The body was found in the bushes along a dirt road in a rural town in Moldova on the morning of Oct. 1, 2011, and within a matter of hours, Irina Vorotinov’s phone was ringing halfway across the world.
From her home in Maple Grove, Minnesota, she shared the dreadful news with her two grown sons: The body belonged to their father, Igor Vorotinov.
The circumstances were strange. The well-dressed dead man didn’t appear to be beaten or shot, at least as far as the one investigating police officer could tell, but his body was already decomposing. Enlisting the help of his son, the police officer promptly brought the body to a state morgue, an old dilapidated building without refrigeration or air conditioning, whose single green door was reachable only by a dirt path. There, the medical examiner determined that the man found in the bushes had died of a heart attack. He was carrying Igor Vorotinov’s passport, among other identifying documents.
Irina Vorotinov hopped on a plane. She arrived in the village of Cojusna and, accompanied by a U.S. Embassy representative, traveled to the morgue to confirm that the dead man really was Igor Vorotinov, her ex-husband. She told authorities it was, electing to cremate his remains in Ukraine before returning home with the ashes in an urn.
On Nov. 4, 2011, she arranged his funeral at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, attended “widely” by the local Russian community who knew Igor well, according to federal prosecutors.
But before long, Igor’s oldest son, Alkon, was about to discover a $2 million secret.
On a trip to Moldova in June 2012, while visiting a family friend at a party one night, Alkon found it: his father — alive.
To Alkon and his brother’s horror and relief, the body found in the bushes didn’t belong to Igor. Nor did the ashes in the urn. Instead, federal prosecutors said, their father was living large and under a fake name in Moldova and Ukraine, reaping the fruits of a $2 million life insurance policy that his ex-wife collected despite knowing Igor was alive the whole time.
Now, after authorities spent years searching for the undead Igor Vorotinov, the 54-year-old was convicted of mail fraud Friday after pleading guilty in federal court in Minnesota. Irina, 52, had already pleaded guilty in 2016 and was sentenced to 37 months in prison for staging her husband’s funeral and duping the insurance company into paying her the $2 million life insurance policy, which prosecutors said she intended to split with her ex-husband.
Their eldest son, Alkon, 29, pleaded guilty in 2015 to failing to report his parents’ fraudulent scheme to authorities, a felony, and was sentenced to three years of probation. His defense attorney said he was the victim of his parents’ deceit — but prosecutors allege Alkon’s coverup was all part of the family affair.
“The manner of this crime’s execution was quite sophisticated,” federal prosecutors wrote in court documents. “We now know that there really was a body found in a field in Moldova. The government executed a search warrant on the urn at Lakewood Cemetery, and it really contained human remains. Somehow, Moldovan officials … were paid to write false reports to make it appear that Igor had actually died. This offense required deft coordination and execution.”
Irina submitted the insurance claim to Mutual of Omaha three days after Igor’s “sham funeral,” prosecutors said. The insurance company contracted with Worldwide Investigations to confirm that Igor was truly dead in Moldova. But prosecutors say the conspiracy was so entrenched that many of the people the insurance company interviewed, including the police officer and medical examiner, were in on it. The police and the morgue employees all claimed no one took pictures of the body because no one had a camera.
In March 2012, Irina received more than $2 million, and began wiring it all over the world — Switzerland, Hungary, Moldova. Her son, Alkon, participated in some of the transactions. But his defense attorney, Matthew Mankey, claims he had no idea his father was alive until seeing him with his own eyes. Prosecutors haven’t challenged this claim.
The June 2012 discovery, Mankey said in court documents, startled him.
He was “experiencing an emotional roller coaster with his father’s supposed death and resurrection,” Mankey wrote. “He actually had to experience a funeral/memorial service for his father only to later find out that his father was alive. What kind of people put their own children through that kind of emotional turmoil?”
Alkon continued making the trips to Moldova to visit his father, telling prosecutors that at one point his mother joined him there for a New Year’s celebration at the end of 2012. But eventually the repeated vacations would catch the attention of investigators.
On June 18, 2013, the FBI received an anonymous tip from someone in Moldova claiming that Igor Vorotinov was alive, living under the fake name “Nikolay Patoka” in Ukraine or Moldova.
The next time Alkon and his Moldovan fiancee returned to the United States from Moldova, in November 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained the couple and confiscated their belongings.
On Alkon’s laptop, an FBI agent testified in court in 2015 that they found several curious photographs of the supposedly dead Igor: There he was in April 2013, posing with Alkon’s fiancee’s young daughter in a park. There he was in May 2013, playing with the little girl at a swimming pool — and “very much alive,” the agent testified.
Irina and Alkon were arrested in 2015 while Igor remained in Moldova. As federal authorities investigated, Alkon provided incriminating information against his parents, in part resulting in a more favorable plea agreement — but the feds said in sentencing documents that he almost blew it.
At the last minute, Alkon met with prosecutors and spontaneously put his father on the phone, who spoke from Moldova. Igor then concocted an elaborate story about a kidnapping that prosecutors called “palpably ridiculous,” designed to make Irina appear innocent. Igor claimed that his friends in Moldova faked his death without even his knowledge, then kidnapped him as part of a conspiracy to steal all the life insurance money. Igor and Alkon claimed the kidnappers demanded ransom money from Alkon, that the entire fraudulent scheme was the kidnappers’ plan, and that Irina had nothing to do with it.
“What he did here, by participating in fabricating this ridiculous story to make it look like Igor was kidnapped, and his death staged by his kidnappers, without Irina’s knowledge, was so stupid that it actually appears to have led to her plea of guilty rather than obstruct a path to her conviction,” prosecutors wrote.
Igor was arrested in Moldova last November on the mail fraud charges and extradited to the United States. In his plea agreement filed Friday, prosecutors still do not reveal how exactly Igor or others managed to find a dead body on which to plant his identifying documents. He is expected to be sentenced in July, and prosecutors are seeking 41 months in prison.
Defense attorneys for Irina and Alkon say that they have been made to suffer for the sins of the father, reaping nothing from the scheme and living in poverty while for years Igor lived comfortably with his girlfriend in Transnistria, an unrecognized independent state within Moldova.
In November 2011, the same month Irina filed the fraudulent insurance claim, her defense attorney says her breast cancer returned after a long remission. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy before losing her home to foreclosure while deep in medical bills, the defense attorney claimed. Just before she was sentenced to prison in 2017, she was living in subsidized housing “as a destitute felon.”
Alkon, his attorney wrote in pre-sentencing filings, attempted suicide at one point. And because of his mother’s illness and inability to work, Mankey said, the son will likely be made to repay much of the $2 million to Mutual of Omaha as part of restitution.
“He will likely be paying off Mutual of Omaha his entire life,” Mankey wrote.