|Carrying the casket at Eduard Nektalov's funeral in May. (Photo credit: Kirk Condyles)|
On a pleasant evening near the end of May, Eduard Nektalov closed his jewelry store in the heart of the diamond district and told an employee he was going to an appointment before heading home. Nektalov, who owned the store with his father, Roman, then started walking toward the Rockefeller Center Garage, two blocks away, where he kept his $300,000 black Bentley.
It was about a quarter after seven when Nektalov turned onto Sixth Avenue from 47th Street, and the block was crowded with the usual mix of early-evening strollers: diamond-district workers heading home; tourists; people on their way to dinner. Nektalov, who walked this block every day, didn’t really notice. He was talking on his cell phone.
As Nektalov neared 48th Street, a long-haired man in a baseball cap, a black shirt, and black jeans walked up behind him, pulled a .45 out of the waistband of his pants, and shot the jeweler once in the back of the head. Nektalov collapsed instantly. As he lay facedown on the sidewalk, the shooter stood over him and calmly pumped two more bullets into his back. Purposefully, without panic, the gunman tucked away the weapon, did an about-face, and began to walk south on Sixth.
Across the street, in front of 1211 Sixth Avenue, a retired cop who was working security for Fox News had just escorted an anchor to her car. When he heard the shots, he scanned the street, spotted the gunman, and began to follow him. Realizing he was being trailed, the shooter swung around and pointed his gun directly at the guard, who abandoned his pursuit. The gunman then continued south on Sixth Avenue, turning east on 46th Street and cutting through a park to 45th, where he took off his hat and black shirt. Now wearing a white T-shirt, he was last seen at 42nd and Fifth, where he disappeared into the city.
“Eduard was incredibly smart,” says Christopher Chang, one of his attorneys. “If I had to analogize his personality to anyone, it would be to Michael Corleone.”
Meanwhile, 46-year-old Eduard Nektalov, a husband and father of two, never got off the pavement. He died on the street where he was shot, in front of the Gap.
Who was Eduard Nektalov? It’s a surprisingly complicated question. To start with, Nektalov lived his life within two insular subcultures. He was a member of the notoriously arcane world of the 47th Street jewelry business, where, it is said, more than 90 percent of the diamonds sold in America are handled.
He was also a Bukharan Jew. He came to the U.S. almost 30 years ago from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. The Bukharans trace their history in Central Asia back almost 2,000 years. Most came here following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and almost all of them have settled in Rego Park and Forest Hills, where the Bukharan community, which consisted of fewer than twenty families during the seventies, now numbers nearly 60,000 people. A stretch of 108th Street has become so crowded with Central Asian restaurants and food stores that it is now referred to as Bukharan Broadway. It’s an inward-looking world with a deep suspicion of outsiders, and one where people are still more likely to speak Bukharan, a Farsi dialect flecked with Hebrew, or Russian than English.
Nektalov was a man of considerable importance in the Bukharan community, a member of one of its most prominent and successful families. But he had a darker side as well. Last year, he was arrested, along with his father and nine other 47th Street jewelers, for laundering drug money. Eduard and Roman were caught in a sting run by the El Dorado Task Force, a Treasury Department operation specializing in large-scale money laundering, composed of agents from various federal agencies, including Customs and the IRS, as well as members of the NYPD.
Called Operation Meltdown, the elaborate effort was centered on the cooperation of a Colombian who had pleaded guilty to laundering more than $8 million in drug profits. He used the money to buy gold, which was then smuggled out of the country. In some instances, the jewelers melted the gold down and reshaped it into everyday items like belt buckles that would be easy to smuggle back to Colombia.