was a tall and tough kid, who developed a goodrelationship with the latino convicts, because of his background in the street gang El Hoyo Soto Marvilla.

Joe was released on parole in 1955, but would go back to state prison the next year, after he hadrobbed a bank with a machine gun for almost $20,000. At the same time, a couple of young inmates at a youth facility in California decided to form a prison gang to protect themselves from other criminals, and this group would later be known as the Mexican Mafia (Even though they are named the Mexican Mafia, and have close connetions the drug cartels andorganized crime in Mexico, it is important to remember that we are talking about a United States prison gang). Growing up in East Los Angeles, and with a background from hispanic street gangs, Morgan would end up mentoring the young leaders of the group when they were later transferred to San Quentin. The Mexican Mafia, or La Eme (The letter M in spanish) soon got a reputation for being one of the most dangerous and most violent prison gangs in theentire country. As the power of the Eme grew, so did the power of Joe Morgan, and even though he was not hispanic, he became one of the godfathers of the Mexican Mafia.

Another picture of Joe Morgan and the leaders of the Eme (Upper Left corner)

“Papa Joe”, as he was called, is described as very intelligent, and a shrewd businessman. He had a calming presence on the often young and hot-blooded members. “Pegleg” (a nicknamehe got because of his artificial leg, but it was rarely said to his face) was also the mastermindbehind their most lucrative business; the drug trade. Due to his connections with the drug cartels, he was able to import pure heroin and cocaine from Mexico, and then supply it to the whole West Coast. “La Eme” became one of the first prison gangs to take their businessoutside of jail. Dealers in the area now had to choose between paying a “tax” on the profit to the gang, or a bullet in the head. There were few who said no. In a couple of years, Joe and the rest of the “brothers” (carnales) organized a drug racket that brought in hundreds ofthousands of dollars every month, making the organization even more powerful.

Because of Morgan’s race, he also had a connection with the Italian-American mob, and he would later be the man behind the alliance between La Eme and the Aryan Brotherhood. Both groups had a common rival in the African-American gang “Black Guerilla Family”, and the Mexican Mafia would often pay the Aryans for hits on “rats” or opposing gang members.Morgan’s best friend and protégé, Rodolfo Cadena wanted to gather all the hispanic gangs into one national crime syndicate, but he was killed by the “Eme’s” biggest rivals Nuestra Familia, after being stabbed over 50 times in 1972. This would begin one of the bloodiest feuds in theamerican prison system, and Eme members still have a “kill on sight” policy for Nuestra Familia members.

The Black Hand is one of the most famous signs of the Eme

In 1976, Joe Morgan was again released on parole. He married his girlfriend Jody, who he would have 2 children with, but he would soon enough find himself in trouble with the law again. After he was indicted with federal narcotics charges, he ran away to Utah, but was arrested there the next year. Even though he pleaded guilty and only received a moderate sentence in 1978, he would never again be a free man. The same year, a former Eme member turned on the gang, and testified against Joe. He pinned Morgan to several murders, both inside of prisonand out on the streets. “Pegleg” was sentenced to life in jail, to be served in the maximum security section of Pelican Bay State Prison. In the years to come Joe continued to a bementor for the Mexican Mafia, and many describe him as the most powerful Eme member ever. He became a legendary icon for many young gangsters, and even prison guards (who claim he was always kind and respectful towards them) say there was “something” about “Papa Joe”. A member who badmouthed the “White Godfather” in 1991 found out just how reveredMorgan was by the other members when he was stabbed 26 times in 1991.

Another sign of the power of the Mexican Mafia and Morgan was the year after, when they ordered their affiliate gangs on the streets to stop with the drive by shootings that had plaguedEast Los Angeles. In the next 6 months, not one drive by incident was reported, in an area that was notorious for its violence and gang related murders. In 1992, the movie American Me brought national fame to the prison gang. The Eme was not satisfied with how they had been portrayed though, and 3 people who had worked on the movie were killed because of it. Morgan himself filed a lawsuit against Universal Studios for basing one of the leading characters on him without Joe’s permission.

The next year though, Morgan was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and transferred toCalifornia State Prison in Corcoran where he died November 9, 1993 at the age of 64. Even to this day, and even though he had no hispanic blood in him, Joseph Morgan is a hero to manylatino gangsters, and they regard “Papa Joe” just as much a Chicano as they themselves are. A more historically correct look on the history of the Mexican Mafia, than the American Me movie, is the book “The Black Hand” by Chris Blatchford from 2008.

Inside the Mexican Mafia

Today the Mexican Mafia has almost 400 full members, with several thousand affiliates andallies. They are among other things involved in murders, drug trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling and prostitution. The Eme demands a tax from every hispanic street gang in Southern California, in exchange for protection when their members go to prison. This caused afeud with the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, but even they now use thenumber 13, symbolizing the thirteenth letter in the alphabet in respect of  the Eme! Their most famous allies in addition to MS-13 are the Aryan Brotherhood, Armenian Power and of course all the loosely connected hispanic gang members (mostly in California) called “Sureños”. Their main enemies are Nuestra Familia, Black Guerilla Mafia and “Arizona’s New Mexican Mafia”.

Charles-Henri Sanson: The King’s Executioner!

If you have never before heard the name Charles-Henri Sanson, there are many who envyyou. Charles-Henri was the Royal Executioner of France during the reign of Louis XVI, and after the revolution for the First French Republic. He worked as an executioner in Paris for over 40 years and personally killed almost 3000 people, including King Louis XVI himself, and revolutionaries like Robespierre and Danton. Sanson came from a family dynasty of killers, but he would surpass them all, and is today one of history’s most famous executioners.

Sanson’s great-grandfather had been appointed Executioner of Paris in 1684 by Louis XIV (The Sun King) , and held the position until his death 11 years later. The job was passed on to his younger son, and when he died,it was Sanson’s father, Charles John Baptiste Sanson,who was responsible for carrying on the family tradition. Charles John Baptiste served hisentire mature life as High Executioner, but after suffering an injury that made him partially paralyzed in 1954, he took on his eldest son Charles Henri as an apprentice ,who at the time was just 15 years old. Even though Charles-Henri didn’t officially replace his father as High Executioner until his death in 1778, it was he who was actually in charge from that point on. He began a career that would make him known as  “The Great Sanson”, and his name evokedfear among criminals and enemies of the King alike.

The Blood-Red Coat of the Master Executioner

At the age of 18 he and his uncle Robert were in charge of the gruesome execution of Robert-François Damiens, who had tried to kill King Louis XV with a knife. Damiens was torturedwith boiling oil before Charles-Henri strapped his body to four horses to be drawn and quartered, which was the penalty for regicide at the time. This was the last time a person was executed by drawing and quartering in France, and Damien’s torso, allegedly still living, was then burned at the stake. The torture of Robert-François Damiens became legendary, and Charles-Henri’s uncle actually quit his job after the event. Famous Venetian author and womanizer Giacomo Casanova, who witnessed the execution in Paris, said “it took courage to watch the dreadful sight that went on for four hours”.

After his father died in 1778, Charles-Henri officially received the blood-red coat, which was worn by the Master Executioner. He became a famous figure in France, and people gave him the nickname “Monsieur de Paris”, even though his job was anything but gentle. Charles-Henri was a proponent of the guillotine as the standard form of execution, since it was clean and safe, and better for the victims too. When he retired from the job in 1795 he had performed2,918 executions, some of them going down in history forever. Even though he was Sanson’s boss for most of his life, on 21 January 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded by guillotine onPlace de la Révolution at the hands of his long time Royal Executioner. Even though he wasnot a supporter of monarchy, Charles-Henri respected the king and said he met his fate bravely and with dignity. Other famous people of the revolution like Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Hébert, and Desmoulins ,where also executed by the hands of ” The Great Sanson”.

The Execution of Louis XVI

It was originally Sanson’s youngest son, Gabriel ,who served as his assistant, and the one who was supposed to take over the role as Master Executioner. When he fell of the scaffold anddied during an execution in 1792, the obligation fell on the elder son, Henri. He was the manwho guillotined Marie Antoinette and Chief Prosecutor Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinvillein 1795, and Henri would remain Master Executioner of Paris for 47 years. His son Henry-Clément Sanson, and Charles-Henri’s grandson would be the sixth and last generation of theSanson family to serve as Master Executioner. A dynasty that lasted from 1684-1847, and that served France during one of its most chaotic periods in history. Even though the entire family is infamous, it is “The Great Sanson” that most people think about when hearing the name. When Napoleon Bonaparte asked how he was able to sleep after all those killings,Charles-Henri answered: “If emperors, kings and dictators can sleep well, why shouldn’t an executioner”? Charles-Henri Sanson died in July, 1806 and is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.

The Miracle on Ice: USA vs USSR in the 1980 Olympics!

When the USA Ice hockey team faced up against the USSR during the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, nobody gave them a chance. Their team consisted of only amateur and collegiate players, while the Soviets had won almost all major tournaments the last 30 years. In a nail biting finale, which many would later name The Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century, the young americans came out as winners against the Soviet super team. Relive the dramatic match here if you want more hockey, now that the Stanley Cup is over!