Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Balkan Connection, Part 1

We begin by examining excerpts of an archived copy of an article from the Wall Street Journal found online under the title BALKAN CONNECTION (also found here and here; I cleaned up several typos, and probably missed several others):

The Wall Street Journal, Monday, September 9, 1985, pp.1,18

By Anthony M. DeStefano

NEW YORK - The informant who visited the office of U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani last December had a chilling story to tell:

A defendant in a drug racketeering case that Mr. Giuliani was prosecuting was offering $400,000 to anyone who would kill a certain assistant U.S. attorney and a federal drug enforcement agent.

For 45 minutes Mr. Giuliani and his chief assistant, William Tendy, listened to and evaluated the tale. Five other informants later corroborated it. The threatened lawmen-assistant prosecutor Alan M. Cohen and narcotics agent Jack Delmore-were given 24-hour-a-day protection by federal marshals.


The "Balkan Connection"

The drug case that brought forth the threats Mr. Giuliani is concerned about involved the disruption of the so-called "Balkan connectlon" heroin trade conducted by among others a loosely orginised group of ethnic Albanians, centered in New York. A federal probe into this drug traffic and other posslble crimes, including the alleged plot to kill officials, is in progress. The drug investigation and the criminal activities of small group of Albanian-Americans have attracted little publicity.


But the small minority of Albanians who take to crime have created new and unique problems for some law-enforcement officers around the country. Language and a code of silence have protected the Albanian-American crime factions from outside penetration. "They are real secretive" says a detective in Hamtramck, Mich., a Detroit suburb where many Albanians live. He says police have tried but failed to infiltrate Albanian gangs here.

Various Crimes

Albanian-American criminals, police say, are involved in everything from gun-running to counterfeiting. In New York City, a police intelligence analyst says, some ethnic Albanians living in the Bronx are involved in extortion and robbery. Federal officials believe that Albanians run gambling in certain New York ethnic clubs.

Violence within the Albanian community can be particularly brutal, whether related to orginized crime or not. In Hamtramck, an Albanian, reportedly enraged by the belief that his wife had contracted a veneral diseace, shot three people at a clinic and then killed himself. In some attacks, women have been slashed with knives: crowded restaurants and bars have been raked with gunfire. "They're a wild bunch of people," says Capt. Glen McAlpine of the Shelby Township, Mich., police. During an investigation of Albanian crime in Shelby, a bomb exploded next to the police station. A police officer also was threatened, Capt. McAlpine says.

But it is drug trafficking that has gained Albanian organized crime the most notoriety. Some Albanians, according to federal Drug Enforcement Agency officials, are key traders in the "Balkan connection," the Istanbul-to-Belgrade heroin route. While less well known than the so-called Sicilian and French connections, the Balkan route in some years may move 25% to 40% of the U.S. heroin supply, officials say.

Ties to Turks

Once serving only as couriers, some ethnic Albanians and Yugoslavs now are taking over more command of the traffic, says Andrew Fenrich, a DEA spokesman in New York. Federal agents say that Balkan crime groups are well suited for trafficking because of close historical and religious ties with the Turks, some of whom are sources of heroin.

DEA agents say the heroin flows from Turkey through Bulgaria and Greece into Yugoslavia. From there it can wind up in Rome, Brussels, The Hague and the U.S. Once in America, the Balkan heroin is believed by officials to be distributed by some ethnic Albanians and Turks. (Albania itself, long cut off from the most of the world by its recently deceased leader Enver Hoxha, isn't believed by the U.S. to be involved in the drug trade.)

On the surface, at least, Skender Fici seemed to be a law-abiding businessman. He ran a Staten Island travel agency, Theresa Worldwide, which made a specialty of booking trips to Yugoslavia, where many Albanians live.

He became a specialist in handling immigration paper work, and he sponsored a local ethnic Albanian soccer team.

According to federal prosecutors and a sentencing memorandum they filed in Manhattan's Federal District Court, Mr. Fici's travel agency made a perfect vehicle for arranging quick trips for drug dealers and couriers working the Balkan connection. One of Mr. Fici's first shipments arrived in New York in February 1979, according to the prosecutors' memo. A kilogram of heroin was distributed in New York partly through the efforts of Xhevedet Lika, known as Joey Lik, who made his base on New York City's polyglot Lower East Side.

There, according to the sentencing memorandum, Mr. Lika sold the drug to other dealers from a social club located in the midst of Judaica shops and Chinese clothing stores.

By 1980, according to federal court testimony and the sentencing report, Mr. Lika was importing heroin as well as distributing it, traveling to Turkey and Yugoslavia to arrange shipments. He also allegedly dealt in cocaine with Xhevedet Mustafa, who disappeared in 1982. Mr. Mustafa had been a supporter of the late, deposed Albanian monarch King Zog, who died in 1961.

This is one of the first articles addressing the appearance of Albanian organized crime on the radar scope in the US.

The role of the travel agency is interesting in providing the cover of a legitimate business, as well as the ability to arrange the smuggling trips.

The FBI provides background information on Albanian organized crime groups in an overview entitled Balkan Organized Crime, from which I have reproduced excerpts (I didn't clean up any typos ;) from the FBI website):

The term "Balkan Organized Crime" applies to organized crime groups originating from or operating in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania.


Balkan criminal organizations have been active in the U.S. since the mid-1980s. At first, these organizations were involved in low-level crimes, including bank robberies, ATM burglaries, and home invasions. Later, ethnic Albanians affiliated themselves with the established LCN [= La Cosa Nostra -- YD] families in New York, acting as low-level participants. As their communities and presence have become more established, they have expanded to lead and control their own organizations.

There is no single Balkan "Mafia," structured hierarchically like the traditional LCN. Rather, Balkan organized crime groups in this country translated their clan-like structure to the United States. They are not clearly defined or organized and are instead grouped around a central leader or leaders. Organized crime figures maintain ties back to the Balkan region and have established close-knit communities in many cities across the nation.

Albanian organized crime activities in the U.S. include gambling, money laundering, drug trafficking, human smuggling, extortion, violent witness intimidation, robbery, attempted murder, and murder. Balkan organized crime groups have recently expanded into more sophisticated crimes including real estate fraud.

"Albanian organized crime activities in the U.S. include gambling, money laundering, drug trafficking, human smuggling, extortion, violent witness intimidation, robbery, attempted murder, and murder. Balkan organized crime groups have recently expanded into more sophisticated crimes including real estate fraud."

Stand by for Part 2.

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