US Senate: Russia mafia extortion in NHL more extensive

…a significant percentage of Russian hockey players skating in the NHL have been extorted in some way," Senate investigator Michael Bopp told ESPN. "Based on the sample of players we spoke to, I would conclude that a third of the players had some direct involvement."

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com
July 8, 1997

US Senate: Russia mafia extortion in NHL more extensive

The extent of extortion by the Russian mafia among NHL players is greater than previously believed, according to the United States Senate.

ESPN, citing a 15-month Senate investigation produced more than 100 interviews with NHl players, officials, owners, team officials and agents, reports that serious conclusions have been made about the Russian mafia's influence among NHL players.

There are 50 former Soviet players in the NHL and most of them are Russian.

"If you add in people who would know firsthand about extortion that occurred, I would venture to say, based upon our investigation, that a significant percentage of Russian hockey players skating in the NHL have been extorted in some way," Senate investigator Michael Bopp told ESPN. "Based on the sample of players we spoke to, I would conclude that a third of the players had some direct involvement."

ESPN made its original report regarding the Russian mob roughly six months ago. At the time, the network cited Vancouver Canucks superstar Pavel Bure's association with a figure in the Russia mafia. Bure acknowledged the relationship, claiming it was legitimate business.

The NHL's vice president of security, Dennis Cunningham, does not agree with the Senate's findings, telling ESPN that the number is blown up.

"I would say that's inflated as far as I was concerned," Cunningham said. "I was kind of surprised he would pull this number out. We have asked for the specifics and attempted to help him on many occasions. So I'm a little bit surprised he could make that blanket statement. And I'd be happy to speak to him about that."

ESPN also cited law enforcement sources in two different countries that the one-third figure is easily accurate and indicates an ongoing problem.

Bopp described an unnamed player's run-in with the Russian mafia.

"The player at first didn't say anything, denied knowing anything about extortion," Bopp said. "Then the player said, and it seemed almost like a relief, the player told me, Look, ‘I’ll tell you this once, then I'm not going to tell you again, so don't ask me. I'm not going to testify, but I'll tell you about being extorted.' And he proceeded to tell me an involved story lasting a period of several months where he was systematically extorted by an individual that we know to be connected to Russian organized crime. And this extortion included threats to his family, requests of six-figure payments, threats to blow up his car and then actual acts of damaging his property and threatening people he lived with."

In addition, the Senate's investigation also uncovered the Russian mafia's entry into the National Basketball Association and tennis.

"I have heard some evidence of Russian organized crime also attempting to or actually extorting basketball players from the former Soviet Union, and in one instance, a tennis player from the former Soviet Union," Bopp revealed.

ESPN cited a source that said an NBA player faced a six-figure payoff to protect his family. The NBA told ESPN that it has no knowledge, rumor or otherwise, of encroachment by the Russian mafia, while the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of men's tennis, told the network that no player has ever come forward. ESPN's law enforcement said Russian mafia figures were observed at the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Florida earlier this year.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/hockey/nhl/news/1997/06/10/news.rusmafia.html


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Risks: Sports and criminal organizations, Blackmail, Deny, deny and then deny some more, Extortion, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, Legitimate Businessman's Social Club, Organized crime, Russian mafia, Threats of physical violence, Tip of the iceberg, United States, 19970708 US Senate

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