Radio 2.0

The best radio station in the world went on the air June 12, and it’s going off the air again July 5. Resonance Radio, put together by the London Musicians’ Collective (the people behind the excellent magazine Resonance), is part of the Meltdown Festival that’s being curated this year by Radio One DJ (and new-minted OBE) John Peel. Thanks to English legal vagaries, the station has a limited lifespan and can only be heard on actual radios in the center of London, but any computer with RealAudio can pick it up at

RR’s manifesto calls it “a museum of modern art for sound,” and eight hours of each weekday are devoted to radio art new and (mostly) old: Antonin Artaud’s once banned “Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieux,” F.M. Einheit’s “Radio Inferno,” a Tristan Tzara play adapted by Montreal teenagers, a collection of Londoners’ recordings of their favorite sounds of their city…. There’s also a nightly avant-mix showcase, a superb international kids’-music show, live performances, spoken-word pieces, and special events (June 27 is “Saturn Day”: 15 hours of Sun Ra). Late-night programming is “nocturnal and durational works,” meaning quiet stuff and long stuff, followed by “Dawn Chorus,” field recordings in the literal sense–an hour and a half of birdsong. (There’ll always be an England.) Even the test tone is art, created by the Finnish group Pan Sonic.

On RealAudio, with its limited fidelity and frequent breakups, Resonance comes across like a transistor radio under the covers–teasing, frustrating, demanding concentration, sometimes thrilling. These vintage pieces may be arty and conceptual, but they’re classics of their kind because they work moment to moment, too. A good museum has its own kind of immediacy.


A Place for Us

I just grabbed Joey Ramone’s ass. It’s the night of “Blitzkrieg Bash,” and when he passed me on the way to the stage, I went “grabba grabba hey, grabba hey” to his left cheek. Now I’m hiding behind this jukebox hoping he doesn’t tell the meaty bouncer to beat my stupid ass up. I’m at Coney Island High, a club that’s the center of St. Marks Place nightlife. Actually, Coney is the center of life here because there ainât no life except nightlife on St. Marks Place.

You’ve probably seen the kids hanging out in front of Mondo Kim’s, or Trash and Vaudeville. Crusty punks with blue Mohawks, junk punks in torn suits, and always some dude with a dog sparing for change. They look like throwbacks to ’77.

What you got here is a scene. A fucked-up, drugged-up, kinked-up, we’ll-love-you-no-matter-what scene. Leather-and-spike kids from Cali, from England, and from asswart Texas are drawn here like magnets. Some come to squat. Some to escape. Others just to get jacked up on drugs and booze. They’re welcomed by pierced scenesters with a forty and a place to sleep. On this strip, between Second and Third avenues, no one gives a fuck why you came, they’re just happy you’re here. As local squat punks The Casualties put it, life on St. Marks is a “Fuckin’ Way of Life.”

Coney is a three-floor black building in the middle of the block. Unless you smoke cloves and look like the Cure’s Robert Smith, you best stay away from the basement–that’s where the goths mope. The supercools shake it either upstairs or on the main floor where the DJ spins devil’s music–punk rock, rockabilly, and anything else with a raunchy guitar and a bawdy backbeat. Sometimes they have theme nights, like “Mod Night” or “Disco Night,” that attract a lot of uptights in white jeans and collared shirts. It’s always weird to see squares groove to Chic’s “Le Freak” alongside punkers. Hell, it’s just weird to hear “Le Freak” in a place like Coney because the people who go to Coney are the people who go…

Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…this girl with blue spiky hair, black lipstick, and lots of tattoos just shoved her vibrator in my crotch. “I carry my vibrator everywhere I go,” she says, with a smile.

“I carry my right hand,” I reply.

She gives me one of those you-ruined-our-moment looks, the kind your partner gives when you fart during sex. I head for a drink.

James, the drummer from L.E.S. Stitches, is behind the bar. A couple days ago, Mickey Leigh from Stop, Birdland, and the Tangerine Puppets was bartending. Last week it was some guy from D Generation. And the week before, it was a cat from the Radicts. Seems like I’ve bought Jack and Coke from a quarter of my record collection.

James has got the mafia-punk look down. He slithers around in a black suit with a toothpick dangling from his lips. He even wears a pinkie ring. When he hands me my drink, I take it to one of the candlelit tables near two men and a woman who are talking about how they need a bass player for their band. “Wow, this is great,” I think. “I don’t play bass, but what if I said I did?”

So I feed them some bullshit about my bass-playing experience, and they invite me back to their pad to hear their music. When we get there, a guy on quaaludes is drooling in the corner.

I excuse myself and go to use their bathroom, or rather, their floor (I was so drunk I missed the toilet). When I come out, they’re sniffing cocaine on a T.S.O.L. CD case. Then the woman spills the coke on the floor. One of the guys tells her to clean it up because he doesn’t want the dog snorting it. So she gets on all fours and sniffs the coke out of the rug. I decide to leave.

A couple of days later I go to CBGB to see D Generation play. The inside of CB’s is a channel of smoke, sweat, and saliva–everyone is drunk, and spitting when they talk.

Plus you had to wade through the hair. The place was like a forest. There was spiked hair, dreaded hair, and greased-up hair. Everyone–even people from the old school, like Debbie Harry, Jayne County, and Bob Gruen–had dusted themselves off and come down for the spectacle. I also spotted a half-dozen people who had once told me D Generation sucked waiting for the show.

All around me, the crowd was bouncing around in two-inch platform creepers in white, blue, red, black, black with a red stripe, black with a blue stripe….One guy had on leopard-skin creepers, black leather pants, and a Stooges T-shirt, and his girl was dressed in a short skirt and a faded English Dogs shirt. They were surrounded by a hundred people wearing the same outfit, give or take a spiked dog collar.

By the time I got there, I had already missed all the opening bands except the Toilet Boys, who had this beautiful singer with big round eyes and a petite little frame. She had just finished “Another Day,” a duet she sang with the six-foot-five guitar player. I was marveling at this bottle-blond goddess until I looked down and realized she was packing something in that G-string.

After the show, I went to Coney with Brendan, a 29-year-old English bloke with Billy Idol spiky hair. Brendan’s a bricklayer who moved here from England. He is always at Coney either buying people beers or asking them to buy him one. He wears this olive-colored blazer he designed himself–it has buckles on each arm, and bunches up in a buckle at the waist.

We slump over the bar with a couple of brews. “It’s a little community down here, and it’s fuckin’ great,” he says, swilling his beer. “When I came here and started hanging out on St. Marks Place, the people were so inviting. It really reminded me of the way things were back home in England. I saw the Damned on October 27, 1979. And this is exactly the way things were.”

This guy is real punk rock in that don’t-wanna-grow-up kind of way. He says he’s been married three times with five kids, but can’t give up the rock ‘n’ roll life.

“The first marriage failed because we were too young. I was 20. It was a lot of pressure for me. I had two children, bought a house, and about six months later England went into a bad recession,” he says, dragging on a smoke. “The second marriage failed because of America. She hated New York. Our daughter was due to start school, and when my wife saw the schools had security guards and bars on the windows, she freaked. So she went back to England, and I decided to stay here.

“And the third one,” he laughs, “the third one didn’t like me rocking out. She couldn’t accept me playing in bands.”

It was 4 a.m. by the time we left. Brendan teased me because I was going to bed while he had to get ready for work.

Two weeks later, I went back to Coney. The girl I’d had the vibrator encounter with was sitting to my left. Some guy was giving her oral sex. After a while I felt guilty about watching, so I left the bar to give them privacy. Down the corner I saw the guys from L.E.S. Stitches, and we all went back to their bass player Damien’s house.

Damien shares a one-bedroom across the street from Coney with another kid named Damien. L.E.S. Stitches’s Damien occupies the living room/kitchen area, and the other Damien has the bedroom. When you walk in and turn right, you’re facing Damien’s bed. Over the bed is a Sid Vicious “Drugs Kill” poster. To the left are three shelves with a couple of pairs of creepers, a leather jacket, and a pair of combat boots. The walls are decorated with L.E.S. Stitches flyers, punk rock posters, and photos of the band.

“My whole life is on this block–my band, my job, and my apartment. It’s a way of life on this fuckin’ street, man. If I go to the next street it’s a different world,” Damien says.

James, the drummer/bartender, nods in agreement. Still, he says, sometimes things get to be too much. “It’s been hard; I haven’t had a place to live for six months.”

One of the guitar players, Todd, is sitting on a chair next to the bed strumming an accoustic. “I moved down here with my band from New Hampshire, and for a while we were doing really good,” he says. “But the same thing that happens to other bands happened to us…Somebody gets fucked up on drugs and alcohol. Which was me. And it pretty much destroyed the band. I’d drink like six nights a week, take Sundays off, and start it all over again. It goes in circles–you start a band, break up a band and get sober, start up another band, and you get fucked up again.”

“A lot of this struggle is self-inflicted,” says James. “Things get hard, and you start looking to alcohol and drugs. You blow all your cash, and then you’re screwed.”

Only one of these guys says he has his shit together. Mick, the singer. What he means is that on St Marks he’s tapped into the punk rock fountain of youth. Sitting on the edge of Damien’s bed, wearing a wife-beater, tight, faded jeans, and two-tone creepers he says, “I work three days a week. I have a beautiful girlfriend, who I would not have had if I stayed in a small town. I have enough money to pay my rent, and enough to go out whenever I want. I’m still living the life of a teenager, and I’m 27 years old.”

What a downer. I had expected booze, broads, and raunchy sex. Instead I got introspection. I didn’t need this shit–what I needed was a drink. So I left.

Back at Coney’s I notice this woman with short and choppy Betty Page bangs drinking a beer. Her name is Sage. I tell her about the L.E.S. Stitches soul-searching I had just experienced.

“I don’t think it’s the scene that makes people destructive or nihilistic,” she says, thoughtfully. “I think it’s the people who make the scene. To be cool here I think you have to be tragic. It’s like self-mutilation and self-abuse have become the main forms of expression.” Sage is from California. She’s a writer who was drawn to St. Marks for inspiration. She says this here is “the real deal.” Besides, Sage didn’t fit in anywhere else. “We didn’t come here because we’re punks, we came here because we’re fucked up and want to find a place where we belong. I’m a queer, fag punk, and I’m a girl. And it’s okay. I can fuck. I can get drunk. I can sing onstage. I can blow some girl in the bathroom, and it’s all good. Nobody bats an eyelash.

“I came to New York specifically for St. Marks Place. I dreamed about this place.”

It’s last call, and I tell Sage I’m going home. I get up and the room is spinning. Once I get my balance, I head toward the door. Sage yells something and I turn my head weakly.

“Down here,” she laughs, “they come in like a lion, baby, and they go out like a lamb.”

I stumble through the doorway, and the door shuts behind me. Slaaaaaaammmmm.


Long Shot

More than 100 doctors and scientists from around the world flocked to the New York Academy of Medicine on June 6 to learn about what may be the most controversial type of drug treatment: doctors prescribing heroin to hard-core addicts. This idea appears to be gaining credibility in the U.S., as evidenced by the impressive group of sponsors for the ”First International Conference on Heroin Maintenance,” which included Beth Israel Medical Center, Columbia University School of Public Health, and Montefiore Medical Center.

The star attraction at this event was Ambrose Uchtenhagen, the Swiss social scientist introduced as the ”pope of drug policy research.” Uchtenhagen unveiled findings from his three-year study of 1100 junkies conducted in Switzerland. The results are promising. Uchtenhagen found that giving heroin to longtime users slowed the spread of HIV, reduced crime, decreased homelessness, and led to more addicts getting jobs.

Some attendees hope the conference will mark the beginning of a new movement to conduct trials in the United States. New York city and state officials approved a heroin maintenance program as far back as 1971, but pressure from the federal government killed the project. In recent years, heroin maintenance has been gaining support from politicians and doctors in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Dutch researchers are about to test the Swiss findings with their own study, which is scheduled to start next month.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government remains hostile to any approach that seems to say ”yes” to drugs. Most conference attendees seemed skeptical about the chances of operating a heroin maintenance program in the U.S. But Ethan Nadelmann, who organized the recent conference and runs the Lindesmith Center, the drug policy organization funded by financier George Soros, remains optimistic. ”We are confident that we will be able to secure private funding for heroin maintenance trials,” he says.

The Swiss government launched the first large-scale study of heroin maintenance in 1994. The only junkies allowed to get legal heroin were those who had been using it for more than two years and had tried other treatment strategies but failed. For $10 a day, these addicts made several daily trips to a clinic and got heroin from a doctor. Then they were sent into a sterile ”injection room” and took seats at a long steel table facing a mirror. While clinicians watched, addicts dabbed disinfectant on themselves and shot up.

The point of the program is not to get junkies off the drug, but to improve their quality of life. Addicts get help finding housing, landing a job, and repairing family relationships. After three years, all of the homeless junkies in the program found a place to live. The number of users who were unemployed fell from 44 per cent to 20 per cent. And in just the first six months, the number of crimes committed by addicts in the program dropped by about 60 per cent.

Eighty-three users left the study to join abstinence treatment programs, even though this path is neither encouraged nor discouraged. ”We are not very convinced that pushing works,” says Uchtenhagen. Before quitting heroin, he says, ”people have to feel ready.”

Uchtenhagen and others see heroin maintenance as one treatment strategy among many. ”Methadone maintenance works the best for the most people,” says Nadelmann, a former political science professor at Princeton University. ”Abstinence-based therapy works better for others. But there are inevitably going to be some cases where heroin and methadone don’t work. Our view is: Do whatever works.”

Not all the conference attendees were so convinced. Beny Primm, who served on President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on AIDS, says he plans to visit the heroin maintenance trials in Switzerland and Holland before deciding whether he supports the treatment. But, he says, ”I think one should look at everything and not be closed-minded about different approaches to solving the illicit drug use problem.”

Many drug policy experts disagree. ”In the United States, it would be a disgrace to waste any resources on heroin maintenance or even on research on heroin maintenance,” says Herbert D. Kleber, executive vice-president of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. ”If I have a dollar to spend on treatment, why would I put it into an unproven modality?”

At the recent heroin maintenance conference, one veteran researcher felt a sense of deja vu. David Lewis, director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, had been considering a job offer as medical director of New York’s heroin maintenance trials before they were canceled. ”This conference has a similar ring to what happened before,” he says. ”People from the prestigious universities are present in large numbers to hear what is happening in other countries.”

But Lewis feels that politicians’ and the public’s attitude toward drug use had changed in the last two decades. ”The moral crusade has hardened up,” he says. ”Even though Nixon had a war on drugs in 1971, we probably had a better chance then of doing a heroin trial without public opposition than we do now.”


The Most Dangerous Mobster in the World

In two posh villas outside the small town of Ricany, near Prague, one of the most dreaded mob families in the world savagely murders its terrified victims. The mob’s young enforcers, trained by veterans of the Afghanistan war, are infamous for their extreme brutality. Their quarry, usually businessmen who have balked at extortion demands, are repeatedly stabbed and tortured, then mutilated before they are butchered. The carnage is so hideous that it has scared the daylights out of competing crime groups in the area.

The torture chambers are run by what international police officials call the Red Mafia, a notorious Russian mob family that in only six years has become a nefarious global crime cartel. Based in Budapest, it has key centers in New York, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and as far away as New Zealand.

The enigmatic leader of the Red Mafia is a 52-year-old Ukrainian-born Jew named Semion Mogilevich. He is a shadowy figure known as the “Brainy Don” — he holds an economics degree from the University of Lvov — and until now, he has never been exposed by the media. But the Voice has obtained hundreds of pages of classified FBI and Israeli intelligence documents from August 1996, and these documents — as well as recent interviews with a key criminal associate and with dozens of law enforcement sources here and abroad — describe him as someone who has become a grave threat to the stability of Israel and Eastern Europe.

“He’s the most powerful mobster in the world,” crows Monya Elson, who is listed in classified documents as one of Mogilevich’s closest associates and partners in prostitution and money laundering rings. The Brighton Beach­based Elson, who once led a pack of thugs and killers known as Monya’s Brigada, is currently in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan awaiting trial for three murders and numerous extortions.

In July 1993, after Elson was grievously wounded by rival mobsters in a bloody shoot-out outside his Brooklyn apartment building, Mogilevich spirited him out of the country. Mogilevich then set up his Russian Jewish refugee friend in an alleged massive money-laundering scheme in Fano, Italy, where he was eventually arrested and extradited back to America. Elson, an integral part of the Red Mafia, had been one of the most feared mobsters in Brighton Beach, ground zero for Russian organized crime in America, which has exploded here following perestroika.

“If I tell on Mogilevich, Interpol will give me $20 million,” boasted Elson. “I lived with him. I’m his partner, don’t forget. We are very, very close friends. I don’t mean close, I mean very, very close. He’s my best friend.” Nevertheless, after extensive interviews over the course of the last six months, Elson ultimately confirmed some of the details about Mogilevich contained in the classified FBI and Israeli documents.

Allegations of Mogilevich’s devilish array of criminal activities are extensively detailed in the reports: The FBI and Israeli intelligence assert that he traffics in nuclear materials, drugs, prostitutes, precious gems, and stolen art. His contract hit squads operate in the U.S. and Europe. He controls everything that goes in and out of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, a “smugglers’ paradise,” says Elson. Mogilevich bought a bankrupt airline in a former Central Asian Soviet republic for millions of dollars in cash so he could haul heroin out of the Golden Triangle. Most worrisome to U.S. authorities is Mogilevich’s apparently legal purchase of virtually the entire Hungarian armaments industry, jeopardizing regional security, NATO, and the war against terrorism.

In one typical criminal deal, Mogilevich and two Moscow-based gangsters sold $20 million worth of pilfered Warsaw Pact weapons from East Germany, including ground-to-air missiles and 12 armored troop carriers, according to the classified Israeli and FBI documents. The buyer was Iran, says a top-level U.S. Customs official who requested anonymity.

In another deal, an FBI informant told the bureau that one of Mogilevich’s chief lieutenants in Los Angeles met two Russians from New York City with Genovese crime family ties to broker a scheme to dump American toxic waste in Russia. Mogilevich’s man from L.A. said the Red Mafia would dispose of the toxic waste in the Chernobyl region, “probably through payoffs to the decontamination authorities there,” says a classified FBI report.

Mogilevich is particularly intrigued by art fraud. In early 1993, he reached an agreement with the leaders of the powerful Solntsevskaya crime family in Moscow to invest huge sums of money in a joint venture: acquiring a jewelry business in Moscow and Budapest. The business, according to classified FBI documents, was to serve as a front for the acquisition of jewelry, antiques, and art, which the Solntsevskaya mob had stolen from churches and museums in Russia, including the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The gangsters also robbed the homes of art collectors and even broke into synagogues in Germany and Eastern Europe to steal rare religious books and Torahs.

Mogilevich’s operation, again in collusion with the Solntsevskaya mob, also purchased a large jewelry factory in Budapest. Russian antiques, such as Faberge eggs, are sent to Budapest for “restoration.” Mogilevich’s men ship the genuine Faberge eggs to an unwitting Sotheby’s auction house in London for sale, then send fake Faberge eggs as well as other “restored” objects back to Moscow.

Mogilevich’s early years are murky. Soviet authorities first learned of his criminal activities in the 1970s, when he was a member of the Liubertskaya crime group that operated in the Moscow suburb of the same name. He was involved in petty thefts and counterfeiting.

But Mogilevich made his first millions fleecing fellow Jews. In the mid 1980s, when tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were hurriedly immigrating to Israel and America, Mogilevich made deals to buy their assets — rubles, furniture, and art — cheaply, promising to exchange the goods for fair market value and send refugees the proceeds in “hard” currency. Instead, he sold their valuables and pocketed the considerable profits.

In the 1980s, he established a petroleum import-export company, Arbat International, and registered it in Alderney, one of the Channel Islands, which is known to be a tax haven. One of his partners — with a quarter share of the company — was Vyacheslav Ivankov, the legendary Russian criminal who in March 1992 became Godfather of the Russian mob in America. Ivankov was convicted in 1996 of extorting two Russian-born Wall Street stockbrokers. He now resides in Raybrook, a Federal prison in upstate New York.

In early 1990, Mogilevich fled Moscow, as did many other dons, to avoid the gangland wars that were then roiling the capital. Mogilevich and his top henchmen settled in Israel, where they received Israeli citizenship. He “succeeded in building a bridgehead in Israel” and “developing significant and influential [political] ties,” says an Israeli intelligence report.

Mogilevich is married to a Hungarian national, Katalin Papp. That marriage allowed him to legally emigrate to Budapest, Hungary, in 1991, where he began to build the foundations of his global criminal empire. He bought a string of nightclubs in Prague, Riga, and Kiev — called the “Black and White Clubs” — that has become one of the world’s foremost centers of prostitution. Monya Elson is a partner in the clubs, according to his own admission and classified FBI documents. The Black and White Club in Budapest became the hub of Mogilevich’s operations. He quickly built a highly structured criminal organization, in the mode of a traditional American mafia family. Indeed, many of the organization’s 250 members are his relatives.

To the consternation of international law enforcement officials, Mogilevich began to legally purchase much of Hungary’s arms industry. The legitimate companies he bought include:

  • Magnex 2000: a giant magnet manufacturer.
  • Digep General Machine Works: an artillery shell, mortar, and fire equipment manufacturer, which was financed by a $3.8 million loan from the London branch of Banque Francaise De L’orean.
  • Army Co-op: a mortar and anti-aircraft gun factory. Army Co-op was established in 1991 by two Hungarian nationals, both in the local arms industry, who were looking for a partner. Mogilevich has bought 95 per cent of Army Co-op through another Channel Island holding company, Arigon, Ltd., and also deals extensively with the Ukraine, selling oil products to the Ukrainian railway administration.

These transactions enabled the Mogilevich organization to become a direct owner of the Hungarian armaments industry. In 1994, he purchased a license enabling him to buy and sell weapons. Now a legitimate armaments manufacturer, one of his companies participated in at least one arms exhibition in the U.S., where it displayed mortars modified by Israel. Like mob bosses everywhere, Mogilevich couldn’t sustain his empire without the help of corrupt police and politicians. There is one documented example of a criminal associate of Mogilevich mingling with American politicians. In March 1994, Vahtang Ubiriya, one of Mogilevich’s top lieutenants, was photographed by the FBI at a tony Republican Party fundraiser in Dallas, says an FBI report. Ubiriya, a high-ranking official in the Ukrainian railway administration, has a prior conviction for bribery in the Ukraine.

In Europe and Russia, the “corruption of police and public officials has been part of the Semion Mogilevich Organization’s modus operandi,” says a classified FBI document. “The corruptive influence of the Mogilevich organization apparently extends to the Russian security system. During 1995, two colonels from Department of the Russian Presidential Security Service . . . traveled to Hungary under commercial cover to meet with Mogilevich . . . seeking information for use in the Russian political campaign.” An Israeli associate of Mogilevich met with the two colonels and provided intelligence. Mogilevich also paid off a Russian judge to secure Vyacheslav Ivankov’s early release from a Siberian prison, where he was doing hard time for robbery and torture, according to U.S. court records and classified FBI documents.

On April 28, the German national television network ZDF reported that the BND (the German intelligence agency) had entered into a secret contract with Mogilevich to provide information on the Russian mob. The charges were made by several sources, including Pierre Delilez, a highly regarded Belgium police investigator who specializes in Russian Organized Crime. Because of this deal with the BND, police in Belgium, Germany, and Austria have complained that it is now impossible to investigate the “Brainy Don.” If the television report is accurate, one possible motive for BND’s deal, says a U.S. law enforcement expert on the Russian mob, is that the Germans recently “pulled their people out of Moscow because they didn’t like the level of cooperation they were getting from the Russian authorities on the Russian mob.” Gangsters, said this source, often talk to intelligence agencies about their rivals.

Mogilevich’s main activity in the U.S. appears to be money laundering, says a classified FBI report. He has set up companies in Los Angeles — FNJ Trade Management — and Newton, Pennsylvania — YBM Magnex International — as well as dozens of shell companies, which have received more than $30 million from Arigon, Ltd., the center of Mogilevich’s financial operations.

Last Friday, U.S. Attorney Robert Courtney, head of the organized-crime strike force, led a a joint FBI, IRS, INS, and Customs raid of YBM’s offices in Newton. Cartons of documents were seized, with Canadian and U.S. police citing the company’s alleged ties to Russian organized crime. YBM is publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and two days before Friday’s raid, trading in its stock was suspended by Canadian authorities.

The president and CEO of YBM is Jacob Bogatin, a professor of physical metallurgy. In May 1996, he contacted the FBI in Philadelphia to find out why the INS had denied visas to YBM employees arriving from Hungary and the Ukraine. When he was rebuffed, he had intermediaries step forward and pester the FBI. The State Department has banned Mogilevich himself from obtaining a U.S. visa because he’s on the department’s watch list of international organized-crime figures. Nevertheless, he has surreptitiously entered America under aliases and on visitor visas issued in Tel Aviv to visit Elson and Ivankov.

Bogatin admitted during a telephone interview that Mogilevich owns his company. When asked if he knew that numerous law enforcement agencies here and abroad considered Mogilevich to be a leader of one of the most ruthless organized-crime families in recent times, Bogatin replied, “We have an investors relations guy. You want to talk with him about this stuff.” He added that he had read allegations in the Eastern European press that his boss was a Mafia don, but didn’t believe them. YBM vehemently denies that it is connected to Russian organized crime or has engaged in any criminal activities.

Bogatin is no stranger to the mob, however. His brother, David, a top Russian crime figure who once served in North Vietnam for the Soviets in an anti-aircraft unit, is now serving an eight-year term in a New York State prison for a multimillion-dollar gasoline tax fraud scheme. Just prior to trial, he had jumped bail, fleeing to Poland. There he set up the first commercial banks, which moved vast sums of money controlled by Russian wiseguys. (This after handing over his mortgages for five pricey Trump Tower apartments to a Genovese associate. The mortgages were liquidated and the funds were moved through a mafia-controlled bank in Chelsea.) Eventually he was caught and returned to the U.S. In the meantime, he lived like royalty in a five-star Viennese hotel, surrounded by a praetorian guard of 125 Polish parachutists, some of them bedecked in shiny gold uniforms.

Mogilevich has not refrained from associating with known killers in America, prime among them Elson and Ivankov. A confidential informant told the FBI that Vladimir Berkovich, an L.A. resident, is a chief lieutenant in Mogilevich’s organization and has arranged contract killings here, supplying the weapons and spiriting the killers out of the country. The visas, says the report, were obtained through the Palm Terrace restaurant, a watering hole for Russian gangsters, which Berkovich owns. Berkovich told the Voice that he is aware of the government’s charges, and that they are “total bullshit.” Although he has no criminal record in the U.S., Berkovich’s son, Oleg, was convicted in Los Angeles of solicitation to commit murder on October 11, 1989. He was sentenced to four years. Oleg’s business card identified his employer as Magnex, Ltd., a company owned by Mogilevich in Budapest. Oleg was recently arrested in Hungary on unspecified charges but was released.

Oleg’s uncle, the colorful Lazar Berkovich, whose last known address was New York City, arrived in the Big Apple after having survived a shootout with Italian gangsters, says his brother Vladimir. The FBI report claims that Lazar was head of Russian criminal activities in Italy prior to his coming to America to recuperate from his wounds, though Vladimir Bercovich denies that Lazar was ever connected to the Russian mob.

Israeli and U.S. law enforcement sources agree that the Red Mafia, though in existence for a mere six years, has become one of the most formidable Russian organized-crime families in the world. Strongest in the Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the U.S., Mogilevich has increased his strength by forging ties with other powerful Russian mob groups as well as with the Italian Camorra. His reported ties to the German BND and ex­police officers in Hungary keep him informed of police efforts to penetrate his organization. “He also ingratiates himself with the police by providing information on other [Russian crime] groups’ activities, thus appearing to be a cooperative good citizen,” says a classified FBI report. This, along with his strong leadership qualities, his acute financial skills, his talented and highly educated associates, and his use of cutting-edge technology, has so far made the “Brainy Don” impervious to prosecution. ❖


Driven Crazy

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the sidewalk, the cab strike ends. If you listened to most New Yorkers last week, the consensus was that the strike was a big bomb-ola, not only because it was a day late (they chose the first sunny day in over two weeks) but because it was a dollar short (for the cabbies, anyway).

Without missing a beat, Mayor Rudy stepped right in and threatened the striking cabbies with everything from wiping out medallions to getting rid of cabs altogether. For a man who wants to be president, he was pretty naïve not to notice the international implications of unemploying cab drivers. The world was quick to react to the mayor’s threats. Immediately upon hearing that thousands of curb-jumping drivers would be coming back to resume their taxi careers in New Delhi, India detonated a bunch of nukes, and Pakistan threatened to do the same. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Wake up, Rudy! These weren’t bomb tests, they were bomb threats!

In fact, just before pushing the button, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was heard to say, ”Just when I thought it was safe to go back on the sidewalk. . . . ” Rudy, if you don’t care about how many regular New Yorkers could get killed, think about how many Yankees they could take out with one A-bomb!

I can understand the mayor’s rage. But whose fault is it that taxi riding has become terrifying? Not India’s fault. Not Pakistan’s fault. Hey–not even the fault of Israel, Botswana, Haiti, or the countries formerly known as Yugoslavia and the USSR. It’s not even the drivers’ fault. It’s all Dr. Ruth’s fault! If you had to listen to her 40 times a day, you’d become enraged and jump a curb, too.

How did it get this way? Professional cabbies tell me the Taxi and Limousine Commission imposed so many nitpicky rules and fines that it was easier to give up driving and rent out their cabs. This sounded reasonable until I heard what London drivers go through. In London, you can’t drive a Black Taxi unless you have a thorough understanding and love of ”The Knowledge,” found in a purple book of about 50 pages containing about 22 ”runs” per page, according to longtime London cabbie Charles Avella. Each run (from one destination to another) is filled with ”points.” Points are every street, square, police station, theater, cinema, restaurant, famous pub, and site in London.

When they give you the book, the brass at the Hackney Carriage Office (their TLC) tell you to go away for six months. They can do this since they are part of the police department. After six months you have your first test. ”They are constantly testing you for character, as well,” says Avella. ”They may have a police officer with a very heavy Scots accent quiz you. If you lose your patience because you can’t understand him, it shows you have a weak character, and shouldn’t ever be driving a taxi.” You’re out. In NYC, you’re out when you actually assault someone and run them over. Well, you’re suspended, anyway.

The HCO quizzes potential cabbies over two to three years on The Knowledge.” By the time they finish, they must know every one of the 1100 or so runs, and the thousands of points contained therein. If they pass The Knowledge test, then and only then will they be allowed to take a taxi driving test. A potential driver gets only two–count ’em, two–chances to pass. Fail twice and you are dead (boiled) meat.

It doesn’t end there. Drivers are subjected to limitless spontaneous tests by HCO inspectors, who check the cars for cleanliness and safety. A police officer can pull over a London cab at any time and inspect it.

When you think about it, New York’s kind of like London–without the tests, the inspections, the book, the Knowledge, the cleanliness, the horns, a basic grasp of directions, or a working knowledge of the English language. But of course, we have Dr. Ruth.


But Then Again, Who Says It Should?

I feel like The Boy Who Cried Jungle. Until New Forms, nothing has been widely available that has anything to do with what I’ve thought for three years was so great about drum’n’bass: dancehall undertow and hip-hop breakbeats liberated to funk fully, thanks to the sequencer’s super energy pill. Goldie and L.T.J. Bukem, London’s first feted visitors, both basted their breakswith too much goddamn new-age synth wash, more botanical moisture splash than rinse out. Techstep, the flavor du jour in drum’n’bass, leaches out the blackness and syncopation of the form with its “Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine” beatsand Goth doom. And what’s great about satellite albums like Spring Heel Jack’s Busy Curious Thirsty or Squarepusher’s Hard Normal Daddy has less to do with the amount of d’n’b folded into them than an auteur vision that extrudes itself through a different beat structure–like Odelay, as compared to hip-hop. New Forms, on the other hand, is jungle: funky, black, breakbeat music.

Jamaica has been putting its chocolate in England’s peanut butter for years; Kingston-via-London miscegenation has driven most of London’s important and unique pop innovations. America’s average response has been “Oh, cool,” but with no sales to back it up. (We didn’t put the Specials or Tricky in the top 10 and I doubt we’ll do it with Roni Size.) Listen to the U.K. drum’n’ licensed over here by majors and you’ll hear precious little that sounds like reggae. Yet albums like the Greensleeves label’s Ragga Anthems Volume One are jungle’s roots. When blood pulse Jamaican basslines, toasting, and third-generation hip-hop breakbeats were fed through the hyper-pleasure logarithms of rave, out came jungle’s infant self: happy hardcore. The drum’n’bass I like is fast, and still linked to the social context of the dance floor, which hip-hop traded around 1992 for the mix-tape-driven (and slow, always slow now) interior landscape of Jeeps and Walkmans. In London, people dance like Cocoa Puffs to such drum’n’bass; I only see that kind of enthusiasm in NY anymore at gay clubs.

The dancehall-meets–hip-hop imperative of jungle is what first blew me away–records like Leviticus’s “Burial,” whereover the “It Takes Two” / “Think” break and a dancehall bassline, some doo-wop fellas go “ooohooh ooh” and it’s more than enough. Or DJ Hype’s remix of Remarc’s “R.I.P.” Sampling, I think, a Cutty Ranks boast, Hype turns the subsonic rumble of the original into a funny-car mash-up of hip-hop breaks and gruff Jamaican chatting. Ragga’s digital blend of reggae powered much early jungle, as captured in one of the first compilations (maybe the first put out by a major label), 1995’s Jungle Massive, Volume 1 (Payday/ffrr).”Burial” is here, along with stormers like Dead Dred’s “Dred Bass,” a blueprint for later “jump up” tracks, and Roni Size’s early masterpiece, “Timestretch,” which is a perfect litmus test for anyone unsure about jungle as a whole. If “Timestretch”‘s Cab Calloway beats and booming bass line don’t make you jump up, you may proceed.

As jungle developed in London, there was enough media-fomented fear about its dark origins that promoters and practitioners both supported a new name, drum’n’bass, and a new sound that downplayed gun talk and dancehall tropes in general. The class implications of this alone are worth a book, especially when you grab hold of the terms that soon modified drum’n’bass, namely “intelligent” and “jazz,” the first an insult to the complexity of early breakbeat butchers, the second a whammy of misrecognition that says less about music and more about a cultural view of a certain music (CD 101.9–style jazz) as a lifestyle enhancer and alleged class signifier (like Cristal or silk sheets).

Faithfuls like Shy FX, DJ Hype, and Aphrodite stayed true to the dancefloor boom of ragga and hip-hop, helping solidify the jump up style of barn-sized basslines, super-funky breaks, and not much else. If only a major would license Aphrodite’s recent compilation CD (Aphrodite) or New Frontiers (Parousia), from Hype’s Ganja Kru, we’d have something really rude, rough, and brilliant to grapple with. As it is, I think the next visible import may be Earth Pioneers (Mercury U.K.), the latest from the duo 4 Hero, important, longtime jungle programmers. Possibly influenced by the success of label mate Size, 4Hero now veer between staggering beat writing and some truly awful orchestral jazz that makes Roni Size’s few missteps into jazz-lite seem negligible.

V Classics, Volume 1 (Konkrete Jungle/Ultra) is a welcome American issue of some important tracks issued by Roni Size’s first home, V Recordings. Drawing from a stack of 30 or so releases, Volume 1 helps illuminate what Size, Krust, Suv, and Die (the Reprazent crew) have been up to these past three years. Size’s “Only a Dream” and Die and Suv’s “War and Peace” stand tall and hint at the jump-up tracks Size has released on his subsidiary labels like Full Cycle and Dope Dragon. But make no mistake, these are tracks originally designed for the mixing DJ. The drums make their opening statement and you get to watch for six or seven minutes, structure be damned.

Programmers have to look beyond breaks if they want out of the 12-inch ghetto, and that’s why we have New Forms. It’s as close as we’re going to get to an accessible drum’n’bass record that doesn’t hide its breaks under a bushel. Simultaneously catchier and harder than anything Size has done before, New Forms justifies its silly title with tunes like “Brown Paper Bag,” “Ballet Dance,”and “Electricks,” which really don’t sound likemuch else. The digital trash of “Railing”‘s beat spurs MC Dynamite onto some fine toasting that crossbreeds today’s topic, dancehall, with hip-hop dexterously enough to really confuse the issue of what moves came from what origin. Putting the dancehall up front on the first track is a deft wake-up, a warning shot fired across the bow of ambient creeps.

On “Matter of Fact” or the ferocious new single, “Electricks,” the breaks get you at least halfway to Jericho all by themselves. There are, thankfully, few long stretches of legato synth drool, although that does creep in when Roni wants to change the scenery. And changing the vista is where New Forms confronts the question: to pop or not to pop? I think the album succeeds by forgetting the question and sneaking in visceral trickery from the dancehall/hip-hop side of the family.

New Forms is hardly Song Forms, sometimes to its detriment, sometimes to its futuristic credit. The overlong outros and intros are still there for DJs, not pop listeners, which is unfortunate, since most DJs are not going to be spinning the CD. And the upright bass of the superfine “Brown Paper Bag” no more makes it “jazz” than the guitar samples make it rock. Roni Size’s conception of catchiness remains that of a hip-hop producer, the beathead looking to loop two bars into bliss, finding more in the moment as it repeats. Drum’n’bass is loop music, no matter how irregular the chops, edits, and timestretches, wherejazz tends not to do anything the same way twice in a row. It’s also hard to take drum’n’bass artists seriously when they talk about Miles in the face of their own Dave Grusinisms, especially given their love and knowledge of hip-hop (not surprising, since they lived through one and not the other). Why the need to get cred from the ancestors? Isn’t it more impressive that New Forms doesn’t duplicate existing genres like jazz while, even better, giving the funk a shiny new suit of armor to make it over the cyber hill? Dancefloor or day spa, choose your ghetto.