The trouble started in April, when Sergey Umrikhin’s new tenant paid his $1,500 rent a month late — surprising, considering records showed $138,000 flowing into his bank account in December alone.
Then Umrikhin received a violation letter from the property manager at Avant Garde, the highrise Hallandale Beach condominium complex where he owns a unit. Umrikhin’s tenant was throwing cigarettes over the third-floor condo balcony and drinking out of glass bottles on the pool deck, the letter said.
Umrikhin filed eviction papers in mid-May, after two months of late payments.
Three weeks later, his rental problems still unresolved, Umrikhin searched online for his Russian tenant, Vladimir Kholodnyak, using a Russian search engine. That’s when he learned that Kholodnyak was wanted by the international police agency Interpol.
And that shedding an international fugitive is not as easy as one might think.
“International criminals are walking free on our streets and no public or government authorities care about it,” Umrikhin stated in an e-mail on June 16, when he first contacted the Miami Herald.
Umrikhin and the co-owner of the unit had some misgivings about Kholodnyak when they first met him, but were reassured by the information Kholodnyak provided with his rental application, Umrikhin said. “We had a criminal background check, and he was recommended by a nice broker.”
After he found out about the Interpol “red notice,” Umrikhin said he contacted the Hallandale Beach Police Department the next day, and called the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security in mid-June. Two weeks later, Kholodnyak and his wife are still in the apartment, according to Umrikhin.
The Herald was unable to determine what action, if any, has been taken by federal authorities in response. The FBI would not confirm whether Umrikhin had called the agency, and a spokesman for Homeland Security in Miami said the department “does not confirm or deny any ongoing investigations as a matter of policy.”
The U.S. Marshals Service, the agency with primary jurisdiction over foreign nationals on Interpol’s wanted list, said it is unable to arrest Russian nationals on the list because the United States and Russia don’t have an extradition treaty.
“At this point in time, the U.S. Marshals Service is not investigating or looking into Mr. Kholodnyak. Since there is no treaty between the U.S. and Russia, Mr. Kholodnyak can’t be picked up on the Interpol notice,” explained Senior Inspector Barry Golden, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Foreign money, some of it from individuals with questionable financial backgrounds, has flooded the South Florida condo market, so much so that the Treasury Department announced temporary regulations requiring title insurance companies to identify the owners of shell companies buying high-end Miami real estate in cash.
But the more restrictive rules do not apply to renters, leaving landlords at risk of leasing their condos to tenants with sketchy backgrounds.
The online background check Avant Garde required Kholodnyak to complete failed to turn up the charges against Kholodnyak in Russia, or his presence on Interpol’s wanted list.
The background check, provided to the Miami Herald, states “All Clear,” highlighted in green, followed by a short explanation: “No criminal or eviction history found.”
The service Avant Garde used searches national records, but does not perform an international background check, according to its website. Avant Garde referred the Herald to the condominium complex’s lawyer, who did not respond to requests for comment.
International background checks are typically more expensive and take longer to complete than searches of national or state criminal records.
Kholodnyak responded to the Miami Herald’s questions through his wife, Olga, whose English is better than his.
“When Vladimir moved to the apartment, he gave all information to Avant Garde to the building manager,” Olga Karpenko told the Herald. “If they approve him, it means they checked everything about him that they need.”
Kholodnyak and his brother Alexander, who is also on the Interpol list, owned a construction company in southwestern Russia. They allegedly erected residential buildings without obtaining permits, and failed to finish some of them, defrauding clients who had purchased units in the buildings, according to Russian media reports.
The brothers were charged with fraud and illegal business practices in July 2014, a Russian Embassy spokesman, Ivan Filatov, told the Herald. Both men were added to Interpol’s red list in December 2014.
“Our position is that the charges are politically motivated,” said Michelle Estlund, a criminal defense attorney representing Vladimir Kholodnyak. Estlund said Kholodnyak has applied for asylum in the United States and that he has petitioned to have his name removed from the Interpol list. Kholodnyak is still waiting for a final response in both cases, according to Estlund.
Vladimir Kholodnyak “has problems with Russia with politics and doesn’t want to talk about it,” his wife told the Herald. Alexander Kholodnyak could not be reached for comment.
Vladimir Kholodnyak’s asylum lawyer, Anis Saleh, cautioned that some foreign governments have been known to use criminal charges as a means of political persecution. “There are many, many instances of people who are designated as fugitives or criminals and it’s later shown that it’s a measure of persecution or extortion or revenge,” he said.
The eviction case against Kholodnyak is pending. Umrikhin said he was ordered to update his three-day eviction notice at the most recent hearing, and that he is now waiting for a new hearing to be scheduled. Even if Kholodnyak agrees to pay the rent on time, Umrikhin still wants him out.
“I think he may provide some kind of danger to other people,” Umrikhin said.
Umrikhin and his partner have received what they interpret as threats from Kholodnyak in recent weeks.
“Listen to me you conman, I am already tired of you, mind your own business and take care of your health!” Kholodnyak e-mailed Umrikhin in Russian on June 22. “Shut your mouth and keep quiet.”
Maj. Pedro Abut, a spokesman for the Hallandale Beach police, said the department did not have a record of Umrikhin’s complaint and might have passed the information on to federal authorities without recording the complaint. Abut said the department contacted federal authorities following the Herald’s request for comment.
The Russian Embassy has not been contacted by U.S. law enforcement agencies regarding the Kholodnyak brothers, said spokesman Filatov.
In addition to Kholodnyak’s alleged fraud in Russia, Umrikhin has questions about his business dealings in the United States. The Herald found six companies registered in Kholodnyak’s name or in the names of apparent relatives, of which five appear to be shell companies. Two of the companies purchased three South Florida properties in 2014, all of which have since been resold.
“If you’re renting out luxury units to an international clientele, you need to get professional advice to see who they are,” said Kenneth Rijock, a former money launderer who became a financial crime consultant. “Unfortunately, many unit owners, when they see a large amount of rent that far exceeds the amount they’re paying for the mortgage, they see stars in their eyes and if it’s too good to be true they’ll go for it.”
Boris Vedenyapin, a broker who was hired by both Vladimir and Alexander Kholodnyak, said he was “not really” aware that Vladimir was on Interpol’s wanted list when he agreed to help him find an apartment. “He told me that he had some problems in Russia,” Vedenyapin explained.
“Anyway, they were just asking me to help them with the rental. I did my job. I just showed them a few properties.”
Rijock said some in the industry are becoming more careful about vetting prospective clients.
“The last thing a landlord wants is to see a picture of his unit in the newspaper involved in a drug bust,” he said.