NY jury hears closings in fatal ID theft case

TOM HAYS - Associated Press
This undated photograph provided by the U.S. Attorney's office shows Irina Malezhik, a Russian-language translator who disappeared in 2007. Malezhik was ending an assignment as a translation assignment at a law office in 2004 when she asked an innocent but fateful question: Could anyone offer her a lift to Brooklyn? The man who obliged by chance, authorities say, was a stranger named Dmitriy Yakovlev and he is now alleged to have murdered Malezhik, 47. (AP Photo/U.S. Attorney)  NO SALES
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This undated photograph provided by the U.S. Attorney's office shows Irina Malezhik, a Russian-language translator who disappeared in 2007. Malezhik was ending an assignment as a translation assignment at a law office in 2004 when she asked an innocent but fateful question: Could anyone offer her a lift to Brooklyn? The man who obliged by chance, authorities say, was a stranger named Dmitriy Yakovlev and he is now alleged to have murdered Malezhik, 47.

A man accused in the 2007 disappearance of a Russian-language translator lied to the FBI when he suggested she must have left the country without telling anyone, a prosecutor said Tuesday in closing arguments in an identity theft case the defense argued is based on thin evidence.

Dmitriy Yakovlev "knew what happened to her — he killed her," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Hector said at a federal trial in Brooklyn that's featured gruesome evidence.

Only hours after Ukraine-born Irina Malezhik vanished, Yakovlev's wife was on the phone with credit card companies pretending to be the translator "in an all-out effort to take Irina's money," Hector told jurors.

Malezhik's body was never found, and defense attorney Michael Gold argued Tuesday that the government has no solid evidence to back claims that Yakovlev is a "cold-blooded, scary killer." He sought to raise doubt by claiming the victim had been struggling with drinking and other personal problems at the time she went missing.

The case against Yakovlev "is based on innuendo and speculation," he said.

Prosecutors allege Yakovlev also murdered and dismembered Viktor Alekseyev, a neighbor in Yakovlev's seaside, gated community in Brooklyn. They say he stole the identity of third acquaintance, a retired New York Police Department employee who disappeared without a trace in 2003.

Following his arrest in 2009, the 43-year-old Russian immigrant admitted making ATM withdrawals and purchases with the missing victims' credit cards. But he claimed he had permission as repayment for loans.

Yakovlev insisted under questioning that Malezhik — someone he met by chance at a law office in 2004 — owed him $20,000, according to an FBI report. He added, "he did not find (her) disappearance concerning, and suggested that she returned to Russia," the report says.

Alekseyev's body parts turned up in plastic garbage bags in a wooded area of New Jersey in 2005 after he disappeared on the eve of a trip to Moscow. At trial, the jury heard testimony that Yakovlev had medical training, and that the body had been carved up with a surgeon's precision.

On Tuesday, prosecutors displayed a grisly photo of one of the bags that had been opened to reveal a severed leg. It remained on a large screen in the courtroom for at least 30 minutes.

The government also showed the jury frames from a security video showing Malezhik, 47, leaving her modest apartment in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn for the last time on the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2007. A few minutes earlier, prosecutors allege, she had received a phone call from Yakovlev.

The following day, Yakovlev's wife purchased two Franck Muller watches for $16,200 using the victim's Social Security card as identification, prosecutors say. The couple was later captured by a camera at a Century 21 department store in Westbury, N.Y., using the victim's credit card.

The wife avoided trial by pleading guilty last month to identity theft and credit card fraud. She faces at least two years in prison at sentencing in May.

Yakovlev faces a possible life term if convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud, using stolen credit cards and other charges.

The government was to give a rebuttal argument Wednesday. Jurors were expected to begin deliberating later in the day.