Men with Russia Organized Crime Ties Face Charges in Rival Poker Club Fire



Six men with alleged connections to the Russian mafia were charged with a series of crimes related to the intentional burning of a New York residential building that housed a poker club run by a rival. The 33-count superseding indictment was unsealed last week in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY).

A press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the EDNY explains the mafia ties:

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.

Four of the defendants – Viktor Zelinger, Vyacheslav Malkeyev, Leonid Gershman, and Aleksey Tsvetkov – are the ones directly charged with crimes having to do with the arson of the rival’s building in Brooklyn. The poker game was housed on the ground floor, while the second and third floors contained residences.

The crime, as briefly described by the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

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.

The defendants were all charged with a number of other crimes unrelated to the arson, primarily having to with extortion and violence.

One of the defendants, Librado Rivera, was born in the United States, while the rest were born outside of the country. Zelinger, Malkeyev, and Gershman are from eastern Europe and became naturalized U.S. citizens. Tsvetkov is a citizen of Ukraine and Artiom Pocinoc is a citizen of Moldova.

Should the men be found guilty, they could spend a ton of time behind bars. Potential punishments:

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.

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