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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Leader of Morgue Gang Convicted of Murder

A former St. Petersburg pathologist was convicted Thursday of ordering several murders as the leader of a gang of morgue workers who went into business hiding the bodies of people killed in organized crime disputes.

Valery Burykin was found guilty of three murders and banditry, for which he could face up to life in prison. The court will hear arguments from prosecutors and the defense during the sentencing phase on Monday.

A jury found that Burykin began recruiting colleagues at the City Pathological Bureau in May 1995 to help him take over the city's morgues to profit from disposing of bodies, St. Petersburg prosecutors said in a statement.

At the time, mob violence was rife in St. Petersburg, with contract killings a regular occurrence.

The group managed to remain in the shadows until September 2001, when Burykin ordered the killing of pathologist and co-conspirator Sergei Yefimov. He was gunned down in the entryway of his apartment building for trying to leave the group, prosecutors said.

Shortly before his death, however, Yefimov made a recording detailing the group's activities, claiming that they had killed at least 10 people while building their morgue empire, the local news portal reported. Yefimov identified Burykin — known among the group as Vasilich — as its leader.

The majority of the group's members were arrested after another morgue worker, Larisa Artyukovskaya, was killed in a bomb blast in her apartment's entryway in August 2004. Burykin fled abroad.

Five of his co-conspirators received sentences of up to 15 years in prison in October 2006. Burykin was detained a year later in Hungary and subsequently was extradited to Russia.

"On the main points, the jury found Burykin guilty, and that he did not deserve leniency," city prosecutors said in a statement.

A lawyer for Burykin said he would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court, citing unspecified procedural violations, reported.