Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 L.A. Men to Die for Killing Rich Russians

LOS ANGELES -- A federal jury imposed the death penalty on two men who orchestrated a deadly kidnapping-for-ransom scheme targeting Russian immigrants whose bodies were found in a Northern California reservoir.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours Tuesday before deciding that Iouri Mikhel, 41, and Jurijus Kadamovas, 40, should die. Last month, the jury convicted both men of three counts of hostage-taking resulting in death and three counts of conspiracy.

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

Prosecutors said the two men led a group that sought to amass a fortune by kidnapping affluent Russian immigrants in Los Angeles in late 2001 and early 2002 and extorting money from their families and friends. About $1.2 million was collected in ransom.

The group killed its victims regardless of whether a ransom was paid and even promised to free some of the victims, prosecutors said. The bodies were tied with weights and dumped in the New Melones Reservoir near Yosemite National Park.

When the verdict was read, Mikhel smirked and shook his head, while Kadamovas showed no reaction as an interpreter translated the verdict for him. Victims' families held hands and some cried out loud.

The death penalty verdict is binding on U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian, who is scheduled to sentence the two men formally March 12. As in federal death penalty prosecutions, the case will be automatically appealed.

Defense lawyer Dale Rubin, who represents Mikhel, 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," Rubin said. "They lost sight of what their job was."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan DeWitt said she did not believe the nine-man, three-woman jury was out for revenge and called the decision "gratifying."

"These were good people who didn't deserve the fate that befell them," DeWitt said of the victims. "We felt a tremendous responsibility to the victims' families."

Those killed were real estate developer Meyer Muscatel; Russian banking mogul George Safiev; Safiev's accountant Rita Pekler; Safiev's business partner Nick Kharabadze; and Alexander Umansky, who owned a car accessory business.

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

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.