NC man accused of murder-for-hire plot tied to a Russian indicted for election tampering

A wealthy man in Raleigh accused of money laundering and plotting a murder-for-hire has ties to a Russian oligarch who has been indicted on charges of interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to Russian news sources.

Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow-based news organization known for its critical coverage of Russian politics, has reported a business connection between Leonid Teyf of Raleigh and Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of 13 Russians indicted last February as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller, in a 37-page indictment, accused Prigozhin and companies he controlled, including the Internet Research Agency, of funding and orchestrating a campaign to influence the presidential election through social media and other tactics.

U.S. investigators say Teyf, 57, stole millions of dollars from the Russian government through a kickback scheme and tried to have his ex-wife’s alleged lover deported and killed, court records show. The FBI raided his North Raleigh mansion Dec. 5.

Novaya Gazeta reported that Teyf, who faces 20 years in prison if convicted in the United States, provided Prigozhin with key contracts related to the Russian military.

Teyf’s attorney in North Carolina, James B. McLoughlin Jr., declined to comment on Novaya Gazeta’s reporting, which he said he had not seen. The FBI has not commented on the case.

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Leonid Teyf

A possible connection between Teyf and Prigozhin is “highly significant,” Max Bergmann, director of The Moscow Project, an initiative of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress Action Fund, told The News & Observer.

“(Teyf) was clearly someone of interest to the FBI and to the U.S. government,” Bergmann said. “I think in investigating him, they are going to try to pull all those threads to find out, what does he know? Who does he know? Does he have any useful information that could be relevant to other investigations, including potentially the Mueller investigation?”

Military contracts

Records filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina U.S. District Court paint a picture of some of Teyf’s business ties. Sometime between 2010 and 2012, records show, Teyf was deputy director of Voentorg, a Russian company that provided the Russian military with goods and services such as food, laundry and equipment.

While at Voentorg, Teyf and others developed a kickback scheme involving subcontractors that netted $150 million over a two-year period, U.S. investigators allege in federal court records filed last fall.

Voentorg was established in 2009 by the Russian Ministry of Defense, Dmitri Mitin, an assistant professor at N.C. State University’s School of Public and International Affairs, told The News & Observer.

Putin fired the minister of defense, Anatoly Serdyukov, in 2012 during an investigation into misallocated funds and fraudulent contracting, according to multiple media reports at the time.

Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper, noted that the missing $150 million drew interest from authorities in the United States, but not in Russia.

The Teyf case “brings into focus several issues, related to corruption in Russia,” Mitin said. “First of all, abuse of office is commonplace and afflicts all levels of the government. Unapologetic pilfering of public coffers is a norm built into the institutional code of the regime. Much of the money that is plundered is siphoned out of the country.”

Prigozhin is often referred to as Putin’s chef, because he built catering businesses and fine-dining restaurants that served the Russian president and foreign dignitaries, according to media reports.

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In this 2010 file photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, around his factory which produces school meals. Indicted for alleged U.S. election interference, Prigozhin is a wealthy Russian entrepreneur from St. Petersburg who’s been dubbed “Putin’s chef” by Russian media. Alexei Druzhinin AP

Throughout 2012, most of the Russian military’s food-catering contracts were assigned to Prigozhin-affiliated companies, Mitin said.

“Teyf’s support appears to have facilitated Prigozhin’s expansion into this market, but (I) am not certain how critical that connection was,” Mitin wrote in an email to The N&O.

U.S. intelligence reports say Prigozhin “almost certainly” controlled the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops in Syria last February, according to media outlets, including The Washington Post.

Others charged

Records filed in federal court show Leonid Teyf was born in Belarus, which at the time was a Slavic republic within the former Soviet Union. He and his wife at the time, Tatyana Teyf, came to the United States from Russia in 2010.

They own a few properties in Wake County, according to records: the nearly $5 million house on New Market Way, a condominium in downtown Raleigh and an empty office space downtown.

Investigators found guns, ammunition and cash at the condominium, an FBI agent testified in federal court in Raleigh last month.

The FBI raided the North Raleigh home of Leonid Teyf, 57, on Dec. 5, on charges of money laundering, plotting a murder-for-hire and defrauding the Russian government out of tens of millions of dollars, photographed here on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Raleigh, NC. Casey Toth ctoth@newsobserver.com

Since December 2010, the Teyfs and others have opened dozens of accounts at U.S. banks, according to their federal indictments. Nearly 300 wires from foreign corporations and bank accounts commonly known to be used for money laundering deposited more than $39.4 million in those accounts, the indictments state.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Numbers II last month granted federal prosecutors’ request that Leonid Teyf remain in jail. Tatyana Teyf, 41, was released and ordered to surrender her passport.

Four other people face federal charges in the case, including 40-year-old Alexi Polyaklov. He has been charged with attempting to obtain naturalization through false statements.

Court documents show that Leonid Teyf and a business partner, John Cotter of Apex, are accused of trying to bribe a federal agent to have Tatyana Teyf’s alleged ex-lover sent back to Russia, where he would likely be killed. Cotter is a longtime friend and business partner of Teyf, according to court records.

Stephen Edward Myers Jr. of Raleigh was charged last month with cyber-stalking the man who allegedly had an affair with Tatyana Teyf. Raleigh police accused him of putting a GPS tracking device under the man’s vehicle.

The man, who was not identified by name in court records, was living in Ohio when federal agents talked to him about the case, court records show.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.