Viktor Zelinger, also known as “Vitya” and “Vityok”, the alleged leader of an Eastern European organized crime syndicate that operated in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Coney Island neighborhoods and was linked to high-level Russian mob members known as ‘Thieves in Law’ or ‘Thieves’, was extradited today from Switzerland to the United States on the basis of an act of charge replacing nine counts. Zelinger is charged with racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, arson, arson conspiracy, illegal gambling, illegal gambling conspiracy, credit extortion and two counts of credit extortion conspiracy. Zelinger, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen with dual Ukrainian citizenship, is due in court tomorrow in Brooklyn federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Frank A. Tarentino III, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Division (DEA), and Thomas Fattorusso, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service- Criminal Investigation, New York (IRS-CI), announced the extradition.
“As alleged, Zelinger was a ruthless leader of a violent criminal syndicate that wreaked havoc throughout Brooklyn with apparent impunity, including a middle of the night arson attack that endangered civilians and firefighters. Zelinger’s underlings have been arrested by our law enforcement partners and prosecuted by this office, and now he will learn the serious consequences of his crimes,” the United States Peace Attorney said.
Mr. Peace thanked the Swiss government for its assistance in the arrest and extradition of Zelinger, the Office of International Affairs (OIA) of the Department of Justice and the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). ) for his investigation of the arson and the heroic efforts to save the residents. trapped in a building following this fire.
“When Viktor Zelinger entered American soil, all of the alleged crimes he is accused of became a reality after years on the run. As a prominent leader of the “thieves in law”, Zelinger held decision-making power in New York, further promoting organized crime around the world. This extradition demonstrates the DEA’s global reach and persistence, as well as our commitment to the rule of law. I commend the DEA Strike Force and all of our law enforcement partners for their diligence throughout this investigation,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Tarentino.
“Today is just the beginning for Viktor Zelinger as he has been returned to the United States to face justice for years of alleged criminal activity. Extortion, narcotics trafficking, assault and arson – burning down an apartment building for revenge – are just a sample of the charges against Zelinger, the alleged leader of an organized crime gang in Brooklyn . This extradition is a true testament to the global reach of the IRS Criminal Investigation and our incredible investigative partnerships within the DEA Strikeforce,” said IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Fattorusso.
As alleged in a superseding indictment, the accused was the leader of a sophisticated criminal organization that engaged in a wide range of activities traditionally associated with organized crime, including extortion, arson, assault, drug trafficking, illegal gambling, loan sharking and wire fraud. The organization has also reported and associated with high-ranking members of the Eastern European Mafia, known as “воры в зако́ не” (pronounced “vory v zakone”), which literally translates to “Thieves in law” or “Thieves”.
From approximately 2011 to May 2017, members of Zelinger’s syndicate committed numerous crimes, including arson and extortion, operated high-stakes gambling establishments, trafficked narcotics, assaulted victims, and facilitated loan sharking. . Zelinger ordered the arson of an apartment building at 2220 Voorhies Avenue in Sheepshead Bay because it housed a rival high-stakes poker game on the ground floor that competed with the illegal gambling venue of the accused at 2663 Coney Island Avenue. Specifically, Zelinger ordered union members to break into the building on Voorhies Avenue in the early morning hours of May 2, 2016 and set it on fire. The second and third floors of the building contained occupied apartments. As a result of the fire, two building residents and five firefighters were injured, one firefighter suffered career-ending burns, and the building was destroyed.
The defendant’s Coney Island Avenue gambling site offered poker players free food and alcohol and “massage girls”, who massaged players’ backs and shoulders during games. Poker players used narcotics including cocaine and marijuana supplied by union members and associates during games. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were wagered, with some players sometimes winning or losing tens of thousands of dollars in a single night.
The OIA worked with Swiss law enforcement partners to secure Zelinger’s arrest and extradition, the latter of which was carried out by the United States Marshals Service. Zelinger was apprehended in Switzerland on an extradition request based on charges pending in the Eastern District of New York. The Federal Department of Justice and Police of the Swiss Confederation approved the extradition on August 31, 2022.
If convicted, Zelinger faces a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment and a maximum of 40 years’ imprisonment for each count of arson; a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for each count of racketeering and extortion; and a maximum of five years imprisonment for each of the gambling counts.
Ten other defendants previously charged in the government case were convicted at trial or pleaded guilty to racketeering and related crimes.
The lawsuit is part of an Organized Crime Task Force (OECDTF) Strike Force initiative, which provides for the creation of permanent multi-agency teams that work side-by-side in one location. . This co-located model allows agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the largest drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations.
The government’s case is handled by the Bureau’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section. Assistant United States Attorney Victor Zapana is in charge of the prosecution.
VIKTOR ZELINGER (also known as “Vitya” and “Vityok”)
Age: 43 years old
St. Gallen, Switzerland
EDNY File No. 16-CR-553 (S-4) (BMC)