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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jailed Mobster Ivankov Forces U.S. Journalist Into Hiding

NEW YORK -- First came an eerie, expletive-filled Valentine's card, from the "godfather" of the Russian mob in the United States, saying reporter Robert Friedman would pay for poking into their business while writing his upcoming book titled "The Red Mafiya."

Then the FBI called.

"They said, 'There's a contract on your life.' I gasped. I was really scared," the 48-year-old investigative reporter said. "The FBI said I should leave town; they couldn't guarantee my safety."

Friedman's life has changed completely. At first, he and his wife, Christine Dugas, a business reporter for USA Today, fled to a Vermont inn, but returned in a week. "I didn't like the fact I was pushed out of my house," he said. He got a bulletproof vest and kept silent.

The former Middle East correspondent suspects the contract was put out by a Russian in Hungary who deals in everything from weapons of mass destruction and prostitution to stolen art.

The Russian who signed the threatening card, Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, "continues to run a sophisticated crime empire from a [U.S.] federal prison," the reporter wrote in a Details magazine article about the 59-year-old convict. Dubbed Yaponchik, or "Little Japanese," because of his vaguely Asian appearance, Ivankov had spent a decade in a Siberian prison for crimes ranging from robbery to drug trafficking. In 1996 in New York City, he was convicted of trying to extort $3.5 million from the owners of Summit International, an investment firm for Russian emigr?s.

The Valentine's card, dated April 29, 1998, had a picture of two dancing cats with the words "It was easy finding a Valentine for someone like you." Inside was an expletive-laced threat in block letters. On the envelope were Ivankov's name and inmate number.

Friedman said his reporting on the Russians in Europe and North America hurt them in their business f "and that's when it gets dangerous."