Mikhel (1965-) and
Jurijus Kadamovas (1966-) are two Russian immigrants to the United States
currently on Federal
death row for 5 kidnapping for ransom related murders. The
kidnappings occurred over a four-month period beginning in late 2001,
in which the
ransom. Documents related to the case allege the crew demanded a
total of more than $5.5 million from relatives and associates, and
received more than $1 million from victim's relatives.
Prosecutors said the victims were killed regardless
of whether the ransoms were paid. The bodies were tied with weights,
and dumped in a reservoir near Yosemite
National Park. Federal
prosecutors sought the death penalty under murder during a hostage-taking,
(18 U.S.C. 1203), a federal crime.
On March 12, 2007 Kadamovas and Mikhel were
sentenced to death.
Two Soviet Emigrants Sentenced to Death in
California for Yosemite Killings
A court in California has sentenced two Soviet
emigrants to death for kidnapping and brutally murdering five people,
the RIA-Novosti news agency reported on Tuesday.
District Judge Dickran Tevrizian formally sentenced
Jurijus Kadamovas, 40, from Lithuania and Iouri Mikhel, 41, from St.
Petersburg, Monday. A jury found the two guilty in February for the
ransom killings of four men and a woman in 2001-2002 and for
subsequent money laundering.
Prosecutors say the two men led a group that sought
to amass a fortune by kidnapping affluent business people, some of
whom were Russian immigrants, and extorting money from their families
and friends. The local Orange County Register newspaper said the
convicts strangled their victims after receiving a $1.2 million ransom
from their relatives.
Prosecutors say the victims were killed regardless
of whether the ransoms were paid. The bodies were tied to weights and
dumped in a reservoir near Yosemite National Park.
Defense attorneys said they would appeal the ruling.
The newspaper quoted the defense as saying during
the trial that their clients had grown up under a Communist regime,
and became criminals in order to survive.
In addition to Mikhel and Kadamovas, another
defendant in the case, Ukrainian-born Piotr Krylov, may also face a
capital punishment if found guilty. Two other suspects, including
Kadamovas's girlfriend, are cooperating with investigators.
Sentences given in
By Thomas Watkins, Associated Press Writer
February 21, 2008
LOS ANGELES — The discovery was chilling: five bodies dumped in a
scenic reservoir in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Four of the corpses, held down
with gym weights, were so deeply submerged that police divers had to
use a robotic vehicle to recover them. The other body had floated to
the surface earlier when its weights slipped off.
Ainar Altmanis, the man who led
investigators to the submerged bodies, was sentenced Wednesday to 23
years and 4 months in federal prison.
His sentencing marks the end of
a six-year probe into the killings of four wealthy Russian immigrants
and a U.S. businessman in late 2001 and early 2002. All were kidnapped
for ransom and killed, investigators said.
Altmanis is the sixth person
sentenced in the case; two received the death penalty.
The 48-year-old Latvian citizen
pleaded guilty to three counts of hostage-taking resulting in death
and one conspiracy charge.
"I got totally confused in this
life," he said in Russian through a court translator while looking at
family members of the victims. "The life of the person I have become,
I do not want it. Please forgive me."
Altmanis, who illegally
immigrated to the U.S. in 1991, wept and apologized repeatedly at the
"This man should suffer more
than my son," said Ruven Umansky, the father of victim Alexander
Umansky. "He should stay in prison the rest of his life."
In addition to Umansky, the
victims were real estate developer Meyer Muscatel; Russian banking
mogul George Safiev; Safiev's accountant Rita Pekler; and Safiev's
business partner Nick Kharabadze.
All were killed even though
their families and friends gave the kidnappers a total of $1.2 million.
Prosecutors said the kidnappers used much of the money to buy new
vehicles and mink coats for their girlfriends.
Earlier in the day, Natalya
Solovyeva was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for her role in
Authorities said she lured one
victim to a Los Angeles bar, where he was abducted and then forced to
contact another man who was also kidnapped. The men were taken to New
Melones Lake, about 60 miles west of Yosemite, where they were killed
and their bodies dumped in the reservoir, prosecutors said.
Solovyeva, 32, was the
girlfriend of Jurijus Kadamovas, 40, one of the men sentenced to death.
Iouri Mikhel, 42, also is on death row.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan
DeWitt said Kadamovas and Mikhel also were responsible for at least
two other killings, one in Turkey and one in Cyprus. The men would
have carried out other kidnappings had they not been caught, she said.
They were planning a trip to Aspen, Colo., and to a boat show in
Florida to find more victims, she said.
Prosecutors sought only 11
years for Solovyeva, pointing out that she had cooperated in two
previous trials. Her attorneys portrayed her as a victim in the thrall
U.S. District Judge S. James
Otero, however, noted that Solovyeva had been promised a new BMW if
she aided in the kidnappings, and that two victims would "probably be
alive today" had she not taken part.
Solovyeva had pleaded guilty to
two counts of hostage-taking resulting in death and one conspiracy
"I would like to say over and
over again how sorry I am for what I did. I am sorry for all the
victims," she said in English before being sentenced. "I know I made a
terrible choice I will regret for all my life."
Rare Federal Death Penalty Trial Begins for Two
Accused of Yosemite Kidnappings, Murders
September 05, 2006
LOS ANGELES — The
kidnappers' demands were simple: Pay the ransom and the hostages would
But prosecutors said the crew of
Russian immigrants killed their hostages — even after collecting more
than $1 million from some of the victims' relatives.
More than four years after the
five bodies were found in a reservoir north of Yosemite National Park,
the federal trial of two men accused of orchestrating the crimes
started Tuesday with jury selection.
It's a rare case in which federal
prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
"Regardless of whether the ransom
money defendants demanded was paid or not, each of the defendants'
victims met the same fate," prosecutors said in court documents. "Defendants
brutally murdered each one of them."
Iouri Mikhel, 41, and Jurijus
Kadamovas, 39, have pleaded not guilty to charges that include
conspiracy and hostage-taking resulting in death. A third defendant,
Petro Krylov, 33, also denied the allegations and is scheduled for
trial in January.
Three other co-conspirators have
pleaded guilty to similar charges. One is the Kadamovas' girlfriend,
who likely will testify during his trial.
Authorities suspect the ring had
links to Russian organized crime, but it appears prosecutors won't
raise that issue during trial because no related charges have been
Prosecutors and defense attorneys
declined to comment about the case, but the indictment lays out
prosecutors' version of how the kidnappings occurred over a frenzied
four-month period beginning in late 2001.
The documents allege the crew
demanded a total of more than $5.5 million from relatives and
associates of the victims, and eventually collected about $1.2 million
used to buy expensive cars and make mortgage payments on luxury homes.
Mikhel used $2,500 to put a down
payment on two Doberman pinschers to guard his house, prosecutors said.
At trial, prosecutors intend to
present tape recordings of ransom calls, the DNA of two victims
collected from handcuffs, and a pair of shoes that were matched to a
bloody footprint found on a bridge near the New Melones Reservoir.
The scheme began when Mikhel and
Kadamovas targeted George Safiev, 37, a wealthy Russian banking mogul
who had recently moved to Los Angeles to start Matador Media, a film
production company, prosecutors said in court documents.
After several failed abduction
attempts, the kidnappers turned their attention to real estate
developer Meyer Muscatel, according to the prosecutors.
Mikhel is accused of posing as an
investor and luring Muscatel into what was billed as a business
meeting in October 2001. Kidnappers killed him after they were unable
to get money from his bank accounts, the prosecutors said.
His body was weighted down and
dumped over a bridge along the reservoir. It was discovered a few days
later with hands bound and a plastic bag over the head.
Prosecutors wrote that Safiev's
accountant, Rita Peckler, was abducted and killed two months later
when she was unable to lead the crew to Safiev.
The next victim was Alexander
Umansky, who owned a car accessory business that once employed Krylov.
Umansky was killed after his family paid more than $230,000 for his
release, prosecutors allege, adding the crew sought even more money
after his death and promised he would be returned alive.
Prosecutors wrote that Safiev was
finally snared in early 2002 after his business partner, Nick
Kharabadze, was abducted and forced to arrange a meeting with Safiev.
Another business associate transferred $960,000 to a bank account that
authorities said was controlled by the kidnappers.
Still, Safiev and Kharabadze were
killed and dumped into the reservoir after being told they would be
left alive at a motel, prosecutors said.
Authorities learned the location
of the bodies after arresting a coconspirator who later pleaded guilty
to charges related to the case.
Trial to start soon
in brutal series of kidnap-slayings
Bodies of five Eastern
Europeans found in reservoir near Yosemite
By Matt Krasnowski - SignonSanDiego.com
August 19, 2006
LOS ANGELES – A group of
immigrants here from the former Soviet Union had an ambitious and
deadly plan to raise $100 million.
It called for kidnapping rich Eastern Europeans who
had relocated to Southern California and asking their families and
associates for ransom. But prosecutors allege the kidnappers – with
purported links to Russian organized crime – didn't honor their end of
the ransom bargain.
Even though they received
payments, the kidnappers allegedly suffocated five victims, weighted
their bodies and dumped them in the New Melones Reservoir on the
Stanislaus River in Northern California. They allegedly viewed the
abductees as witnesses and killed them. Even after the victims were
killed, the kidnappers allegedly continued to demand money from their
families and business associates.
Court papers said one of the kidnappers boasted
that the group would continue its money-making plan until the bodies
they dropped in the reservoir near Yosemite National Park were
“stacked on top of each other.”
More than four years after authorities made arrests
in the case, jury selection in the first trial stemming from the
scheme is under way in Los Angeles federal court. Testimony will
likely start in September.
Iouri Mikhel, 41, and Jurijus Kadamovas, 39, face
the death penalty if convicted. A third defendant, Petro Krylov, 33,
also faces the death penalty and his trial is set for January.
The men have pleaded not guilty. One of Mikhel's
defense lawyers, Dale Rubin, said he didn't want to discuss the
evidence of the case outside of court. “We'll be fighting tooth and
nail at trial,” he said.
The trials are expected to give an insider's view
of the defendants' alleged plans, with three of their cohorts –
including Kadamovas' girlfriend – agreeing to testify against them.
Because there are no racketeering charges against
the defendants, lawyers said it's unlikely that the trials will focus
much on the structure of their organization or provide insight into
how the purported Russian Mafia operates in California.
Nevertheless, in court papers asking that the
jurors' identities be kept secret, prosecutors state the defendants
“committed the horrendous crimes at issue within the structure of a
violent Russian criminal organization.” The papers note Kadamovas told
a victim in a recorded conversation that the kidnapping had been
ordered by his “bosses.”
The charges also portray the kidnappers as having
international connections. They ordered victims to transfer money to
accounts in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. An alleged Siberian
cohort, accused of laundering some of the ransom money, is considered
a fugitive by the FBI.
Prosecutors also alleged Mikhel and Kadamovas were
involved in the abductions and killings of Russian businessmen in
Cypress and Turkey, but the judge has barred prosecutors from
mentioning the allegations to jurors.
According to court papers, a former law enforcement
official with knowledge of how Russian organized crime groups operate
said it appears the defendants were part of a large, well-funded
“These are not freelancers, I guarantee you that,”
said the former official, who requested anonymity for safety concerns.
“There is too much money involved, too much cost involved in traveling
around the world.”
Russian organized crime groups popped up on law
enforcement's radar in the early 1990s, shortly after the fall of the
Soviet Union. Russian immigrants settled largely in the Brighton Beach
section of Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as in Hollywood and sections of the
San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.
“The first generation of criminals is more
comfortable perpetrating crimes within its own ethnic group,” the
former official said. “What you see is Russians harming Russians,
which is exactly what happened here. This particular crime was a very,
very brutal one. One of the most brutal I've ever seen.”
The victims include Beverly Hills businessman
George Safiev, 37, of Beverly Hills, who owned a film production
company, his associate, Nick Kharabadze, 29, of Woodland Hills, and
Rita Pekler, 39, of Encino, who was an accountant for Safiev's Matador
Media. Also found in the reservoir in March 2002 was the body of
Alexander Umansky, 35, of Sherman Oaks, who ran a car stereo and
electronics store where Krylov once worked.
Also killed was Meyer Muscatel, 54, a wealthy San
Fernando Valley home builder whose body was found in the reservoir in
Muscatel, Umansky and Safiev were the main targets
of the kidnappers, according to the charges. Muscatel and Umansky were
invited to meetings to discuss business deals and were then beaten and
Umansky was abducted and killed even though his
family wired $235,000 in ransom money to the kidnappers, including a
payment of $145,000 sent after he was dead, according to the
Both Pekler and Kharabadze were abducted to lure
In December 2001, Pekler was abducted, with her
kidnappers demanding she arrange a meeting with Safiev. That effort
failed and Pekler was killed, documents state.
A month later, Kadamovas' girlfriend, Natalya
Solovyeva, lured Kharabadze – an aspiring film producer whose mother
was a noted Russian actress – to meet with her. The defendants then
allegedly used Kharabadze to ensnare Safiev. The kidnappers forced
Safiev to transfer $969,000 into a Miami account.
After Safiev and Kharabadze were killed, the
defendants allegedly continued to try to get a business associate of
Safiev's to pay additional ransom, sending a letter that sought about
For each victim, the ending was the same: death and
a long drive to the New Melones Reservoir, 40 miles east of Stockton
in the lower Sierra Nevada foothills.
In February 2002, the killing stopped after FBI
agents – who were investigating the abductions – took members of the
scheme into custody. In Mikhel's home, authorities found a safe
containing four sets of handcuffs – two of those sets had the DNA of
Safiev and Kharabadze on them – two boxes of a prescription sedative
and a syringe, court papers state. Pekler and Muscatel had the drug in
their systems at the time of their deaths, prosecutors allege.
Stun guns, a Taser gun, a silencer and multiple
handguns and rifles were also found.