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Wealthy Russians plead guilty in NC case involving bribes and plotting a murder

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

A wealthy Russian national living in Raleigh and his wife pleaded guilty Friday in a federal case that initially involved money laundering, bribing a federal official and plotting a murder.

Leonid Teyf, his now ex-wife, Tatyana, and four others faced federal charges that included laundering nearly $40 million in Russian money, bribing a Homeland Security official, and plotting to track and kill a man who Leonid Teyf thought his wife was having an affair with.

Leonid Teyf pleaded guilty Friday to bribery of public official, visa fraud and making a false statement on a tax document. Under a plea agreement with the government, Teyf will likely face years in prison for those charges and up to three years of supervision after he is released. He will also be subject to a more than $99,000 penalty and deportation at the conclusion of his sentence.

Under the agreement, the murder-for-hire, firearm, money laundering, harboring illegal aliens and other charges were dismissed.

Tatyana Teyf pleaded guilty to making a false claim in an immigration proceeding. She also faces up to five years in prison, but federal officials indicated they won’t ask for her to serve prison time.

Under her plea agreement, Tatyana Teyf’s other charged were dismissed and she won’t face immediate deportation after her sentence.

The couple also agreed to forfeit more than $5.9 million.

They will be sentenced in about three months.

The Teyfs — along with Alexsy Timofeev, Olesya Timofeeva, Alexei Polyakov and John Patrick Cotter of Apex —also faced related federal charges.

All but the Teyfs have pleaded guilty to some or all of their charges under plea deals.

Stephen Edward Myers Jr., of Raleigh, faced Wake County charges of cyberstalking after Teyf hired him to track the son of the Teyfs’ former housekeeper, according to court documents. Teyf thought the son was having an affair with his wife.

In October 2019, Teyf also was indicted on charges of being part of a scheme to bribe Utah FedEx officials.

Court documents filed in late 2020 argue that evidence disclosed at a 2019 hearing shifts the weight of evidence in Teyf’s favor and that other testimony exposes weaknesses in the government’s money-laundering case, which relies on a paid informant’s statements.

Alleged affair

Leonid Teyf, the only defendant in the case who has continued to be incarcerated in pre-trial detention, wore a red and white striped jumpsuit with sandals and socks in the hearing held at the federal courthouse in New Bern. Teyf, who spoke through a translator, was handcuffed and shackled.

Tatyana Teyf wore her long brown hair in a side braid. She had on a black blazer and turtleneck, along with a long printed blue skirt.

In February 2018, Leonid Teyf told a confidential informant he was upset after learning police had been called on his ex-wife, who was banging on another man’s door, assistant U.S. attorney Barbara Kocher said in court.

That man was the son of the housekeeper, who came from Russia to live and work for the Teyfs in their $5 million New Market Way mansion in North Raleigh. At some point, the son, then an adult, moved out.

Teyf was very upset that Tatyana’s conduct signaled that the two had an affair and he began planning the murder of the son, Kocher said Friday.

Following, Teyf would swing from a plan to immediately kill the former housekeeper’s son in the United States to having him deported to Russia and taken care of there, Kocher said at previous hearing.

About nine months after Teyf’s conversation with the informant, federal officials raided the couple’s mansion that borders the North Ridge Country Club golf course.

FBI investigation

Leonid Teyf was already on federal officials’ radar as they learned about the murder-for-hire plot, court documents indicate.

In May of 2014, a local service company reported suspicious activity at a Raleigh address associated with Teyf.

Within months, a second source contacted FBI agents with concerns about Teyf and dangerous, criminal activity, according to court documents.

Teyf was born in Belarus, then a Slavic republic in the former Soviet Union, according to court documents.

Sometime between 2010 and 2012, records show, Teyf was deputy director of Voentorg, a Russian company that provided the Russian military with goods and services such as food, laundry and equipment, according to court records filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina U.S. District Court.

At Voentorg, Teyf and others developed a kickback scheme involving subcontractors that netted $150 million over a two-year period, U.S. investigators allege in 2018 federal court records.

Teyf and others have at least 70 financial accounts at four financial institutions. Teyf’s U.S. businesses included trucking companies in Illinois and Utah and urgent-care services, including the Doctors Express in Cary, according to court documents and testimony.

Teyf also had ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of 13 Russians indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, The News & Observer reported. His connection to Prigozhin has not been mentioned in this case.

The Teyfs came to the United States from Russia in 2010, court documents state. They have three children. Wake County court records indicate the couple separated in 2015 and divorced in 2017.

Bribery charges

After learning about his wife’s arrest, Leonid Teyf turned to two former law enforcement officers to help him find, deport or kill the man he thought she was having an affair with. One worked as a landscaper and the other, Myers, offered private investigation services, Kocher has said.

On Feb. 17, 2018, Teyf told the men he wanted the son deported, the prosecutor said. Three days later, Teyf told a confidential source he needed someone to kidnap the son, “take him into the woods and get him to admit that he had had sex with Tatyana, and then kill and bury” him, Kocher said.

On May 9, 2018, a confidential source introduced Cotter and Teyf to a Homeland Security agent, who was undercover, Kocher has said.

Two weeks later they paid the special agent $10,000, a down payment on a total $25,000 bribe, to find and deport the housekeeper’s son.

After the meeting, Kocher said, the confidential source asked Cotter “If, when (the man) lands there, could they…”

Cotter interjected, “oh,yeah, you know, yeah, we can do whatever we want.”

Teyf wanted the housekeeper’s son to be killed after the Christmas holiday, FBI special agent Dennis Kinney said at a Dec. 18, 2018 court hearing.

Meanwhile, Teyf had booked a Dec. 15 flight back to Russia with Tatyana and his three children, Kinney said.

Teyf planned to have his ex-wife arrested when they arrived in Russia, Kinney testified.

If anyone asked about the death of the housekeeper’s son, Leonid Teyf said, Tatyana should be named as the person responsible, Kinney said.

Guns and ammo found in condo

When investigating the Teyfs, investigators found guns and “hundreds of rounds of ammunition” at 510 Glenwood, a condo owned by Teyf, Kinney testified. They also found a safe that at one time contained thousands of dollars used to carry out the murder-for-hire scheme, federal officials said in court.

“Glenwood was literally a safe house, solely to keep a safe of guns and cash,” Kocher said.

But in court documents, Teyf’s attorneys argued he bought the condo after he and his wife separated but that the couple then decided to live in the same house so he could see the children. Teyf was going to give the condo to his kids, the documents state.

He kept the guns in the safe there because he had concerns about his wife drinking too much, Teyf’s attorneys argued in court documents.

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