A Russian immigrant was convicted Thursday of hatching a gruesome identity theft scheme that resulted in the mysterious disappearance of a Ukraine-born translator living a quiet life in Brooklyn and the death of a second victim whose body parts turned up in a New Jersey wilderness area.
A jury deliberated seven hours over two days before finding Dmitriy Yakovlev guilty of conspiracy, bank fraud, using stolen credit cards and other charges. There was no specific murder charge, but prosecutors had alleged he killed both victims in a plot to pillage their bank accounts and credit lines.
Only hours after Irina Malezhik vanished in 2007, Yakovlev's wife was on the phone with credit card companies pretending to be the Russian-language translator "in an all-out effort to take Irina's money," prosecutor Amanda Hector said in closing arguments.
Yakovlev, when questioned by the FBI after his arrest in 2009, lied by suggesting Malezhik must have left the country without telling anyone, Hector said.
"He knew what happened to her _ he killed her," she said.
Malezhik's body was never found, and defense attorney Michael Gold sought to convince jurors that the government had no solid evidence to back claims that Yakovlev was a "cold-blooded, scary killer." He claimed the victim had been struggling with drinking and other personal problems at the time she went missing.
Prosecutors alleged Yakovlev also killed and dismembered Viktor Alekseyev, a neighbor in his seaside, gated community in Brooklyn. They say he stole the identity of third acquaintance, a retired New York Police Department employee who disappeared without a trace in 2003.
The 43-year-old Yakovlev admitted making ATM withdrawals and purchases with the missing victims' credit cards. But he claimed he had permission as repayment for loans.
Yakovlev insisted that Malezhik _ someone he met by chance at a law office in 2004 _ owed him $20,000, according to an FBI report. He added, "he did not find (her) disappearance concerning, and suggested that she returned to Russia," the report says.
Alekseyev's body parts turned up in plastic garbage bags in South Mountain Reservation in 2005 after he disappeared on the eve of a trip to Moscow. At trial, the jury heard testimony that Yakovlev had medical training, and that the body had been carved up with a surgeon's precision.
During closing arguments, prosecutors displayed a grisly photo of one of the bags that had been opened to reveal a severed leg. It remained on a large screen in the courtroom for at least 30 minutes.
The government also showed the jury frames from a security video showing the 47-year-old Malezhik leaving her modest apartment in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn for the last time on the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2007. A few minutes earlier, prosecutors allege, she had received a phone call from Yakovlev.
The following day, Yakovlev's wife, Julia Yakovlev, purchased two Franck Muller watches for $16,200 using the victim's Social Security card as identification, prosecutors say. The couple was later captured by a camera at a department store in Westbury, N.Y., using the victim's credit card.
The wife avoided trial by pleading guilty last month to identity theft and credit card fraud. She faces at least two years in prison at sentencing in May.
Yakovlev's sentencing was set for June 3, when he faces a possible life term.