Six NYC Russian Mob Associates Charged in Arson of Rival Poker Club
The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York yesterday announced charges against six members of a New York City-based Russian mob in connection with the arson of a poker club run by rivals. Five of the six alleged organized-crime members have already been arrested, while a six remains at large.
A total of 33 felony charges were announced against the six defendants, with many of the arson-related counts added to a superseding indictment against several of the defendants on already-existing charges, including one who already pled guilty to a marijuana-distribution count. The new charges include assault in aid of racketeering, arson, extortion and unlawful firearms dealing.
The arrests came following a lengthy investigation into the intentional burning of a three-story residential building in the Brighton Beach / Coney Island area of New York City. The groud floor of the building was being used to host an illicit poker club, which was targeted by the largely Russian mobsters, who operated their own club about a mile away.
The arson epsiode occurred on May 2, 2016 and resulted in seven injuries related to the rescue of two people who were trapped by the fire on the building’s third floor.
The six defendants were desribed as being members of the Russia-centered Vory V Zakone, which translates as “thieves in law.” Vory V Zakone members have been charged in numerous New York City-based gambling busts in recent years. The crime organization has a strong presence in the Brighton Beach and Coney Island areas of New York City, and its tentacles spread from Russia throughout eastern Europe, Israel, and parts of the US.
According to an EDNY statement, “The charges stem from an incident which occurred in May of 2016 when Viktor Zelinger, Vyacheslav Malkeyev, Leonid Gershman and Aleksey Tsvetkov are alleged to have set fire to a building in Brooklyn around 1am on May 2nd last year. The motivation for the fire-raising attack was reportedly due to a high-stakes poker game that a rival syndicate were illegally running.” That rival poker club, run out of the Palmyra Restaurant, has since been shuttered by authorities.
The statement also described how the arson and subsequent rescue occurred: “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.”
Gershman, Tsvetkov and Malkeyev are generally described in the court documents as the crime syndicate’s “muscle” in these violent crimes. The three were also charged with the pistol-whipping and beating of another person suspected of stealing from a narcotics “stash” house operated by members of the crime organization.
Zelinger is the sole defendant who remains at large. Gershman, Tsvetkov, Malkeyev, Artiom Pocinoc , and Librado Rivera are all already in custody.
The defendants face stiff penalties if convicted. According to the SDNY’s presser, “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.”