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Press Release

Members of Eastern European Organized Crime Syndicate Charged with Arson of Occupied Building in Brooklyn

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of New York
Defendants Allegedly Set Fire to Building, Trapping Two Residents Inside and Injuring Five Firefighters

A 33-count superseding indictment was unsealed today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging six defendants with new racketeering predicate acts including assault in aid of racketeering, arson, extortion and unlawful firearms dealing.  Five of the defendants are in custody and one—Viktor Zelinger—remains at large. Defendant Artiom Pocinoc was arrested yesterday and will be arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in federal court in Brooklyn. Defendant Vyacheslav Malkeyev, who previously pled guilty to marijuana distribution conspiracy as charged in the original indictment, was rearrested yesterday on new charges and will be also be arraigned before Judge Orenstein. 

The charges were announced by Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, James J. Hunt, Special Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), James D. Robnett, Special Agent-in-Charge, Criminal Investigation Division, Internal Revenue Service (IRS-CID), James P. O’Neill, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD) and George Beach, Superintendent, New York State Police (NYSP).  The arrests resulted from a long-term investigation by the DEA’s New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force.[1]  Ms. Rohde also thanked the New York City Fire Department for its investigation of the arson and its heroic efforts in rescuing the residents.

 As alleged in the superseding indictment and other court documents filed by the government, the defendants were members of an Eastern European organized crime syndicate that operated in the Brighton Beach and Coney Island neighborhoods of Brooklyn, as well as overseas.  Syndicate members in Brooklyn were linked to high-level members of organized crime, known as “thieves in law” or “Thieves,” based in various former states of the Soviet Union and Israel.  The Thieves helped the defendants extort money from individuals living abroad and authorized the use of physical force by the defendants in the United States.    

Defendants Zelinger, Malkeyev, Leonid Gershman and Aleksey Tsvetkov are charged with crimes related to the arson of a residential building at 2220 Voorhies Avenue in Brooklyn.  The defendants—who allegedly operated an illegal high-stakes poker game at 2663 Coney Island Avenue—conspired to burn down the Voorhies building because it housed a rival poker game on the ground floor.  The second and third floors of the building contained residences.

As alleged, shortly after 1:00 a.m. on May 2, 2016, members of the Syndicate broke into the building and set fire to it.  The building quickly went up in flames, leaving two  residents trapped in a third-floor apartment.  Their rescue by New York City Fire Department firefighters was recorded on amateur video.  The footage shows a firefighter climbing a ladder through dense smoke to pull the trapped teens out of a window and down the ladder to safety.  Both residents and five firefighters were injured in the fire, with one firefighter suffering burns to his face.  The building, and every apartment inside it, were destroyed.

Gershman, Tsvetkov and Malkeyev are charged with other crimes of violence, including the pistol-whipping and beating of an individual suspected of stealing from a narcotics “stash” house operated by members of the Syndicate.  Violence and threats of violence were also a key feature of the extortion-related crimes committed by Gershman, Tsvetkov and Pocinoc.   Court filings quote Gershman on a recorded telephone call describing Pocinoc to a victim as a “boxer with cauliflower ears” who would be collecting the victim’s payments.  Pocinoc is also charged with participating in the beating of a victim and with extorting two others.  Gershman is also charged with illegally selling one or more firearms to two buyers between 2008 and 2013. 

Three of the defendants—Zelinger, Gershman and Malkeyev—are naturalized U.S. citizens who immigrated to the United States from Eastern European countries.  Tsvetkov is a citizen of Ukraine, Pocinoc is a citizen of Moldova, and Rivera is a U.S. citizen by birth.

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted of all counts, Zelinger faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment and a maximum sentence of 40 years;  Gershman, Tsvetkov and Malkeyev face a mandatory minimum sentence of 27 years’ imprisonment and a maximum term of life; Librado Rivera faces a mandatory minimum of five years’ imprisonment and a maximum term of 40 years; and Pocinoc faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

Five other defendants charged previously in this case have entered pleas of guilty to racketeering and related crimes. 

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew J. Jacobs and Andrey Spektor are in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendants:

VIKTOR ZELINGER, also known as “Vitya” and “Vityok”

Age: 38

Residence: Brooklyn, New York


LEONID GERSHMAN, also known as “Lenny,” “Lenny G.,” “Lyonchik” and “Lyonya”

Age: 34

Residence: Brooklyn, New York


ALEKSEY TSVETKOV, also known as “Pelmin,” “Lesha” and “Lyosha”

Age: 39

Residence: Brooklyn, New York


VYACHESLAV MALKEYEV, also known as “Steve Bart”

Age: 33

Residence: Manhattan, New York



Age: 28

Residence: Brooklyn, New York


LIBRADO RIVERA, also known as “Macho” and “Max”

Age: 36

Residence: Brooklyn, New York


E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 16-CR-553 (BMC)


[1]  The DEA’s New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force is comprised of agents and officers of the DEA, NYPD, ICE-HSI, NYSP, IRS, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, New York National Guard, Clarkstown Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard, Port Washington Police Department and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.  The Strike Force is partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is a federally funded crime fighting initiative and part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program.


John Marzulli
Tyler Daniels
United States Attorney’s Office
(718) 254-6323

Updated September 6, 2017

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