Since taking root in California in the 1970s and ’80s, Eurasian crime syndicates have become one of the nation’s most serious criminal threats, stealing billions of dollars from government-funded programs, officials say. The syndicates’ members come from a dozen republics in the former Soviet Union, as well as Eastern and Central Europe. They made their way to the United States beginning 30 years ago as part of an influx of political refugees, many of whom settled in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn. A recent report by the California Attorney General’s Office estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 criminals – including former inmates of KGB prisons – were among the immigrants. Many had defrauded the governments in their native countries and simply revived the scams in their adopted homeland. When authorities began cracking down on Eurasian syndicates on the East Coast in the mid-1990s, many criminals simply moved west. “It does feel like it has something of a Whack-a-Moleeffect,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Consuelo Woodhead said. “You suppress it here, and it pops up somewhere else.” According to the FBI, the first major prosecution of Eurasian crime was in 1991, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles pursued operators in a $1 billion medical-billing scheme. The scam was headed by two Russian brothers, according to testimony by FBI Criminal Investigations Division Assistant Director Grant D. Ashley. In 1994, the ringleader, Michael Smushkevich, was convicted and sentenced to 21 years in prison for fraud, conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering. A year later, the self-professed “godfather” of a local mob – Hovsep Mikaelian of North Hollywood – was arrested and accused of running a black market diesel-fuel network. Mikaelian failed to pay $3.6 million in taxes in a single year, prosecutors said. Investigators confiscated a BMW, Jaguar, two Rolls-Royces and a boat. Mikaelian pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, conspiracy to commit tax evasion, and wire, mail and telecommunications fraud. He was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison and was released in November. But the first significant Eurasian organized-crime investigation in the U.S. involved Vyacheslav Ivankov, who was convicted in 1996 of extortion and conspiracy for trying to extort money from a Wall Street investment firm. He was sentenced to about nine years in prison. Considered a major underworld figure in the U.S., Ivankov was released from prison in 2004 and deported to his native Russia, where he remains a powerful figure in the criminal underworld and has significant ties to criminal groups in California, according to the attorney general’s report. “He’s kind of credited of being the creator of the American-Russian Mafia,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Stephen P. Opferman. [email protected] (213) 974-8985 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!