Nine Members Of Eastern European Organized Crime Syndicate Charged With Racketeering, Extortion, Loansharking, Illegal Gambling, And Drug Trafficking
Defendants Allegedly Extorted Money from Victims in the United States and Abroad
Earlier today, an indictment was unsealed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging nine defendants with crimes including racketeering, extortion, loansharking, illegal gambling, and drug trafficking. Eight of the defendants are under arrest, and one remains at large.
The defendants’ initial appearances and arraignments are scheduled this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York.
The charges were announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; James J. Hunt, Special Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); James P. O’Neil, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD); Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); George Beach, Superintendent, New York State Police (NYSP); and Shantelle P. Kitchen, Special Agent-in-Charge, Criminal Investigation Division, Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The arrests resulted from a long-term investigation by the DEA’s New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force.
As alleged in the indictment and other court documents filed by the government, the defendants were members of an Eastern European organized crime syndicate that operated extensively in the Brighton Beach and Coney Island neighborhoods of Brooklyn as well as overseas. Syndicate members in Brooklyn reported directly to members of organized crime — known as “thieves in law” or “Thieves”— based in various former states of the Soviet Union. The Thieves would, in turn, help the defendants extort money from individuals living abroad and authorize the use of physical force by the defendants in the United States.
All but two of the defendants are naturalized U.S. citizens who immigrated to the United States from Eastern European countries. Librado Rivera is a U.S. citizen by birth, and Aleksey Tsvetkov is a Ukrainian citizen. The defendants presently reside in New York City, predominantly in Coney Island and Brighton Beach.
Since as early as March 2016, the defendants allegedly generated profits through their criminal acts. To collect outstanding debts, worth in the aggregate millions of dollars, they regularly used threats of violence. The syndicate’s reach was international and included extorting payments in the United States and threatening victims and their family members living abroad. For example, wiretap recordings reveal that the defendants tracked down the father of an extortion victim in Russia in order to determine where his son was living. After locating the victim — whom defendants claimed owed syndicate members nearly $200,000 — defendant Gershman announced, the “Thieves have found him . . . in Israel,” and “they were at [his] place today.” Another extortion victim who struggled to repay his debt was ominously reminded that, “the person who is going to work with you [to repay the debt] … is a boxer with cauliflower ears.” The interest rate being charged this particular victim was 100% per year.
The government’s investigation revealed that the syndicate members ran high-stakes illegal poker games in various locations in Brooklyn, where a single game could involve wagers totaling as much as $150,000.
Another of the syndicate’s profitable schemes was the trafficking of a substantial quantity of marijuana, at least 100 kilograms as charged in the indictment.
Despite the fact that many of the defendants do not have legitimate employment, the government’s investigation revealed thousands of dollars flowing into their bank accounts, and the defendants were observed driving high-end luxury automobiles.
In addition to court authorized wiretaps, the government’s investigation included surveillance, confidential sources, and the controlled purchase of narcotics.
“The United States remains the land of opportunity,” stated United States Attorney Capers. “But that does not include an opportunity for international organized criminal groups to profit by victimizing individuals residing here or abroad. In keeping with my Office’s long-standing practice, we will aggressively investigate such organizations, whether they are domestic or, as in this case, have tentacles reaching to Eastern European Thieves, and we will ensure that their activities are detected and stopped at the earliest possible juncture.”
DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Hunt stated, “This drug investigation’s path uncovered an alleged Russian organized crime syndicate operating in Brighton Beach and Coney Island, NY. As history often repeats itself, racketeering, loansharking, extortion, and illegal gambling are just some of crimes the defendants are charged with committing here in Brooklyn, similar to crimes committed by the Thieves in Law in the former Soviet states. Today’s arrests exemplify the effectiveness of the DEA’s Strike Force which comprises federal, state, and local law enforcement from 15 agencies.”
“The NYPD worked diligently with its law enforcement partners to take down this alleged criminal enterprise, whose Brooklyn operation had significant ties overseas,” said Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill. “These defendants operated with impunity, threatening loansharking victims with physical violence, trafficking large quantities of narcotics and hosting high stakes poker games. I want to commend the investigators working this case for their dedication in taking down these persistent criminals.”
“The alleged members of this criminal organization operate out of Brighton Beach and Coney Island, among other neighborhoods right here in New York,” said Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI, New York. “HSI will stay committed to these joint enforcement efforts to ensure that these criminal groups do not continue to abuse our communities with their drug trafficking, loansharking or illegal gambling.”
NYSP Superintendent Beach II stated “We simply will not tolerate this type of criminal activity in New York State. I want to thank our federal and local partners for their hard work and collaboration on this case, which has resulted in nine dangerous criminals being taken off our streets.”
IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent-in-Charge Kitchen stated, “IRS Criminal Investigation is a dedicated partner on DEA’s New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force and as such, remains fully committed to its mission. This investigation provides another example of how agencies with different investigative missions can pool their respective skills toward reaching a common objective. Today, as a result of the Strike Force partnership, an ongoing criminal enterprise has been derailed.”
The charges contained in the indictments are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted of all counts, defendants Leonid Gershman, Vyacheslav Malkeyev, and Librado Rivera face mandatory minimum sentences of five years and maximum sentences of 40 years, while defendants Aleksey Tsvetkov, Renat Yusufov, Igor Krugly, and Isok Aronov face maximum sentences of 20 years.
The government’s case is being prosecuted 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.
LEOIND GERSHMAN, also known as “Lenny,” “Lenny G.,” “Lyonchik” and “Lyonya”
ALEKSEY TSVETKOV, also known as “Pelmin,” “Lesha” and “Lyosha”
RENAT YUSUFOV, also known as “Ronnie” and “Ronik”
VYACHESLAV MALKEYEV, also known as “Steve Bart”
YUSIF PARDILOV, also known as “Yosik”
LIBRADO RIVERA, also known as “Macho” and “Max”
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 16-CR-553 (BMC)
 The Strike Force comprises agents and officers of the DEA, the NYPD, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HSI, the NYSP, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal Service, the New York National Guard, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance, the Clarkstown Police Department, the 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.