A lawyer has admitted to participating in a scheme to pay $3.8 million toward maintaining a sanctioned Russian oligarch’s Southampton mansion and five other properties that authorities are planning to seize.
Robert Wise of Palham, New York pleaded guilty April 25 at Manhattan federal court to conspiring to commit international money laundering. Authorities said Wise was involved in caring for properties owned by Viktor Vekselberg, whose Duck Pond Road mansion federal investigators raided in September.
“The ill-gotten proceeds of Russia’s oligarchs do not move and hide themselves,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “Instead, the funds derived from Russia’s crony capitalism are secreted around the world in luxury assets by a professional class of enablers who specialize in secretive methods to shield the true owners and beneficiaries of the assets from detection, investigation, and enforcement.”
Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born businessman worth $9.3 billion who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been sanctioned in 2018, but the U.S. Department of Justice stepped up its efforts to seize his and other oligarchs’ assets after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Authorities moved in February to seize the nearly two-acre Southampton property known as Villa Ledas, which was listed for almost $16 million in 2020, as well as Vekselberg’s two Park Avenue apartments and three luxury apartments in Florida worth $75 million combined.
Vekselberg’s fugitive associate Vladimir Voronchenko, who also stayed at and maintained the properties, was indicted on February 7 for sanctions violations, international money laundering and other crimes, but he fled the country after being subpoenaed.
Voronchenko retained Wise to acquire the properties and manage paying property taxes, insurance premiums and other related fees. Vekselberg’s shell companies transferred more than $18 million to Wise’s escrow account to make the payments, authorities said.
Wise faces up to five years in federal prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil. He agreed to pay $210,441.