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Brooklyn trio charged with stealing $30M from foreign banks with high-tech camera tricks

Feds allege money stolen in scheme like a movie plot

April 21, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Three Brooklyn residents were charged Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court with conspiracy to violate the Travel Act in connection with their roles in a scheme to steal over $30 million in cash and other valuables from safe deposit boxes located at banks abroad.

The suspects, Val Cooper, Alex Levin and Garri Smith, were charged with money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy, and were arraigned before U.S.  Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy.

Between March 2015 and October 2019, the defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly stole over $30 million in cash and other valuables from safe deposit boxes at banks in several foreign countries, including the Ukraine, Russia, North Macedonia, Moldova, Latvia, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.  According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District, the co-conspirators targeted foreign banks that appeared to lack security features, including video surveillance cameras in certain areas.  

After a bank was selected, they rented safe deposit boxes at the location by posing as customers.  The co-conspirators then entered the safe deposit box rooms of the targeted banks and used sophisticated camera equipment, including borescopes that are typically used in medical procedures, to photograph the insides of locks of safe deposit boxes belonging to other individuals, according to the charges.  

Then, one of the co-conspirators used these photographs to create duplicate keys, and the other co-conspirators used the duplicate keys to open the victims’ safe deposit boxes to steal the contents, including currency, gold bars, jewelry and other property, federal prosecutors said. 

Cooper, also known as Val Konon and Valeriy Kononenko, the leader of the network, allegedly directed others, received stolen property and used his bank accounts in the United States to launder proceeds from the scheme, according to the charges.  Levin allegedly used his bank accounts in the U.S. to purchase camera equipment used in some of the thefts and to launder the proceeds.  

Smith, also known as Igor Berk or Igor Berkovich, committed some of the safe deposit box thefts himself, flying from the United States to foreign countries to steal property from safe deposit boxes at the targeted banks, according to the charges.

On Tuesday, agents executed a search warrant at Cooper’s residence.  There, they discovered safe deposit box keys with no numbering on them, cash, jewelry and high-end handbags, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Agents also reportedly searched a storage unit in Brooklyn controlled by Cooper and found a borescope and a safe deposit box lock.

“The crimes we allege in this indictment read like something straight out of Hollywood fiction,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney.  “The thieves used sophisticated tools to thwart security systems at foreign banks and tried to cover their tracks by laundering money through U.S. banks.  However, thanks to the outstanding work of our FBI Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force and our international partners, these criminals now face real federal charges and the possibility of real time in federal prison.”

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation.  

The government’s case is being handled by the Eastern District Prosecutor’s Office Organized Crime and Gangs Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Keith D. Edelman, Andrey Spektor and Joy Lurinsky are in charge of the prosecution, assisted by Assistant United States Attorney Brian D. Morris of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit. 

Defense attorneys are Tony Mirvis, for Cooper; Albert Dayan, for Levin; and Jeremy Iandolo, for Smith.

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