Judge Imposes Eight Consecutive Life Sentences Plus 260 Years In Prison For 2017 Murder Of Eight Victims And Attempted Murder Of 18 Others In NYC ISIS Truck Attack
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Andrew C. Adams, the Director of Task Force KleptoCapture, Ivan J. Arvelo, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), and Jeffrey B. Veltri, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today that ROBERT WISE, a New York attorney, pled guilty to participating in a scheme to make approximately $3.8 million in U.S. dollar payments to maintain six real properties in the United States that were owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a sanctioned oligarch. WISE pled guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said “With today’s guilty plea, Robert Wise has admitted that he misused his position of trust as a lawyer, laundering money to promote sanctions violations by Viktor Vekselberg’s longtime associate, Vladimir Voronchenko. This Office is proud to continue its work to enforce the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.”
Director of Task Force KleptoCapture Andrew C. Adams said: “From its inception, the Task Force has targeted those enablers of money laundering and sanctions evasion who aim to hide crime behind a veneer of professionalism. Admission to the bar carries with it a public trust that attorneys will act with honesty and integrity – a trust that Robert Wise chose to betray in exchange for an easy, illicit paycheck. The Task Force will continue to pursue those who have made the same poor decision.”
HSI Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo said: “The ill-gotten proceeds of Russia’s oligarchs do not move and hide themselves. Instead, the funds derived from Russia’s crony capitalism are secreted around the world in luxury assets by a professional class of enablers who specialize in secretive methods to shield the true owners and beneficiaries of the assets from detection, investigation, and enforcement. Today, working with our partners at the Department of Justice, HSI continues to fulfill our promise to hold all individuals accountable for their actions, especially those that betray their ethical codes.”
According to the allegations in the Information filed in Manhattan federal court today and other public filings:
On April 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) designated Vekselberg as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”) in connection with its finding that the actions of the Government of the Russian Federation in Ukraine constituted an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. On or about March 11, 2022, OFAC redesignated Vekselberg as an SDN and blocked Vekselberg’s yacht and private airplane.
Prior to his designation by OFAC, between approximately 2008 and 2017, Vekselberg, through a series of shell companies, acquired six real properties in the United States, specifically, (i) two apartments on Park Avenue in New York, New York, (ii) an estate in Southampton, New York, (iii) two apartments on Fisher Island, Florida, and (iv) a penthouse apartment also on Fisher Island, Florida (collectively, “the Properties”). As of the date of this Information, the Properties were worth approximately $75 million.
Voronchenko, Vekselberg’s longtime associate, retained WISE, an attorney who practiced in New York, New York, to assist in the acquisition of the Properties. WISE also managed the finances of the Properties, including by paying common charges, property taxes, insurance premiums, and other fees associated with the Properties in U.S. dollar transactions from WISE’s interest on lawyer’s trust account (“IOLTA account”).
In particular, prior to Vekselberg’s designation as an SDN, between approximately February 2009 and March 2018, shell companies owned by Vekselberg sent approximately 90 wire transfers totaling approximately $18.5 million to the IOLTA account. At the direction of Voronchenko and his family member who lived in Russia, WISE used these funds to make various U.S. dollar payments to maintain and service the Properties.
Immediately after Vekselberg’s designation as an SDN, the source of the funds used to maintain and service the Properties changed. The IOLTA Account began to receive wires from a bank account in the Bahamas held in the name of a shell company controlled by Voronchenko, Smile Holding Ltd., and from a Russian bank account held in the name of a Russian national who was related to Voronchenko. Between approximately June 2018 and March 2022, approximately 25 wire transfers totaling approximately $3.8 million were sent to WISE’s IOLTA account. Although the source of the payments changed, the management of the payments remained the same as before: WISE used these funds to make various U.S. dollar payments to maintain and service the Properties, and he did so knowing that he was promoting sanctions violations. Additionally, after Vekselberg was sanctioned in 2018, Voronchenko, WISE, and others tried to sell both the Park Avenue apartment and the Southampton estate. No licenses from OFAC were applied for or issued for these payments or attempted transfers.
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WISE, of Pelham, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiring to commit international money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. WISE also agreed to entry of a forfeiture order in the amount of $3,771,727.67, to be satisfied by a payment of $210,441.
The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.
An Indictment charging co-conspirator Vladimir Voronchenko, a/k/a “Vladimir Vorontchenko,” who is a fugitive, was unsealed on February 7, 2023. A civil forfeiture complaint was filed against the Properties on February 24, 2023.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of HSI and FBI. Mr. Williams further thanked the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs and OFAC for their assistance and cooperation in this investigation.
On March 2, 2022, the Attorney General announced the launch of Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures that the United States has imposed, along with allies and partners, in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine. The Task Force will leverage all the Department’s tools and authorities against efforts to evade or undermine the economic actions taken by the U.S. government in response to Russian military aggression.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Greenwood, Joshua A. Naftalis, and Sheb Swett are in charge of the prosecution.