Marchello. From ‘authority’ to collector – transformation chronicles 

Marchello. From ‘authority’ to collector – transformation chronicles
A part of the military collection may originate from the arsenal of once-famous Marchello’s gang Photo: The CrimeRussia

Some people collect butterflies, while others – postage stamps... An ordinary lawyer from Samara had collected armored infantry vehicles. This is how he has explained FSB operatives the presence of military machinery – although with dismantled weapons – on his land.

Law enforcement structures have discovered an arsenal sufficient to equip a small army in a hangar in Stroykeramika township belonging to local lawyer Sergei Marchenko. In total, he had kept 52 firearms, 37.5 thousand rounds, four armored infantry vehicles, UAZ truck with a strongbox for transportation of large amounts of weapons in its back, and high precision machines that could be used for weapons refitting. The firearms included rarities, for instance, Maxim machine gun produced in 1943 and officially registered as a “carbine” and MP 38 submachine gun.


The Maxim gun is the first mounted machine gun invented by American-British engineer Hiram Stevens Maxim in 1883. An originator of automatic weapons, it was broadly used in the Boer War of 1899–1902, World Wars I and II, and many small wars and military conflicts of the 20th century. An obsolete but very reliable, the Maxim gun is still used in conflict zones all over the world.

MP 38 submachine gun was invented by German small-arms designer Heinrich Vollmer in 1936–1938. Was used by the Wehrmacht during the World War II; some armies (e.g. Turkish, Iraqi, and Norwegian) had operated it until the 1980s.

The right of Russian citizens to collect weapons (so-called ‘militaria’) is stipulated in the Federal Law On Weapons enacted on July 1, 1997. Upon obtaining the relevant license, a military collector may acquire firearms, bladed weapons, and other arms discontinued by state military organizations and not prohibited in the Russian Federation, as well as ammunition. The antique market offers plenty of rarities. Therefore, the operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation were not surprised to discover an old Maxim machine gun worth in disabled condition 350 thousand rubles ($5.6 thousand) in the hangar of a Samara lawyer. Furthermore, Marchenko had official licenses for almost all weapons.

However, many units had traces of refitting for live rounds.

For instance, the Saiga carbine could shoot in the burst mode after the refitting. It can't be ruled out that the ‘combat modernization' of the collection has been performed in the same hangar featuring high precision machines specially designed for this. Therefore, Sergei Marchenko must had a specialist in this field or possess the required metalworking skills. The entire collection, except for the armored infantry vehicles (the Russian law does not prohibit to purchase those), has been seized and submitted for expert assessment. Based on its results, a decision whether to institute a criminal case or not is to be made by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) – lawyers are "special subjects" and only the ICR is authorized to launch criminal cases against them. The arsenal owner remains at liberty. The expert assessment is complicated by a number of circumstances – for instance, to check the operational efficiency of a MP 38 submachine gun, it is necessary to fire shots with it. However, live rounds to it are not available to the public. It would be equally difficult to find an ammunition belt for the Maxim machine gun.    



So, who is the owner of such a military collection? Sergei Marchenko is an acting lawyer of the Samara region; his office is located in Stroykeramika township. He started practicing law in 2015 (his lawyer’s license was issued at that time as well). Nothing special can be found in this person – at least, now. However, 20 years ago, a man with identical passport data was known to the entire region as criminal ‘authority’ Marchello, leader of an organized criminal group specializing in weapons trafficking, sales of stolen cars, and oil thefts through pipeline tie-ins. In the late 1990s, Marchello achieved notoriety after a terrible story involving abduction and gang rape of 13 girls, somehow managed to escape the liability, and disappeared for many years.




The discovered mini-arsenal

The story of Marchello’s gang is pretty trivial: in the early 1990s, almost all young men had joined either the police or bandits. In the Samara region, with its Togliatti AvtoVAZ plant so lucrative for the criminal world, the number of criminal groups was extremely high. The gang led by Marchenko had a base in Stroykeramika township, a suburb of Samara. The future criminal ‘authority’ was born there and had even worked at the local plant for some time in the late 1980s. The criminal mayhem has swept through Samara suburbs (Stroykeramika, Petra Dubrava, Kryazh, Smyshlyaevka, etc.) in that period. These areas were even dubbed “little Chicago” in the region. In fact, local “Chicagos” could be found in the majority of distant Russian districts. Taking the large numbers of people with criminal records and high unemployment level, the crime rate growth was pretty logical.



Stroykeramika township was the base of Marchellovskie gang

Young athlete Sergei Marchenko has capitalized on the situation. At the age of 23, he has created a group of single-minded athletes and started purging the territory from brazen criminals. By a lucky coincidence, the local police have unwillingly assisted him in seizing control over the district. In that period, Sergei Zheleznyak, Head of the Volzhsky District Department of Internal Affairs, has launched a war on bandits in the Samara area. The law enforcement authorities started imprisoning criminals specializing in thefts, robberies, and racketeering of shopkeepers and shuttle traders, thus, clearing the path for the sports–bandit group led by Marchenko. By the mid-1990s, the gang has taken control over Petra Dubrava and Stroykeramika. Its sphere of interests had also encompassed Kinel, Samara, and Alekseevka. It can't be ruled out that the political connections of Marchellovskie organized criminal group had contributed to its ascension to power. For instance, there is no evidence that Marchenko and Vasily Yavon, then-Head of the Volzhsky District Administration, were familiar, but it is known that the young bandit and his ‘brigade’ had participated in the election campaign of Yavon running for the Council of the Federation. According to witnesses, Marchenko had personally visited people and ‘recommended’ them to vote for Yavon. It is unknown whether the gang had received any bonuses for that. But by some coincidence, it has encountered serious problems after the resignation of Vasily Yavon, an official and Deputy, from the post of the district head in 1996 and his subsequent switch to business.


Vasily Yavon, Head of the Volzhsky District Administration

In the early 1990s, the ‘brigade’ under the leadership of Marchenko has entrenched itself in the criminal world. It had started from trivial racketeering of shish kebab vendors, shopkeepers, and larger businessman and collecting ‘levies’ for the right to operate on ‘their’ territory. A few years later, the criminal ‘taxes’ have been legalized – Marchenko established Taifun (Typhoon) Private Security Company and started collecting money on the basis of protection agreements. In addition, the existence of a private security company had allowed him to legitimately purchase weapons and special equipment (the gang had also traded those on the black market). It is unclear whether the ‘brigade’ led by Marchenko was autonomous or constituted a part of a larger group. It is known, however, that up until the mid-1990, the gang leader had maintained friendly relations with Samara bandits and thieves-in-law. He had alliances with a number of criminal structures controlled by ‘authorities’ Sergei Yashin (Dokhly (Dead)) and Konstantin Berkut (Marchello’s gang was even believed to be a part of organized criminal groups led by Berkut or Dokhly). In the late 1990s, Marchenko has established good ties with thief-in-law Anatoly Temnikov (Sapog (High Boot)); Marchello had paid dues to his thieves’ pooled cash fund and enjoyed his patronage until the end of his criminal career.


Konstantin Berkut


Thief-in-law Sapog with Serega-Boets (Serega the Fighter)

Since the mid-1990s, the racketeering business ceased to be as profitable as it used to be, and Marchellovskie gang started exploring new venues, including sales of foreign-made cars – mostly, stolen ones. This had often caused problems – main purchasers of Japanese and German cars at that time were bandits and politicians having ties with the criminal world. If a car was on the watch list, the buyers were bringing complaints against the people of Marchenko, including financial claims and penalties for the inconvenience. The list of ‘displeased customers’ included even members of Solntsevskie gang. To settle that situation, Marchello had to use his connections, including ties with law enforcement structures. The gang leader reportedly had patrons in the Regional Prosecutor’s Office. There was no direct evidence of this until the late 1990s – at that time, the ‘authority’ has got in some serious trouble through his own fault (see below).


In 1997, Marchenko has nearly become a witness or even suspect in a case against the gang led by Vitaly Kuznetsov, an officer of the Department for Car Thefts Prevention of the General Administration for the Samara Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation. Two years earlier, the police officer has created a gang specializing in robberies and murders. On December 11, 1996, spouses Kudashov and Olga Brazhnikova, shuttle traders from Petra Durbrava, became victims of that gang. On December 12, the three bodies were found in a VAZ 21099 car standing near the road fork to Alekseevka and Syreika townships. According to victims' relatives, the slain traders had some $18 thousands with them – and of course, the money was not found. The bandits ambushed the entrepreneurs on the road to Kuruchom airport – the shuttle traders had planned to fly to Turkey for merchandise. The investigation was aware that henchmen of Marchello could tip off Kuznetsov about the people with a large sum of money with them – especially taking that Marchenko and Kuznetsov were friends. Kuznetsov could purchase some of his weapons from Marchenko and even store those at his place. In the framework of the inquest into the operations of the gang under the leadership of Kuznetsov, operatives have searched the residence of Marchello. Furthermore, Marchenko and gang member Zheldak were arrested on suspicion of complicity in crimes committed by the organized criminal group of Kuznetsov. However, Sergei Marchenko somehow managed to get off the hook without any consequences.

His criminal operations related to AvtoVAZ in the late 1990s haven’t caused any adverse implications as well. Operatives struggling against criminal groups racketeering the Togliatti car plant have acquired enough evidence to institute criminal cases and prosecute a number of leaders and members of organized criminal groups operating in Samara.

Then it became known that the majority of gangsters controlled by Marchello were freelance servicemen of the MIA Administration for the City of Samara. However, these operative materials were never used – on January 13, 1999, a fire has broken out in the Search and Operative Department of the MIA Administration for the City of Togliatti, according to the official version, due to a short circuit. The 15-hour-long fire destroyed all the documents, including classified ones, pertaining to AvtoVAZ and criminal groups racketeering it. A month after that incident, the building of the MIA General Administration for the Samara Region was ravaged by fire; 57 persons were killed. All documents related to Operation Cyclone targeting gangs operating on AvtoVAZ were destroyed.    



That same year, Marchenko has decided, jointly with members of friendly criminal groups, to launch a legal business. In tandem with Anatoly Makotkin, Head of Yarmarka (Marketplace) Municipal Unitary Enterprise controlled by the gang led by Berkut, and Oleg Rodionov (Paramon), brigadier and financial ‘manager’ of Berkut, he had planned to establish a large Western-style wholesale market at the entrance to Samara, near Alekseevka and Smyshlyaevka. The market was supposed to feature strong infrastructure, including a camping, hotel, car service, gas station, and restaurant, and compete with existing Moskovsky Trade Center. Many people were wondering how could a small gang led by Marchenko, with a low – by the criminal standard – income, join this multimillion project? According to some information, Sergei Marchenko had expected to use this construction project to legalize the proceeds of oil thefts (he had controlled several pipeline tie-ins in Kinelsky district). In addition, some anonymous investors, including oligarchs of the Volzhsky district, had supported him. The partners have registered SelkhozBiznesInvest Joint Stock Company specifically for that project. The land allotment was performed via the Volzhsky District Administration. In January 1999, Marchenko and Makotkin started the acquisition of a land lot near Intensivny Korm (Intense Forage) company. But 3 months later, the top figures of the Berkut’s gang, including its leader, were gunned down in a Samara suburb. Makotkin was killed in August 1999. Then Paramon has disappeared without a trace. Concurrently with the loss of partners, Marchenko has got in some serious trouble rendering his earlier business plans irrelevant. 

In the mid-1990s, Marchello has leased a lot in Petra Dubrava on lands belonging to a fire station and built there a huge mansion equipped with numerous security cameras and surrounded by a high fence. The story that made the Samara ‘authority’ famous nationwide and ruined his criminal career has occurred in that very home. On the night of May 7 to 8, 1999, Marchenko and his seven guests have thrown an orgy with 13 girls caught (literally – grabbed and forcibly pushed into the car) on the streets of Petra Dubrava. The majority of these girls were minors. The details of that ‘wild party’ and its consequences were covered by many media outlets. Some raped girls dared to submit criminal complaints to the police – but the bandits claimed that everything was done on mutual consent; allegedly they knew that only prostitutes walk the streets at that time, and the girls themselves had wangled an invitation to the private party.

Then Marchenko started pulling strings in the enforcement structures and governmental authorities – as a result, the gang rape case was on hold for a long time, while detained participants of the orgy have been released as per instruction of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office (according to well-informed sources, Regional Prosecutor Aleksander Efremov and his deputy Aleksander Gazulin had never made a secret of their close ties with Marchenko and his associates). The gang leader was re-designated from a suspect to a witness, while relatives and friends of the victims started experiencing problems.

For instance, FSB operatives found a traditional ‘bandit’s kit’ – a handgun, two grenades, and heroin – in the car of public activist Valery Ovchinnikov advocating interests of the raped girls. He even had to spend some time in the pretrial detention facility. Ultimately, 4 criminal complaints, out of the 8, have been withdrawn – high patrons of Marchello were taking every effort to ruin the criminal case. However, Aleksander Belousov, Deputy of the State Duma, has interfered and requested the MIA General Administration for the Samara Region to investigate this crime thoroughly.


The police operatives have launched a full-blown investigation. The Inter-District MIA Department for Combating Homicides has joined it. They had acted so aggressively that Marchenko and his henchmen started filing complaints against them with the police. On August 28, 1999, operatives of the Inter-District MIA Department for Combating Homicides, accompanied by SWAT troopers, have searched the residence of Marchenko. Drugs were found on one of his henchmen, while a fake police ID in the name of Sergei Marchenko was discovered in his home. According to Marchenko, the officers have exceeded their powers by cruelly beating gang members found in the mansion and forcing them to incriminate themselves. It was rumored, however, that the operatives have forced a migrant worker employed as a gatekeeper to perform with the bandits the same actions they had performed with the girls. In fact, only participants of these events know for sure what has happened – but they prefer keeping silence. After the criminal complaint filed by Marchenko, two operatives of the Inter-District MIA Department for Combating Homicides, Foka and Kosolapov, were dismissed from the MIA and sentenced to conditional terms, while the gang rape case has been submitted to the court – three years after the crime and with sole defendant Vitaly Dolgan.

However, this story has ruined the criminal career of Marchenko. After the police raid at his mansion in Petra Dubrava, leaders of the criminal world have changed their attitude towards Marchello. For instance, thief-in-law Yuri Kitaev (Kitaets (Chinese)) said that after such an episode, Marchenko couldn't pretend to have any influence among his colleagues. In fact, this could be a revenge of Kitaets – in the mid-1990s, Sergei Marchenko had refused to recognize him a thief-in-law. Kitaets had other reasons to eliminate Marchenko from the criminal business as well – in the late 1990s, the gang of Kitaets started driving the ‘brigade’ led by Dokhly (an ally of Marchenko) from their territory. Concurrently, Kitaev tried to lay hands on lands controlled by the criminal group under the leadership of Marchello. After the gang-rape incident involving Marchenko, Kitaets started openly seizing his lands. However, thief-in-law Anatoly Temnikov (Sapog), a friend of Marchello, has interfered and explained Kitaets that the case against Marchenko was framed-up and that his ‘brigade’ is going to keep control over the business in Petra Dubrava because he had promptly paid dues to the thieves’ pooled cash fund.


Thief-in-law Yuri Kitaev (Kitaets)

After that conversation, Kitaev lost interest in the territory of Marchello. However, the organized criminal group under the leadership of Sergei Marchenko started disjoining. According to some information, it leader was put on a wanted list and either fled abroad or relocated to an adjacent region to control the remains of the criminal business remotely. Up until 2015, there was not a sound from Marchenko in the Samara region. But in 2015, a full namesake of the former criminal ‘authority’ has launched a law office on Narodnaya street in Stroykeramika township. Then the FSB Directorate for the Samara Region has uncovered a military collection, including armored infantry vehicles and firearms, in that settlement. Chances are high that a part of this collection originates from the arsenal of once-famous Marchello’s gang.



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