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August 19th, 2010
Elena Garrett

A verdict was announced 2 days ago in the case of 15 members of a large group of Mari El dating scammers. The scammers, young males of ages 21 to 30, received probation sentences ranging from 6 to 3 years. The large scam group that employed the defendants operated in Mari El Republic between the years 2004 and 2007, and had to be disbanded by the Russian law enforcement twice before the group finally ceased to operate.

On August 17th, 2010, Judge T. Kasatkina of Municipal Court of Yoshkar-Ola, Mari El Republic handed down a verdict of guilty to all defendants in the case #1-487/2010 on charges of Fraud Committed by an Organized Group. 

Among the defendants were:
Refat Aitov, 1984
Igor Balakin, 1980
Ilyas Bulatov, 1984 (?)
Rafael Bulatov, 1982 (?)
Sergey Zaveryanov (?)
Artur Mikhailov (?)
Sergey Onikov (?)
Sergey Petrov (?)
Konstantin Rzhavin, 1984
Evgeniy Ryabinin, 1983
Sergey Sveshnikov, 1984
Vasiliy Sidorin, 1981
Rustam Faiskhanov, 1983
Sergey Shabalin, 1989
Aleksey El'terov, 1985

The prosecutor, Anna Gudova, alleged that the 15 defendants were a part of a much larger group of scammers. The entire group consisted of 100-plus members. The lower-ranking members of the group were divided into  approximately 10 “pods” or “cells.” The cells operated independently from each other and used rental apartments in Yoshkar-Ola (the capital of Mari El Republic) and it’s suburb, a town called Medvedevo, to conduct correspondence with a large number of foreign citizens. Those rental apartments were referred to by the scammers as the group’s “offices.” Each cell consisted of 7-10 “workers” under a supervision of an “office manager” (a senior scammer with long work experience).  

The prosecutor alleged that the defendants in the case were members of two different “cells” of the group. They were arrested and tried together because both cells worked from the same rental 2-bedroom apartment in Yoshkar-Ola. The larger cell was under the supervision of Sergey Zaveryanov (one of the defendants in the case), and consisted of 6 “workers”: Vasiliy Sidorin, Ilyas Bulatov, Rafael Bulatov, Rustam Faiskhanov, Aleksey El'terov, Sergey Onikov, Sergey Sveshnikov, and Artur Mikhailov. The second cell was under the supervision of Evgeniy Ryabinin (also a defendant in the case), and consisted of 5 “workers”: Refat Aitov, Igor Balakin, Sergey Petrov, Konstantin Rzhavin, and Sergey Shabalin.

According to the court testimony, the workers in both cells were in charge of setting up false profiles on various dating sites, locating prospective victims, engaging the victims in the correspondence using a series of pre-written blocks of text, and soliciting money from the victims. The scammers scoured Internet to locate images of nice-looking females to pose as single Russian ladies. The female names of that the scammers used in their correspondence were provided to them by their superiors. Among those names were: Tatyana Lavrentieva, Natalya Domracheva, Natalya Popova, Zoya Popova, Natalya Makarova, Tatyana Antipina, Ekaterina Schegoleva, Lyudmila Amokaeva, Nataliya Zvereva, Irina Kozlova, Ekaterina Chasovaya, Ekaterina Shingunova, Ludmila Mikheeva, Diana Osmanova, Elena Dubnik, Irina Kozakova, Nataliya Volkova, Nataliya Nagornaya, and others.


some of the pictures used in the scam

Nataliya Zvereva

Nataliya Nagornaya

The scammers testified that they did not personally know the ladies whose names they used during the correspondence. According to their testimony, they had to forward all information about incoming money transfers as text message to a person whose identity they did not know. Within a few days after each transfer, they would receive a payment of 10-15% of the transfer amount. They testified that they had no knowledge about the fate of the rest of the money, and that they were working entirely on the commission basis.

Almost all defendants freely admitted to conducting the above described correspondence with the victims of the scam, but claimed that they did not operate under any kind of conspiracy, were not fully aware of the fact that they were breaking any laws, and were not aware that they were a part of an “organized criminal group”. Some of the defendants during their testimony offered to return the commission that they received to the victims of the scam.

Based on the fact of the case, the prosecutor ask the judge to sentence the defendants to various terms in a labor camp. However, the judge spared the scammers the time in the labor camp and sentenced them to various probation terms. Sergey Zaveryanov and Evgeniy Ryabinin, the two men said to be in charge of the operation of their cells, were given 6 years of probation each. Sergey Shabalin and Artur Mikhailov were sentenced to 3 years of probation because their involvement with the group’s activities was relatively short. The rest of the cell’s members were sentenced to 5 years of probation each.

The scammers, who came to hear the verdict dressed down compared to their usual court outfits, as if they were preparing to be taken to jail right after the verdict’s announcement, visibly breathed a huge sigh of relief after the judge read the verdicts. Many of them, currently married and with toddler-age children, could not wait to get out of the courtroom to phone their families with better-then-expected news.

But the case against the group that employed them is far from over. 10 members if the group have been prosecuted earlier this summer. About 60 other members of the group, many of them are upper-lever managers and the key supporting staff, are still being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Security of Russian Federation (a law enforcement agency with the powers of responsibilities close to that of the American FBI).

In the meantime, Russian authorities are currently trying to locate victims of this scam cell in order to allow the victims to make legal claims against the convicted scammers' assets.



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