Monday, February 6, 2012

the winter soldier, a monkey with a machine gun, and the russian mafia model

This week's issue of The Winter Soldier featured a break in at a Russian Mob-backed casino.  It ends with a giant ape shooting an AK-47 at our heroes, because comics are awesome.  Somewhere between the break-in and the giant monkey I got to thinking about the criminal model used by the Russian Mafia, and I had to question the idea behind their ownership of a casino.  The Russian Mafia method of crime is a simple one: move to an area, do your dirt, then get the fuck out.

It sounds simple, but it's amazing how few crooks actually use it.  Even our home-grown mob doesn't.  When a truck gets highjacked in New Jersey, the cops know there's probably half a dozen suspects, so they put surveillance on them, wait to see who buys something expensive, and bingo, they know who did it.  The Russians are the modern day Nomads of crime.  They move from country to country, using transnational shipping routes, front companies, and an army of lawyers to handle their business.  So this got me thinking about the casino... these are mobile people, they don't do things like this, owning giantly visible businesses that attract the attention of the government, right?  So I turned to the awesome power of Google to see if I was right.  I wasn't.

The first story I dug up had me thinking I was on the right track.  I found a story out of Switzerland that went like this: "For months, casinos throughout Switzerland were baffled by a peculiar repeating event. The only people who ever won jackpots on the slots called 'Gaminator' and 'Super Gaminator' were Russian nationals"  Apparently both the police and the gaming industry figured it out independently at about the same time.  Winning a jackpot in Switzerland notifies their country's revenue service, and the revenuers were a bit surprised to see all these jackpots going to Russian nationals.  At the same time, the casinos noticed that, for some of their slot machines, there were long-ass lines of Russians waiting to play.  At first they dismissed it, they thought perhaps that the brand was popular back home.  But over a period of time, a thing like that stands out.  I mean, there's always a couple Russians waiting to play this one game?  What's that about?  Well, what its about is they're fucking robbing the joint. To date, the authorities aren't sure how the Russians pulled it off.  What everyone is sure about, however, is that if the Russians had been a bit less obvious about it, they might still be pulling it off.  The police grabbed one of them, your classic Vor with the tattoos, and under questioning he gave up everything he knew... which was exactly nothing.  He knew the street names of half a dozen crooks who were in on it, so he got credit for cooperation and a lighter sentence... and no one else got arrested.  Nicely handled.

So ok, they rob casinos, probably with a computer virus, but nothing was exactly proven, and the broken machines were quietly replaced.  That fits in to my nomad theory, because by the time the police found out, most of the people behind the scam were on their way out of the country.  The next story I found fits too.

Apparently of late there have been a number of organized Denial of Service attacks on online gambling websites.  Here's what Wikipedia has to say about that: "A distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) occurs when multiple systems flood the bandwidth or resources of a targeted system, usually one or more web servers."  What that means in English is that a hacker organizes a million computers to load your website all at the same time.  If a million computers all load your site at the same time, your site freaks the fuck out, and won't load for anyone, no matter how nicely you ask it.  These hackers can keep it up for extended periods of time, and if you're an online gambling website that's been singled out, while you're down, all of your customers will go somewhere else.  If you'd like it to stop, there's a tattooed gentleman outside who'd like a few dollars.  And he'd like them regularly.  That's what's called extortion.  The days of Molotov cocktails through the window of your deli are over.

But there you go, that's more evidence of Nomadism.  A hacker who you will never meet ruins your business until you pay money into a PayPal account (or something similar, I'm not entirely sure how they move money around yet).  At no time do you meet anyone in person, and if the police get involved, they have the awful job of trying to trace a hacker through several international jurisdictions, and that's if even they can prove it was a DDoS attack. 

So now we come to the part where I was wrong.  At the beginning of this, I thought to myself, there's no way the Russian Mob would own a casino; the police, revenue, they're all over that stuff.  They wouldn't get involved with that.  TIME Magazine would disagree.

In their article "Casino Gambling: Russia's Export to Latin America," Jean Freidman-Rudovsky explains that Bolivia "is a gambling company's paradise."  In the last few years gambling operations there have nearly doubled - there are now more than 80 casinos and about 10,000 gambling machines in a country with a population of 9 million people. TIME attributes the rise to foreign investors taking advantage of Bolivia's loose regulations. Once a gambling company is granted a license to operate, there are no limits on the number of sites it can open in Bolivia. Other countries limit the number of casinos that can be opened in proportion to population size. 

So far the Russians have been able to infiltrate the market with Bolivian front men, or with claims that while they may be Russian, they are not involved with criminality.  The police remain unconvinced.  With casinos comes prostitution, money laundering, and arms sales to protect the following two businesses.  Perhaps another time I'll write about Russian human trafficking.  It's seriously fucked up.  

So I began this talking about a monkey with a machine gun... and discovered that the Russian mob has infiltrated the Bolivian gambling business.  Crime is like that... everywhere but nowhere to be seen.  

Also, here's the monkey with the machine gun since I'm sure you're curious.  Bye.

DISCLAIMER: Do not go around Google-ing Russian site unless you're certain of your anti-virus software.  I'm so serious.  They'll fuck your shit up.

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