A ragtag crew of Eastern European criminals in Brooklyn recently managed to do something they havenxe2x80x99t in years xe2x80x94 grab the spotlight from more xe2x80x9csophisticatedxe2x80x9d gangs, thanks to a daring jail break from Rikers Island, law-enforcement experts say.
The xe2x80x9cminor-leaguers,xe2x80x9d known as the xe2x80x9cKavKaz Nation,xe2x80x9d have wreaked havoc in the criminal underworld in southern Brooklyn for nearly a decade by stealing from drug dealers, staging home-invasion robberies and working as cocaine and marijuana traffickers, authorities say.xc2xa0xc2xa0
But the hoods xe2x80x94 who consider their turf to be Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach xe2x80x94 typically fail to rise to the highest level of ex-Soviet organized crime, whose top leaders are referred to as xe2x80x9cThieves-in-Law,xe2x80x9d according to a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor specializing in Eastern European rackets.xc2xa0
xe2x80x9cKavKaz Nation gangsters are absolutely violent and dangerous.xc2xa0 But most of them are minor-leaguers compared to the more sophisticated Eastern European organized criminals linked to Thieves-in-Law,xe2x80x9d said Matt Jacobs, a former assistant US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Yet KavKaz crew members recently made headlines over a bold jail escape from the cityxe2x80x99s floating lockup at Rikers Island, officials say.
Brooklyn federal prosecutors allege that a top-ranking KavKaz member, Roman Nikoghosyan, provided help to a cohort after the escapee shimmied down a rope from his fifth-floor cell at the jail barge, known as the Vernon C. Bain Correction Center, on July 10.
Nikoghosyan had planned to sneak Rikers escapee David Mordukhaev to California, but the cross-country escape plan was eventually foiled, in part because the FBI had wiretapped Nikoghosyanxe2x80x99s phone, authorities say.xc2xa0
Both suspects were arrested by the feds soon after they were caught allegedly plotting how Mordukhaev could steal away to the Golden State.xc2xa0
But even the escape was a stunning coup for the crew, which draws its members from the Eastern European enclave in southern Brooklyn.
KavKaz gangsters have been known to associate with members of the Bloods, the notorious street gang with a strong set in nearby Coney island, federal prosecutors allege.
The crewxe2x80x99s name is derived from the Caucasus region of Eurasia, which includes countries such as Armenia, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Azerbaijan. Some members ink tattoos of the Caucasus Mountains on their bodies to show allegiance to the crew.
As they pulled off robberies and other capers in the past decade, KavKaz gangsters have landed on the radar of the true illicit Eastern European shot-callers in Brooklyn xe2x80x94 but often for the wrong reasons.xc2xa0
In 2012, Russian mobster Leonid Gershman xe2x80x94 a ruthless Sheepshead Bay gangster serving 16 years in federal prison xe2x80x94 suspected KavKaz members of robbing one of his Ocean Avenue marijuana stash houses.xc2xa0
After the robbery, Gershman and two of his cohorts lured KavKaz crew member Misha Azaryev, who they suspected of the break-in, to Ocean Parkway near Avenue Y, federal prosecutors charged.xc2xa0
While it was still light outside on the residential stretch of the thoroughfare, the gangsters confronted Azaryev about the robbery xe2x80x94 and one of them pulled a pistol. Azaryev ran off, but was tripped up by the gangsters and viciously beaten.xc2xa0
One of the hoods smashed Azaryevxe2x80x99s face in with the butt of his pistol, sending his teeth flying in the air xe2x80x94 all while terrified onlookers ate their dinner on a nearby front lawn, prosecutors wrote in court documents.xc2xa0
In the end, Gershmanxe2x80x99s crew let KavKaz members keep the cash they had swiped in the stash house robbery. There had been a mix-up.xc2xa0
xe2x80x9cWe later found out that Misha [Azaryev] wasnxe2x80x99t the person that did it. They just used his car. He just got beat up basically for nothing,xe2x80x9d one of Gershmanxe2x80x99s cohorts later testified.xc2xa0
At least one KavKaz leader has been an exception to the notion that the crew is less than sophisticated, rising to a high level in the organized-crime world of southern Brooklyn, Jacobs said.xc2xa0
Natik Nisimov, a KavKaz boss who owned a barbershop on Ditmas Avenue in Kensington, commanded enough respect among Eastern European gangsters that he could influence decisions by someone like Gershman, authorities say.
In 2013, a low-level cocaine courier for Gershman, who was of the same ethnic background as KavKaz crew members, told his boss he had been robbed of his product and cash while making deals, according to prosecutors.xc2xa0
Gershman suspected a set-up and met with the courier, Rufat Zarbailov, in the underground parking garage of his Ocean Parkway building. There, the gangster held a box cutter to Zarbailovxe2x80x99s face and threatened to give him a xe2x80x9c150,xe2x80x9d or a cut from mouth to ear that would require 150 stitches to close.xc2xa0
After the threat, Zarbailov ran to Nisimov, the KavKaz leader, who was able to convene a sit-down with Gershman to squash the beef. In the end, Gershman agreed not to maim Zarbailov or to extort money from him, but pair also agreed the low-level courier would be xe2x80x9cout of the game.xe2x80x9dxc2xa0
Despite his rising stature in the underworld, Nisimov met his end because of a seemingly non-consequential beef with another tough in southern Brooklyn.
In 2015, Nisimov was gunned down in the morning hours of March 24 on Ocean Parkway near Quentin Road in Midwood, according to the Brooklyn District Attorneyxe2x80x99s Office.
The gunman, a Brighton Beach resident named Jeffrey McCrae, suspected Nisimov had passed a knife to an attacker who stabbed one of his friends earlier that morning, according to prosecutors.
Evidence later cleared Nisimov of any involvement in the stabbing, authorities said. McCrae convicted of the killing in 2018 and sentenced to 19 years in prison.xc2xa0
In terms of last monthxe2x80x99s jailbreak, Mordukhaev pleaded guilty last week to a violation of federal supervised release over it and was slapped with a nearly two-year sentence in Brooklyn federal court, a rep for the US Attorneyxe2x80x99s Office said
Nikoghosyan has not been charged in the escape. But he was charged in a five-count indictment last week for allegedly extorting a marijuana dealer who worked for him and for attempting to move luxury cars he fraudulently obtained from California to New York.xc2xa0
The feds also charged him with being a felon in possession of a weapon after they found a Hi-point 995 rifle at a Brooklyn stash house he allegedly controlled.xc2xa0
Nikoghosyanxe2x80x99s lawyer, Don Savatta, said he plans to plead not guilty to the indictment.xc2xa0
xe2x80x9cWe expect that the evidence as it unfolds will be different from the allegations being made now,xe2x80x9d he said.