Man Accused of Leading ‘Thieves in Law’ Pleads Guilty to Racketeering

Was Viktor Zelinger a mobster or a desperate refugee?

The answer, after a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday, seemed to be that he was both.

Mr. Zelinger, 45, pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering, admitting that he had helped run an illegal gambling club and had threatened debtors to make them pay.

When he was arrested in Switzerland in 2022, prosecutors said that he had led a ruthless crew linked to an Eastern European mafia group known as Thieves in Law that wreaked havoc in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Coney Island.

The slew of charges against him included directing a May 2016 arson in a residential building on Voorhies Avenue where a high-stakes poker game was being held. The blaze nearly killed two teenagers and left a firefighter with career-ending injuries, prosecutors said.

The game competed with his own illegal gambling spot on Coney Island Avenue, where players were plied with free alcohol, cocaine and massages, according to court documents. Months later, as investigators closed in, Mr. Zelinger left the country permanently.

A grand jury indictment unsealed that October included charges against Mr. Zelinger and eight others; two other defendants were later added to the case. All were convicted or pleaded guilty to racketeering and related charges.

Related Articles

Back to top button