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PAIR GET DEATH PENALTY IN RUSSIAN ABDUCTIONS.

Byline: Staff and Wire Services

A federal jury on Tuesday ordered that two men be put to death for abducting and killing five Russian emigres, including four from the San Fernando Valley, before dumping them into a cold mountain reservoir.

The jury deliberated less than two hours before deciding that Iouri Mikhel and Jurijus Kadamovas, both of the former Soviet Union, should die. It marked the first death sentence to be issued from a federal court in Los Angeles in more than 50 years.

Last month, the jury convicted both men of three counts of hostage-taking resulting in death and three counts of conspiracy. The entire trial, including sentencing, lasted seven months and a day.

"They got what they deserved," said Ruven Umansky, whose son Alexander, of Sherman Oaks, was among those killed. "It's a relief."

As the death verdicts were read, the families of the victims clasped their hands and cried.

Mikhel, 41, of Encino shook his head and smirked at the jury. Kadamovas, 40, of Sherman Oaks showed no reaction as an interpreter translated the verdict for him.

Prosecutors said both men were ringleaders of a group that sought to amass a fortune by kidnapping affluent Russian immigrants from Los Angeles in late 2001 and early 2002 and extorting money from their families and friends.

They collected more than $1.2 million in ransom after promising family members their loved ones would go free.

The bodies were tied with weights and thrown from a bridge 187 feet into the frigid New Melones Reservoir near Yosemite National Park.

'Unmitigated greed'

Prosecutors said the two men showed "unmitigated greed and almost boundless viciousness" in a quest to get the trappings of wealth, including expensive homes and luxury cars.

"The swiftness of the verdict and the outcome speak volumes of the degree these defendants deserved this verdict," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale, who prosecuted the case. "You try to imagine how someone could strap a weight to those bodies and toss them off that bridge, and it shows the viciousness of these men."

Rules in the federal justice system require U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian to follow the jury's verdict when he officially imposes the two men's sentences March 12, Dugdale said.

Dale Rubin, an attorney for Mikhel, disagreed, saying he will file motions asking that the judge reject the verdict. He called the jury's decision "a revenge verdict."

"It unfortunately took the judge almost as long to read the verdict as jurors took to reach the verdict," he said. "They lost sight of what their job was."

Nancy Shapiro, whose husband, Sherman Oaks developer Meyer Muscatel, was the first to be killed, said she felt "just like we finally got some justice."

Her husband was abducted in October 2001 and his body was found floating in the reservoir. He was not identified until months later.

During the two-week penalty phase of the trial, the jury heard from the victims' relatives.

"I prayed that he would come home," Muscatel's daughter, Rachel Hoisman, told the jurors tearfully. "And the way he came home was in a box."

The bodies of the other four victims -- three men and one woman killed by early 2002 -- were pulled from the bottom of the deep body of water by law enforcement divers.

Those killed were Muscatel, 58, a philanthropist; Russian banking mogul George Safiev, 37, of Beverly Hills; Safiev's accountant, Rita Pekler, 39, of Encino; Safiev's business partner, Nick Kharabadze, 29, of Woodland Hills; and Umansky, 35, owner of a Sherman Oaks car-stereo store.

If not for their arrests in February 2002, the group would have continued its plot and planned to scout out other victims in Florida, New York and Colorado, authorities alleged.

Deadly goals

Prosecutors said Kadamovas told one of the henchmen that he hoped they would collect as much as $50 million and discard enough bodies until they "were stacked on top of each other" in the reservoir.

DNA belonging to two victims was collected from handcuffs found at Mikhel's home, authorities said. A pair of shoes was later matched to a bloody footprint found at the crime scene, and a recorder used to tape one of the victim's voices turned up at Kadamovas' house.

During the trial, defense attorneys had argued that the accomplices who cut deals with prosecutors for lesser prison sentences were the group's leaders.

Lawyers for Mikhel, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, and Kadamovas, a Lithuanian, argued unsuccessfully that their clients should have received life in prison rather than death. They said the two were affected by having grown up under a communist government, contending that they learned they had to be criminals to survive.

In addition to the conspiracy and hostage-taking charges, they were convicted of money-laundering conspiracy and conspiring to escape from the Metropolitan Detention Center while awaiting trial.

Three accomplices pleaded guilty in the case, including Kadamovas' girlfriend, Natalya Solovyeva; and Ainar Altmanis, a Latvian who helped lead authorities to the site where the bodies were dumped.

Another defendant, Petro Krylov, is set to be tried next month. If convicted, he could also receive a death sentence.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 14, 2007
Words:862
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