Viktor Zelinger, a dual citizen of the United States and Ukraine, who is also known as “Vitya” and “Vityok,” was extradited from Switzerland to the United States on the basis of a nine-count superseding indictment.
He is accused of being the head of an Eastern European organized crime group that operated in the Brooklyn neighbourhoods of Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, and Coney Island and was connected to high-level Russian mafia figures known as “Thieves in Law” or “Thieves.”
Zelinger is accused of racketeering, a conspiracy to commit racketeering, arson, illegal gambling, extortionate credit collection, and two charges of extortionate credit collection conspiracy. He is due to be charged in federal court in Brooklyn before United States Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo.
The extradition was announced by 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).
“As alleged, Zelinger was a ruthless leader of a violent criminal syndicate that wreaked havoc throughout Brooklyn with seeming impunity, including an arson in the middle of the night that endangered civilians and firefighters. Zelinger’s underlings were arrested by our law enforcement partners and prosecuted by this Office, and now he will learn the serious consequences for his crimes.”United States Attorney Peace
Mr. Peace commended the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) for its investigation into the alleged arson and its brave efforts in rescuing residents trapped in an apartment building as a result of that fire. He also thanked the Swiss government for its cooperation in Zelinger’s arrest and extradition.
“As a prominent leader in the ‘Thieves in Law,’ Zelinger held the decision-making power in New York further enabling organized crime around the world. This extradition demonstrates DEA’s global reach and perseverance, as well as our commitment to the rule of law. I applaud the DEA Strike Force and all of our law enforcement partners on their diligence throughout this investigation.”DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Tarentino
According to the indictment, Viktor Zelinger was the head of a highly organized criminal gang that engaged in a variety of actions often associated with organized crime, including extortion, arson, assault, drug trafficking, illicit gambling, loansharking, and wire fraud.
The group was also linked to and reported to high-ranking members of the Eastern European Mafia, commonly known as “Thieves in Law” or “Thieves,” or “вор в ако нe” (pronounced “vory v zakone”).
“Today points to just the beginning for Viktor Zelinger as he was returned to the United States to face justice for years of alleged criminal activity. Extortion, narcotics trafficking, assault, and arson—setting fire to an apartment building for vengeance—are just a sample of the charges against Zelinger, the alleged leader of an organized crime mob in Brooklyn. This extradition is true testament to the global reach of IRS Criminal Investigation and our incredible investigative partnerships in the DEA Strikeforce.”IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Fattorusso.
Members of Zelinger’s gang committed a variety of crimes, including arson and extortion, ran high stakes gaming venues, dealt in drugs, assaulted victims, and enabled loansharking from around 2011 until May 2017.
Zelinger ordered the fire of a Sheepshead Bay apartment building at 2220 Voorhies Avenue because it had a competing high-stakes poker game that competed with the defendant’s illicit gambling den at 2663 Coney Island Avenue on the ground floor. Zelinger gave the order to gang members to enter the Voorhies Avenue building early on May 2, 2016, set it on fire, and then flee. The apartments on the building’s second and third floors were occupied. In the conflagration two residents and 5 firefighters were injured, with one firefighter suffering extremely serious career-ending burns, and the building was destroyed.
If found guilty, Zelinger faces mandatory minimum sentences of seven years in prison and maximum sentences of forty years in prison for each count of arson, a maximum of twenty years in prison for each count of racketeering and extortion, and a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each count of gambling.
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