Hublot watch and high tops for $1,500. Bosses of ‘Russian mafia’ on Brighton Beach to pay for lavish lifestyle and ties with relative of Shakro Molodoy 

Hublot watch and high tops for $1,500. Bosses of ‘Russian mafia’ on Brighton Beach to pay for lavish lifestyle and ties with relative of Shakro Molodoy
Lavish lifestyle and ties with thieves-in-law turned the court against ‘Russian mafiosi’ Photo: The CrimeRussia

In late August, jurors of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York have found two leaders of a ‘Russian’ organized criminal group guilty on 26 counts, which entails life in prison. The CrimeRussia found out why, in addition to racketeering, illegal gambling, arson, extortion, and narcotics trafficking charges, the recurrent themes of the trial were the lavish lifestyle of the defendants and their collaboration with crowned thieves from CIS countries, including Zviad Ozmanov (Zviad Tbilissky) currently serving in Russia a prison term for robbery.

Eight ‘Russian mafiosi’ – members of a transnational organized criminal group – have been detained in the course of a joint operation of the New York City Police Department, FBI, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) carried out on November 9, 2016. Immediately after the arrest, natives of the former Soviet republics dubbed “Vory v Zakone (Thieves-in-Law)” and “Gershman’s Brigade” by the media – Aleksey Tsvetkov, Rinat Yusufov, Igor Krugly, Vyacheslav Malkeyev, Leonid Gershman, Yusuf Pardilov, and Isok Aronov – and American citizen Librado Rivera have been charged with extortion, illegal gambling, and narcotics trafficking.

Viktor Zelinger, the ninth member of the gang considered one of its leaders by the prosecution, went on the run and has been put on the wanted list. In September 2017, an additional grievous charge – arson of a residential building accommodating a competing illegal gambling den – has been laid against the majority of the suspects, while their number increased: Erik Bobritsky (Mammaz boy) and Moldavian native Artiom Pocinoc arrested on May 10, 2017 have been charged with membership in an organized criminal group.

However, at the final stage of the trial held in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, only two persons – according to the investigation, leaders of the East-European ‘criminal syndicate’ – ended up in the dock: 35-year-old Leonid Gershman, also known as Lenny G., and Aleksey Tsvetkov, also known as Pelmin (Dumpling).

The American law enforcement authorities have yet again successfully used the time-tested scheme prompting defendants to collaborate with the investigation: the majority of the suspects made plea deals and testified against their former bosses in exchange for smaller prison terms.


Leonid Gershman (Lenny G.) and Aleksey Tsvetkov (Pelmin (Dumpling))

Aleksey Tsvetkov is a Ukrainian citizen; his parents brought him to New York 25 years ago when he was a teenager. Moldavian native Leonid Gershman grew-up in Israel and then became an American citizen. Both Pelmin and Lenny G. are fluent in English and had striven to prove their innocence in court without interpreters.

However, their English hasn’t impressed the court – the jurors ruled that the evidential base and testimonies are sufficient to lock up the defendants for life. Presiding Federal Judge Brian Cogan has scheduled the sentencing to January 25, 2019.


U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan serving on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

The defendants are currently waiting for the verdict in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn without the right to be released on bail. They have been charged with racketeering, illegal gambling, loansharking, violent extortion, arson, and marijuana dealership. According to the prosecution, the criminal organization led by Pelmin and Lenny G. had actively operated in areas of compact accommodation of the Russian-speaking community – on Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, and Coney Island in New York and in other American states. It had also chased up debts from played-out gamblers in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Israel. In addition, Gershman was found guilty of unlawfully dealing firearms and Tsvetkov – of car insurance fraud committed through his Aces Autobody Shop.


Palmyra Restaurant used to accommodate an underground gambling den controlled by the organized criminal group

Rinat Yusufov (Ronnie) made a plea deal and testified in court that Gershman used to deal 2 kg of marijuana on a daily basis. Yusufov, who was brought to the USA by his family from Azerbaijan at an age of 11, had been dealing cocaine for more than 12 years making some $15 thousand per week on this ‘business’. While testifying in court, he has in all modesty estimated his ‘cocaine revenues’ at “millions of dollars”. The drug dealer also said that he had frequently addressed Gershman to beat out debts and described an episode when Gershman has exposed a street runner, who had staged a robbery in the eyes of Yusufov, and made mincemeat of him.

Pelmin has exposed himself to violence charges out of vanity. A security camera record showing him jumping out of his Porsche and cruelly beating some debtor Vadim has been presented to the court. To demonstrate his ‘badassery’ to the bros, Pelmin has downloaded this record to his smartphone; after his arrest, it became an evidence against the mobster.

In the course of the three-week trial, defense attorneys Jonathan Savella and Matthew Myers had maintained an integral position insisting that although their clients aren’t angels, they definitely aren’t as notorious ‘mafiosi’ as the prosecution claims. According to the lawyers, Gershman was only caught in dealing marijuana, while Tsvetkov is an ordinary street thug – i.e. they aren’t ‘godfathers of Russian mafia’ and, accordingly, don’t fall under the RICO Act.


The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a paramount U.S. law targeting the organized crime and imposing severe criminal liability for investing monies obtained through racket. The Act was approved on October 15, 1970, it was developed to prosecute not individuals, but organizations – both legal entities (including private, public, and governmental ones) and groups of people linked by joint activities. The penalties stipulated in the RICO Act are considerably more severe than those imposed for specific crimes – this provides the U.S. Attorney's Office with a powerful tool motivating the defendants to collaborate with the investigation in exchange for prosecution under ‘milder’ articles. The RICO Act made it possible to terminate operations of several criminal clans in the USA including the 5 most powerful ‘families’ of New York.Gershman and Tsvetkov vehemently deny their involvement in the arson of a competing gambling den at 2220 Voorhies Avenue committed on May 2, 2016.

Their former accomplices Yusufov and Vyacheslav Malkeyev (Steve Bart) claim otherwise. According to them, Pelmin and Lenny G. had personally ordered to set it ablaze – although hadn’t directly participated in the arson. The arson charges are among the most grievous – as a result of the fire, 19-year-old immigrant Shakzod Bobokalonov received serious burns, while his 11-year-old brother sheltered by Shakzod and five firefighters resquing them received medium burns. The prosecution has paid special attention to these charges and presented to the court firefighters’ reports, testimonies, and a video from the scene.

The jurors were not convinced that Lenny G. hadn’t dealt firearms – even though he had at home only a collection of knives and machetes and no guns, except for two pistols tattooed on his chest. These charges are based on testimonies of his former friends collaborating with the investigation and surveillance materials that made Gershman ineligible for release on bail two years ago. The prosecution insisted that by using the word “toy” in a telephone conversation, Lenny G. had meant a gun and discussed a forthcoming arms deal – while the suspect claimed that he had meant a real sex toy from a sex shop occasionally used by him and his girlfriend. However, girlfriend Lorena was too shy to confirm his words – and her sweetheart had to stay in jail.


Lenny G. with girlfriend Lorena

The illegal gambling charges haven’t raised any doubts among the jurors – members of the criminal ‘syndicate’ Igor Krugly and Isok Aronov have earlier told the court everything about these operations. Both of them admitted their guilt. In December 2017, judge Cogan has sentenced Igor Krugly, manager of an underground poker club network, to 46 months behind bars and a fine of $25 thousand for extortionate collection of debts from played-out gamblers.

A month before the sentencing of Igor Krugly, the court has imposed a significantly milder punishment on Isok Aronov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, taking into account positive references from his neighbors, acquaintances, and probation service – 1 year and 1 day behind bars (prison terms up to 1 year must be served in full in the USA, while 1 extra day provides a possibility to reduce the term by 15% – The Crime Russia).


ЗArrest of Isok Aronov in November 2016

Aronov used to supervise illegal poker games with high stakes on Coney Island and employed threats and violence to collect gambled away money from players – but his admission of guilt and collaboration with the investigation had the effect.

But alleged ‘syndicate leaders’ Tsvetkov and Gershman may not count on leniency of the American justice.

Aside from extensive evidence in the episodes incriminate to them, two factors have determined the stance of the court on the two suspects: their lavish lifestyle up until the arrest and close ties between their criminal group and thieves-in-law operating in the post-Soviet space and coordinating their operations.


Lenny G. wears a Hermes belt worth $1.5 thousand

According to the investigation, the bros from Brighton Beach had closely collaborated with crowned thieves residing outside the USA in the period of 2011–2016 – i.e. up until the busting of their gang.

Prosecutors told the court that surveillance materials confirm the direct involvement of a thief-in-law in the syndicate operations. The indictment includes a debt extortion episode involving henchmen of crowned thief Zviad Ozmanov (Zviad Tbilissky).


34-year-old thief-in-law Zviad Ozmanov (Zviad Tbilissky) (several years ago, he changed his last name into Ozmanyan) was crowned in Moscow in 2013 – three weeks after the assassination of Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan) – by leaders of thieves’ clan of Kardava–Mzarelua. He is a relative of crowned thief Zakhary Kalashov (Shakro Molodoy). According to some information, by crowning Zviad Tbilissky, representatives of the clan led by Ded Khasan had tried to gain the support of Zakhary Kalashov, one of the most influential thieves-in-law in Russia, who had yet pretended to the ‘throne of thief № 1’ at that time. Zviad Ozmanov was arrested in Moscow in 2014 and detained for possession of drugs. Together with Vagif Suleymanov (Vagif Diplomat), he has battered Dzhemo Mikeladze in Butyrka prison – allegedly, as a reprisal for the murder of Ded Khasan. After the arrest, Zviad Ozmanov has been charged with robbery and other crimes and escorted to Nizhny Novgorod. In 2017, he has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Currently Ozmanov is serving his term.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, following an initiative from Igor Krugly, Lenny G. has contacted Ozmanov in relation to an immigrant owing $41 thousand to the ‘syndicate’, who had fled New York. Henchmen of detained Zviad Tbilissky have located in Moscow the father of the fugitive debtor, extracted from him (the methods used by them are not specified) the debtor’s address in Israel, and collected the money there via ‘authoritative’ intermediaries.


Arrest of Zviad Tbilissky in Moscow in 2014

Pelmin, who, according to some information, had a conflict with New York crowned thief Razhden Shulaya, fell a victim to his passion for vanity and criminal past. Tsvetkov paid dearly for five-pointed stars tattooed on his collarbones during the incarceration in Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex – after the arrest, the court refused to release him on bail of $1 million.


Russian-speaking attorney Andrey Spektor told the court that these thievish tattoos indicate that Pelmin is a thief-in-law, while the eagle tattooed on the side his body means that the suspect would abscond immediately after being released on bail

Defense attorney Joel Cohen claimed that Pelmin had tattooed the stars in Allenwood to gain authority among other inmates – but in vain. The lawyer also told the court that, contrary to the thieves’ ideology, Tsvetkov is married, has two children, runs a business, and once has reported a cheating client to the police – but the judge was adamant.

Pelmin was convicted in America for the first time in 2003 in the framework of a high-profile criminal case against another ‘Russian’ organized criminal group – The Brighton Beach Crew – led by Ukrainian native Zinovy Bari.


Zinovy Bari

The Brighton Beach Crew used to deal ecstasy and practiced loansharking and extortion – mostly, among immigrants from CIS countries. The gang had existed for three only years – at some point, the bandits led by Pelmin went on the rampage at Cyber Space Internet Cafe and inflicted grievous bodily harm to its owner. The incident was recorded by security cameras – and the eight thugs have been arrested and later convicted.


Arrests of Zinovy Bari and Aleksey Tsvetkov in New York in 2003

Pelmin was sentenced to 6.5 years behind bars with subsequent deportation – but managed to avoid it after the release. Under the pretext of his Jewish descent and religion, Tsvetkov had asked the judges to leave him in the USA – and the court took into consideration a report on anti-Semitic trends in Ukraine recently published by the U.S. Department of State.


Aleksey Tsvetkov vowed to the court not to breach the law anymore – but reneged on that promise. In January 2016, The New York Post wrote about an incident involving him – intoxicated Pelmin drove his Lexus through Brooklyn at high speed during an abnormal snowstorm prompting the New York authorities to prohibit the vehicular traffic in the city. Tsvetkov explained to the police that he has committed five traffic violations while rushing to his elderly parents having a power outage due to the weather conditions. Pelmin refused to pass the sobriety test. A sachet with marijuana was found on him.


Arrest of Aleksey Tsvetkov in January 2016

With regards to the lavish lifestyle of the primary suspects, plenty of photos showing that Pelmin and Lenny G. hadn’t denied nothing to themselves have been presented to the court.


In addition to deluxe cars (Porsche Panamera and BMW M5), they had expensive watches – Piaget, Rolex, and Hublot – and wore Hermes belts and clothes from elite boutiques.


Fancy motorcycle – a birthday gift to Pelmin from the bros

Lenny G. has even caused a media hype by wearing Kanye West Adidas Yeezy Boost 750 OG high tops – at that time, these shoes could be acquired only through lottery at a price starting from $1.5 thousand. Currently, the high tops are much more expensive. The jurors have ruled that such purchases are not consistent with Gershman’s claims that, prior to the arrest, he “was earning $60 per day by selling running shoes and sunglasses”.


Lenny G. wearing Kanye West Adidas Yeezy Boost 750 OG high tops

Now Aleksey Tsvetkov and Leonid Gershman have to pay not only for racketeering and other crimes – but for their passion for dolce vita as well. American taxpayers, including judges, don’t like people not paying taxes and living better than them on unearned revenues.




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