|Other names||The Russian Tony Soprano|
|Occupation||Mobster, mob boss|
|Criminal status||Released in 2004|
|Spouse(s)||Natalia Shevchenko (mistress)|
|Parent(s)||Yakov Balagula (father), Zinaida Balagula (mother)|
Lucchese crime family
|Conviction(s)||10 years in federal prison|
|Criminal charge||Gasoline bootlegging|
Marat Balagula was born in 1943 in Orenburg, a Russian city, at the height of World War II. His mother, Zinaida, fled with the children from their home in Odessa after the German invasion of Russia. Marat's father, Jakov, was a lieutenant in the Red Army;
In 1977, Balagula decided to move his family to the United States under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. At first he worked as a textile cutter in Washington Heights, Manhattan for $3.50 per hour. His wife Alexandra later reminisced, "It was hard for us, with no language, no money."
In the aftermath of Evsei Agron's murder, Balagula took over as the most powerful Russian gangster in Brooklyn. According to a former Suffolk County, New York, prosecutor, however, there was another side to Balagula. "Everybody in Brighton Beach talked about Balagula in hushed tones. These were people who knew him from the Old Country. They were really, genuinely scared of this guy."
After the Colombo crime family began shaking down his gasoline business, Balagula asked for a sitdown with Lucchese crime family consigliere Christopher Furnari at Brooklyn's 19th Hole social club. According to Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, who was a Lucchese soldier present at the meeting, Furnari declared,
In the aftermath, New York's Five Families imposed a two cent per gallon "Family tax" on Balagula's bootlegging operation, which became their greatest moneymaker after drug trafficking. According to one former associate,
According to author Philip Carlo, "Because Gaspipe and Russian mobster Marat Balagula hit it off so well, Casso was soon partners with Balagula on a diamond mine located in Sierra Leone, Africa. They opened a business office in Freetown.
Balagula's rival, a fellow Russian immigrant named Vladimir Reznikov, drove up to Balagula's offices in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. Sitting in his car, Reznikov opened fire on the office building with an AK-47 assault rifle. One of Balagula's close associates was killed and several secretaries were wounded.
Then, on June 12, 1986, Reznikov entered the Odessa nightclub in Brighton Beach. Reznikov pushed a 9mm Beretta into Balagula's skull and demanded $600,000 as the price of not pulling the trigger. He also demanded a percentage of everything Balagula was involved in. Shortly after Reznikov left, Balagula suffered a massive heart attack. He insisted, however on being treated at his home in Brighton Beach, where he felt it would be harder for Reznikov to kill him. When Anthony Casso arrived, he listened to Balagula's story and seethed with fury. Casso later told his biographer Philip Carlo that, to his mind, Reznikov had just spat in the face of the entire Cosa Nostra. Casso responded, "Send word to Vladimir that you have his money, that he should come to the club tomorrow. We'll take care of the rest." Balagula responded, "You're sure? This is an animal. It was him that used a machine gun in the office." Casso responded, "Don't concern yourself. I promise we'll take care of him ... Okay?" Casso then requested a photograph of Reznikov and a description of his car.
The following day, Reznikov returned to the Rasputin nightclub to pick up his money. Upon realizing that Balagula wasn't there, Reznikov launched into a barrage of profanity and stormed back to the parking lot. There, Reznikov was shot dead by DeMeo crew veteran Joseph Testa. Testa then jumped into a car driven by Anthony Senter and left Brighton Beach. According to Casso, "After that, Marat didn't have any problems with other Russians."
In 1986, Balagula was masterminding a $750,000 credit card scam when a business associate, Robert Fasano, began wearing a wire on him for the U.S. Secret Service. After being convicted on Federal charges, Balagula fled to Antwerp with his longtime mistress Natalia Shevchenko. After three years as a fugitive, Balagula was arrested in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, on February 27, 1989. In December 1989, Balagula was extradited to the United States and sentenced to eight years in prison for credit card fraud.
In November 1992, Balagula was convicted at a separate trial for gasoline bootlegging and sentenced to an additional ten years in Federal prison. While passing sentence, Judge Leonard Wexler declared, "This was supposed to be a heaven for you. It turned out to be a hell for us."
Balagula served his sentence and was released from Federal prison in 2004.