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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Judge Gives 'Yaponchik' Nearly 10 Years for Extortion

NEW YORK -- The reputed head of Russian organized crime in the United States was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison Wednesday for extortion and a fraudulent marriage meant to prevent deportation.


U.S. District Judge Carol Amon sentenced Vyacheslav Ivankov, 56, after the slight, bearded defendant made a statement that lasted an hour and 40 minutes.


Ivankov cast himself as a one-time anti-communist who was imprisoned and tortured for dissident activities in the Soviet Union. Prosecutors said he was the leader of a criminal gang there, and transferred operations to the United States when he illegally arrived there in the early 1990s.


"My life is a social protest against the communist regime," he said.


Federal agents said Ivankov was feared in New York's Russian expatriate community and known as "Grandpa," a rough equivalent of the mafia kingpin "godfather'' role. He is also called Yaponchik, or "little Japanese," for his Asian appearance.


U.S. officials said Ivankov spent 10 years in a Soviet prison for running a ring of thieves and bribed a judge to get parole in 1991, then came as an illegal immigrant to the United States in 1993. Since then, the FBI said, he ran various criminal enterprises until arrested in June 1995.


Judge Amon gave Ivankov 9 3/4 years -- slightly less than the 10-year maximum under federal sentencing guidelines -- saying she took into account other criminal activities but none of the "foreign convictions" of Ivankov or his cronies.


He drew additional 60-month sentences -- to run concurrently -- for attempted extortion and for faking a marriage to a nightclub singer in "Little Odessa," the Russian immigrant enclave in Brighton Beach, allegedly to obtain a green card.