Brooklyn Trio Used Camera Scopes, Fake Keys in $30M Bank Heist

An FBI assistant director-in-charge said the alleged crimes “read like something straight out of Hollywood fiction.”

This screenshot from a detention letter shows how hidden cameras in a bank in Latvia captured a heist in progress in January 2018. (Image via Courthouse News)

BROOKLYN (CN) — Using borescope cameras to peek inside bank safe deposit boxes, a trio of Brooklyn residents allegedly stole $30 million in cash, gold bars, jewelry and other valuables, according to newly unsealed federal indictments. 

The three men were arraigned in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday, charged with money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to violate the Travel Act in connection with a bank heist scheme in which they are said to have posed as customers and created duplicate keys to clean out bank safes that seemed less-than-secure.

Prosecutors say the heist occurred primarily in Eastern Europe, where security camera footage picked up the men peeking into safes and carrying suitcases through a hotel, where they allegedly met up to divide the loot. 

“The crimes we allege in this indictment read like something straight out of Hollywood fiction,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. in a statement Tuesday. “The thieves used sophisticated tools to thwart security systems at foreign banks and tried to cover their tracks by laundering money through U.S. banks.”

Posing as customers, the men allegedly rented safe deposit boxes at banks that seemed to have lax security features, including being void of cameras. They would scope out the facilities, using the camera scope to photograph the insides of boxes they would later target. 

The photos were then given to a keymake, and used to create duplicate keys to open the boxes and steal cash, gold, jewelry, high-end handbags, and other property. 

In some cases, the banks were more secure than they appeared, however. Hidden cameras picked up the men inspecting the safes, and returning with a second key. Footage shows one of the defendants entering the safe deposit box room at a Latvian bank and emptying “multiple boxes into his bags,” according to a detention letter

Then, footage shows the co-defendants meeting up at a nearby hotel to split up the stolen property. 

Financial records show that U.S. credit cards were used to launder the money, through airline tickets, hotel room bookings, and checks to the wife of defendant Val Cooper, who is believed to have been the leader of the network. 

Federal agents say they searched a storage unit in Brooklyn controlled by Cooper, where they found a borescope and a safe deposit box lock. 

Cooper now awaits a bail hearing, set for Friday. 

Defendant Alex Levin was released on $500,000 bail, and will be in home confinement with a GPS monitor awaiting trial. 

The final defendant, Garri Smith, was denied bail during a hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy. 

“We do not believe he’s a key participant” in the heist, said Jeremy Iandolo, Smith’s attorney. 

Prosecutors raised concerns, however, about Smith’s record of frequent travel. Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Edelman said Smith “traveled all around the world regularly, before the pandemic,” in connection with the alleged bank heists.

Edelman rattled off a number of countries Smith visited between 2016 and 2018: Latvia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, France, Russia. He also noted that Smith had changed his name, legally, but in an apparent attempt to evade prosecution. Smith was formerly known as “Igor Berk” and “Igor Berkovich.”

Prosecutors expressed concerns about Smith’s alleged use of narcotics, saying that dealing with an addiction would make the defendant less likely to comply with court orders upon release. 

Judge Levy agreed those issues were relevant and ordered Smith’s permanent detention awaiting trial. 

The men face up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted of money laundering conspiracy. 

Brooklyn federal prosecutors said they worked on the investigation along with European law enforcement, as well as the governments of Azerbaijan, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. 

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