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Fifth Body Taken From New Melones Lake – Russian Mafia May Be Involved

Dive teams from the Calaveras and Tuolumne County Sheriff´s offices and FBI investigators are close to wrapping up their sweep of New Melones Lake for bodies. A fifth victim, believed to be a woman, was found last night.

FBI spokesperson Nick Rossi says the body was beneath the Parrotts Ferry Bridge. It, and a body recovered at the same location Monday, will be autopsied tomorrow.

Rossi says no more searches are planned after a return today to the Stevenot Bridge.

An Associated Press report says authorities have identified one of the bodies as that of L-A area developer Meyer Muscatel, and that all five are victims of the Russian Mafia.

Update 03/21/2002 7:10 am: Four reputed members of the Russian mafia are under arrest in connection with kidnapping schemes that may be linked to five bodies found in New Melones Lake.

The men were arrested last month. They’re accused of hostage-taking and other federal crimes.

The indictment says Iouri Mikhel and Jurijus Kadamovas threatened to kill their victims if ransom demands were not met. Petro Krylov and Ainar Altmanis are accused of aiding and abetting the plot.

Update from Associated Press: The bodies recovered from the New Melones reservoir were identified as those of George Safiev, 38; a russian banker and aspiring film producer at Matador Media for whom a $5 million ransom had been demanded; his business partner, Nick Kharabadze, 29; Rita Pekler, 39, an accountant who kept the film company’s books from her office in West Hollywood. Alexander Umansky, 35, owner of an auto accessories business in North Hollywood who disappeared December 13 and real estate developer Meyer Muscatel.

Six were charged in connection with the murders by the FBI: Iouri Mikhel, Jurijus Kadamovas, Petro Krylov, Ainar Altmanis, Andrei Liapine, and Natalya Solovyeva.

Mikhel and Kadamovas were conviceted sentenced to death for threatning to “kill, injure and detain” During the investigation into Umansky’s disappearance, authorities learned of three Russian immigrants in Southern California including Safiev, who disappeared January 20 from his Beverly Hills office.

Andrei Agueev, a Russian national residing in the United Arab Emirates, and Andrei Liapine, of Russia — are charged with receiving and disbursing the ransom money that was sent by Umansky’s family.

Ainar Altmanis then 48 from Latvia, who led investigators to the submerged bodies, was sentenced to 23 years and 4 months in federal prison. He plead guilty to three counts of hostage-taking resulting in death and one conspiracy charge.

Natalya Solovyeva, then 32, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for her role in the crimes. She was also the girlfriend of Kadamovas. She plead guilty to two counts of hostage-taking resulting in death and one conspiracy charge.