August 28, 2018
Contact: Erin Mulvey
Phone Number: (212) 337-2906
Members of Eastern European organized crime syndicate convicted of racketeering and other violent crimes
Defendants’ crimes included setting fire to a Sheepshead Bay Building where a rival gambling parlor operated on the ground floor, trapping residents on the floors above
BROOKLYN, NY – Earlier today, following more than three weeks of trial, a federal jury in Brooklyn returned guilty verdicts against Leonid “Lenny” Gershman and Aleksey Tsvetkov on charges of racketeering, including predicate acts of illegal gambling, loansharking, extortion, arson and marijuana distribution. The charges arose out of the defendants’ membership in an Eastern European organized crime syndicate that operated predominantly in the Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach and Coney Island neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Gershman was also convicted of conspiring to traffick firearms, and Tsvetkov of wire fraud for an insurance scheme at Aces Auto Bodyshop, which he co-owned. When sentenced by United States District Court Judge Brian M. Cogan, the defendants each face up to life in prison.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, James J. Hunt, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Division, and James D. Robnett, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, New York, announced the verdicts.
“Today’s verdicts hold Gershman and Tsvetkov responsible for years of using intimidation, violence and their association with Russian organized crime to inflict crimes on our local communities, including carrying out beatings in broad daylight and committing arson in the dead of night, endangering the lives of tenants and New York City firefighters,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “This office and our partners on the DEA Strike Force have dismantled the defendants’ criminal syndicate and will continue to work tirelessly to prevent organized crime elements from flourishing in the Eastern District of New York at the expense of our residents.” Mr. Donoghue expressed his grateful appreciation to the DEA’s New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, which is comprised of agents and officers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, New York, the New York City Police Department, and the New York State Police for their roles in the investigation. Mr. Donoghue also thanked the New York City Fire Department for its investigation of the arson and its heroic efforts in rescuing residents who were trapped in the building.
“This investigation and trial illuminated clues that solved international and domestic crimes committed by members of an Eastern European organized crime syndicate operating in Brooklyn, NY,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Hunt. “Gershman and Tsvetkov relied on their associates in Russian organized crime known as “Thieves in Law” for some of their criminal and violent acts. The Strike Force and the Eastern District of New York should be commended for their professionalism that resulted in today’s convictions.”
“Today’s conviction is a decisive blow against this transnational organized crime syndicate,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Robnett. “IRS-CI is committed, with our OCDETF partners, to disrupt the flow of ill-gotten gains that is the life-blood for these criminals and unravel their complex networks.”
As proven at trial, between 2011 and May 2017, Gershman and Tsvetkov, together with co-conspirators from states of the former Soviet Union, operated as a racketeering enterprise, committing a host of crimes to enrich themselves. Members of the criminal syndicate were linked to high-level members of Russian organized crime known as “thieves in law.” The “Thieves” authorized syndicate members to use violence to protect their criminal activities.
Beginning in 2016, the defendants partnered in an illegal high-stakes poker game on Coney Island Avenue. The Coney Island poker spot, where the bets wagered on a given night could exceed $800,000, generated substantial illicit profits for the defendants’ criminal syndicate. In the spring of 2016, the defendants and other syndicate members agreed to eliminate a competing poker spot by having two co-conspirators, both of whom testified at trial, set fire to a residential building on Voorhies Avenue where the rival game took place on the ground floor. Two residents of the building, including a young boy, were trapped in their apartment by the resulting fire and had to be rescued by firefighters. Both residents and firefighters suffered smoke inhalation, and one firefighter’s injuries required surgeries.
Additionally, the defendants’ criminal syndicate preyed upon numerous extortion victims in the Eastern District of New York and elsewhere. For example, as the evidence at trial proved, Gershman enlisted the help of “Thieves” in Russia who tracked down the father of an extortion victim in Moscow in order to determine where his son, who owed the syndicate more than $40,000, was living. After locating the victim, Gershman was recorded on a wiretap stating, the “Thieves have found him . . . in Israel,” and “they were at [his] place today.” As another example, Tsvetkov attacked a victim outside Aces Auto Bodyshop. The assault was captured on Aces’ surveillance video, and showed Tsvetkov punching the victim in the face, and continuing to attack him in the middle of the street as the victim lay on the ground. After the videotaped beating, which Tsvetkov saved to his cell phone, he boasted to a co-conspirator about putting the victim “to sleep.” Gershman and Tsvetkov were convicted of pistol-whipping an individual they suspected to have stolen marijuana from their stash house, shattering his teeth with the firearm.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew J. Jacobs, Andrey Spektor and Sarah Evans are in charge of the prosecution. The investigation was conducted by the New York Strike Force, a crime-fighting unit comprising federal, state and local law enforcement agencies supported by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The Strike Force is housed at the DEA’s New York Division and includes agents and officers of the DEA, the New York City Police Department, the New York State Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, the U. S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives , U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, New York National Guard, the Clarkstown Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard, Port Washington Police Department and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
LEONID GERSHMAN (also known as “Lenny”)
Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 16-CR-553 (S-4) (BMC)