Three Brooklyn men charged in $30M international bank robbery

Smashed safe deposit boxes. (Photo by Carl Court/Hatton Garden Properties Ltd/Getty Images)

Three men from Brooklyn have been arrested after allegedly stealing over $30M in cash and other valuables from safe deposit boxes located at banks abroad, primarily in Eastern Europe.  

A grand jury indictment charged Val Cooper, 56, Alex Levin, 52, and Garri Smith, 49, with money laundering conspiracy and violations of the Travel Act after a string of alleged thefts between March 2015 and October 2019 at banks in Ukraine, Russia, North Macedonia, Moldova, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and France.

According to Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Mark J. Lesko, the men "were allegedly part of a sophisticated network of criminals that used high-tech camera equipment to steal millions in cash and other valuables from victims who had tried to protect their property by using safe deposit boxes in foreign countries, and they then laundered the proceeds of their scheme through the United States financial system."

Authorities said the men would target banks that appeared to lack certain security features, including surveillance cameras. They would then open accounts in those banks to get into safe deposit box rooms, where they "used sophisticated camera equipment, including borescope, to photograph the insides of the locks of the other individuals' safe deposit boxes," according to court documents.

Another co-conspirator would use the photographs to create duplicate keys to the deposit boxes "in order to steal the contents, including currency, gold bars, jewelry and other property."

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"The crimes we allege in this indictment read like something straight out of Hollywood fiction," stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.  "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.  However, thanks to the outstanding work of our FBI Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force and our international partners, these criminals now face real federal charges and the possibility of real time in federal prison."

On Friday, agents executed a search warrant at, among other places, Cooper’s residence and discovered safe deposit box keys with no numbering on them, cash, jewelry and high-end handbags. Agents also searched a storage unit in Brooklyn controlled by Cooper and found a borescope and a safe deposit box lock.

If convicted of the charges, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison.