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2 More Charged in Alleged Kidnap-Slaying Conspiracy

Crime: The man and woman are accused in the deaths of five locals whose bodies were pulled from a Northern California lake.

June 14, 2002|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Encino woman and a Hollywood man have been charged with participating in an international kidnap-for-ransom scheme that led to the deaths of five Los Angeles-area people whose bodies were pulled from a Northern California lake, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Natalya Solovyeva, 26, is accused of conspiring with several men to lure two of the victims to the kidnappers.

Aleksejus Markovskis, 32, allegedly helped guard the victims at a Sherman Oaks house and clean up the crime scene, according to a grand jury indictment.

Solovyeva and Markovskis are scheduled to enter pleas on Monday.

In March, the bodies of West Hollywood bookkeeper Rita Pekler, 39, Beverly Hills businessman George Safiev, 37, aspiring Woodland Hills film producer Nick Kharabadze, 29, and North Hollywood businessman Alexander Umansky, 35, were pulled from New Melones Reservoir.

The body of Sherman Oaks real estate developer Meyer Muscatel, 58, was found in the lake in October.

Three other defendants--Iouri Mikhel, 37, Jurijus Kadamovas, 35, and Petro Krylov, 29--were indicted in February and have pleaded not guilty.

They are also accused of conspiracy and hostage-taking resulting in death.

All five defendants face a possible death penalty.

Last week their alleged conspirator, Ainar Altmanis, 42, pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy and to the kidnappings.

Because of his cooperation with investigators, the U.S. attorney's office has agreed not to seek the death penalty against Altmanis.

According to prosecutors Carole Peterson and Kim Meyer, the four defendants charged in February--all of whom have roots in the former Soviet Union--killed the victims even after some relatives and business associates had paid the ransom.

The ransom demands continued after the bodies had been thrown into the frigid lake, the prosecutors said.

Muscatel was beaten, had a plastic bag placed over his head, and when he continued to convulse, Mikhel placed a larger bag over the victim's head and held his nose, the prosecutors said.

Safiev's business associates, Pekler and Kharabadze, were kidnapped and killed in attempts to lure Safiev into a trap, according to court documents.

Like Muscatel and Safiev, Umansky was targeted after kidnappers became aware of his high income, the documents state. Kidnappers demanded that Umansky's family wire ransom to the United Arab Emirates, and after the money was sent, they killed him and demanded more ransom, prosecutors said.

The total ransom sought for all the victims exceeded $5 million, according to documents.

Defendants Andrei Agueev, 34, and Andrei Liapine, 41, face lesser charges of receiving the Umansky ransom money in their bank accounts.

The two men, who were living in the United Arab Emirates when arrested, have pleaded not guilty. They face a maximum of 10 years in prison.

A ninth defendant, Alexandr Afonin, is charged with persuading Agueev and Liapine to accept the ransom money. Afonin remains at large.

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