Feds charge men with arson in last year’s Voorhies Avenue blaze

Set a blaze: A photo from the night of the May 2, 2016 fire.

Federal prosecutors charged four men with ties to an Eastern European mafia and a local crime ring for starting the raging inferno in a Voorhies Avenue apartment building last year that sent about half-a-dozen people to the hospital and left families homeless.

The Feds charge in an updated Sept. 6 indictment that one of the former-Soviet-Union-born suspects set the May 2 blaze in the apartment near Dooley Street because a competing illegal poker joint operated on the ground floor of the three-story building, where multiple families, including children, lived.

The Brighton Beach and Coney Island-based transnational criminal enterprise — known as the Syndicate — ran its own gambling establishment nearby, called the Coney Island Poker Spot, and risked the lives of innocents to take out the rival Voorhies Avenue club, according to the indictment, which was the result of an eight-month investigation.

“[The suspect] — who was undoubtedly familiar with this location, as it housed a competing poker spot—decided that endangering the lives of those residents, who were likely sleeping at around 1:00 am, was a risk worth taking to serve the goals of the Syndicate,” the indictment says. “Indeed, tragedy was only averted thanks to heroic actions of firefighters, who arrived on the scene shortly after the fire was reported.”

Using cell phone records, investigators damningly placed one of the suspects outside the Voorhies Avenue building just after 1 am, even though he lived in Manhattan at the time, according to the indictment. The Feds also charged the alleged arsonist with viciously beating another victim, and charged the other suspects with extortion, assault, drug trafficking, and illegal gambling, according to the report.

The Syndicate members reported to high-ranking members of an Eastern European mafia group whose name translates as “thieves in law,” according to the indictment.

Firefighters had responded to the three-story building on May 2, 2016, at about 1:30, and within an hour, 138 of New York’s Bravest were on the scene battling the blaze. Video shot that night, and included in the indictment, shows a firefighter climbing up a ladder through thick smoke to rescue a 12-year-old boy. Five firefighters and two residents they rescued were treated at local hospitals, primarily for smoke inhalation injuries, and one firefighter received first degree burns to his face.

The two main suspects were denied bail, because they are considered both a danger to the community and a flight risk, the Feds said.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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