William Stadiem

Everything about William Stadiem. Author, Screenwriter, Lawyer.

L.A. Deadly Callgirl Crime Wave

Source: Playboy, August 2002

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Madam Alex was dead, Heidi Fleiss was in jail and Hollywood’s lucrative call girl racket is in deadly conflict.

According to the cops, Leyla Ismayilov was a high-class callgirl, though she refused to admit it even if her life depended on it.  Leyla was a 28-year-old, nearly six-foot-tall Ukrainian goddess. She had huge dark eyes, high cheekbones, higher heels and couture by Versace.  How else, they figured, which she know that the victim, Lyudmyla Petushenko, another beautiful young Ukrainian, had been beaten and then executed in her Studio City apartment?  Having been in the U.S., illegally, for only three months, leonine blonde Lyudmyla had been making more than $10,000 a month as a callgirl.  She was also recruiting new girls from the Ukraine to join her stable.  Ambitious and driven, Lyudmyla was moving fast. Too fast, the cops surmise.  Speed kills, especially what was becoming known as the whore wars, the battle among ruthless Russians to take over the big buck sex turf left vacant by the incarceration of Heidi Fleiss.

Heidi Fleiss – the chic Jewish-American princess who lived in Michael Douglas former estate and partied with Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger – was the second supermadam to hook up Los Angeles prostitutes with a big-name clientele.  The first, Madam Alex Adams, had built a multimillion-dollar business selling sex to her black book of stars, moguls, politicians and oil sheiks who would take Alex charges on trips that started at $10,000 a weekend.  After Alex ran a foul of the Los Angeles police department, Heidi took over the business and made it even bigger, but her flagrant enjoyment of the elite sex trade also spelled trouble. Eventually, it got her three years in prison. Madam Alex died while Heidi was doing her time, and by the late Nineties the field was relegated to a large number of minimadams and thousands of Internet sex ads.  Starlet-level call girls, even in Hollywood, became increasingly difficult to find.  Enter the Russians, who had the looks, brains and greed.

The investigator suspected that Leyla was one of Lyudmyla callgirl colleagues. Leyla conceded that had she had befriended Lyudmyla prior to her final bloody morning of Thursday, August 17, 2000.  But she steadfastly denied that business of any sort was involved.  The two Ukrainians had met at a Russian market in West Hollywood and had bonded.  As for tricks,”Never.” said Leyla.  She said she was the daughter of a small-town police chief, and that she had a rich boyfriend in Los Angeles.  She had no need to turn a trick.  Her version of the events on the fateful morning of August 17, however, did not entirely satisfy the cops.

According to Leyla, Lyudmyla was planning an outing to Magic Mountain amusement park with a Russian friend.  A late sleeper, she had asked Leyla to give her a wake up call at nine A.M.  After 11 phone calls with no reply, Leyla told police she began to worry.  Just before noon, she drove her SUV from her West Hollywood apartment into the 90-degree heat and smog of the San Fernando Valley to 4150 Arch Drive.  Because another car was entering the security gate the moment she arrived, she was able to enter without being buzzed in.

Walking up to the second floor, Leyla found the front door to the apartment 211 unlocked.  She entered and called Lyudmyla’s name.  No Answer.  Then she went into the bedroom. Lyudmyla was sprawled on the rug in a silk robe, bikini panties and heels.  “I thought she was drunk,” Leyla told the cops.  When she started to shake her awake, a stream of blood poured out of Lyudmyla’s mouth.  Her body was cold.  Leyla fled back to her car and called the Russian woman who had rented the apartment for Lyudmyla. Leyla asked her to call the police.  Why hadn’t she called yourself? the investigators asked.  “My English was no good,” Leyla answered.   Why didn’t you wait for the police to arrive? She had no answer.

A team of policemen and criminalists from the LAPD’s North Hollywood division arrived early in the afternoon and didn’t leave until after midnight.  The corpse itself had awful bruises all over the head and neck, and a single, neat bullet hole directly above the left nipple, right into Lyudmyla’s heart.  There was no evidence of any sexual assault.  The beige-carpeted modern apartment, where the air-conditioning had been turned down to a Siberian chill, had little furniture other than a large bed, nightstand, television and sound system.  The closets overflowed with sexy lingerie and expensive shoes.  There was industrial supply of condoms in the bathroom.

The first search yielded no identity papers, no address books – only a lot of telephone numbers jotted on random scraps of paper.  As the cops tried to track the calls on the phone Lyudmyla had been using, they made their most surprising discovery– her phone had been tapped by the FBI.  As the LAPD was about to find out, Lyudmyla’s death was no routine murder; it was a can of worms.

As soon as they learned the FBI was involved, the local police kicked the case upstairs, or actually downtown, to the Robbery-Homicide division.  The are RHD, as it is known, is the elite corps of the LAPD.  Robbery-Homicide handles the city’s highest-profile cases: the big bank heists and big murders such as the Manson carnage and The Nicole Brown Simpson–Ronald Goldman slayings.  The Lyudmyla Petushenko case was assigned to two of departments stalwarts, Charles Knowles and Brian McCartin.

Knolls, 45, had roots in the San Fernando Valley, where the victim had been found.  He had worked his way up at Von’s grocery chain from bag boy to the head office, when at 30, frustrated by corporate life and inspired by a brother-in-law in the FBI, he joined the LAPD.

McCartin, a wiry 42-year-old who “didn’t like to sit still,” served as an Army paratrooper as well as a New York City fireman before moving west to join the LAPD in 1983.  The styles of the two detectives couldn’t have been more different.  Knowles, true to the laid-back California stereotype, likes to “sit back and let people talk and talk and talk,” he admits.  McCartin, who has a master’s degree in behavioral science, likes to “get into people’s faces. My training was based on boot camp,” he says.  “Take names and kick ass.”  As Knolls, in his understated way, says, “Brian has a tendency to do things a little quicker than I do.”

What the two detectives had in common was a total inability to penetrate or comprehend Los Angeles’ 250,000 member Russian community, a Byzantine agglomeration of Slavs, Jews, Armenians, Georgians, ex-KGB officers and ex-Communists – a citizenry as diverse as that of the old Soviet Union, united only by a common desire to make it in California.  To lead the way through this maze, the RHD assigned Knolls and McCartin a new partner, 30-year-old Kiev-born, Valley-­raised David Krumer, who’d recently joined the force after graduating from UCLA and Southwestern University School of Law.  One of the rare Jews and rarer native Russians in local law enforcement, Krumer made an unlikely cop.  With his Tom Cruise looks and James Stewart purity, he could have used his law degree as a passport to any number of high-paying law firms.  Yet this son of a baker, who had recently gone back to the Ukraine to marry a premed daughter of a family friend, had his own unique take on the American dream.

Not wanting to be “one of those smart Jews who get beat up,” Krumer had become a black belt and Kempo karate instructor.  He was a pretty boy, but he was tough.  He was also more interested in justice than he was in wealth.  His parents were disappointed by his new career choice.  “There are no bragging rights for a Jewish cop,” says Krumer. Nevertheless, the new officer was thrilled to be on the force and working with such pros as Knolls and McCartin.  What he wasn’t thrilled about was experiencing the dark side of the Russian community that his parents had hidden from Krumer and his two sisters.

The initial meeting between the FBI and the LAPD smacked of a Mexican standoff.  The always secretive FBI did not want to show its hand; the LAPD had no hand to show.  The ice was broken when a certain chemistry developed between the handsome Kumer and a woman on the FBI team.  Aside from his looks, she was interested in his ability to access a world the FBI had been exposed to only via wiretaps.  Why not let the RHD do the FBI’s dirty work?  Knolls, McCartin and Krumer had no problem serving as the feds’ truffle hounds.

The FBI offered its files, and the LAPD dived in, only to discover the complexity of the case. The feds’ interest in Los Angeles’ Russians involved not merely the FBI, but also the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol. The focus of all three agencies was the large-scale trafficking of Russians, particularly young Russian women, over the Mexican border. The route under investigation was from Kiev via Amsterdam to Mexico City, then to a Mexican villa in Rosarito and over the border at Tijuana to San Diego and the promised land. There had been hundreds, if not thousands, of people smuggled across in the past few years. The wiretaps showed that a ring was organizing the smuggling as well as conscripting the women to prostitution. One of the most frequently dialed numbers on Lyudmyla’s phone was that of the suspected ringleader, a charismatic character by the name of Serge Mezheritsky, who is currently under indictment.

“That was the slickest piece of work I ever saw,” says McCartin, who went with Knolls and Krumer to interview the 6’2″, muscular, blond Russian in his multilevel home in the Hollywood Hills. There were expensive vehicles out front, including the latest Mercedes. The cops later learned that Serge was planning to use a “Sex UV,” a converted pleasure van equipped with a bed and its own jacuzzi, as a rolling brothel, ferrying johns and hookers up and down Sunset Strip. “He was sly, very ingratiating, like a nightclub shill,” says Krumer. “He was so cocky and arrogant that he agreed to take a Polygraph. When the results were inconclusive, he couldn’t believe it. He was convinced the machine was defective.”

To Serge, everything in America worked; it had always worked for him. The son of Jewish émigré parents and a graduate of Fairfax High School, Serge had made a lot of money in assorted schemes, claiming to be in the auto parts business. Whatever he called it, he did well enough to live large in the hills. Well enough, in fact, to run for City Council in West Hollywood. He lost, but he was intent on running again.

Cars were Serge’s passion. Police theorized he was involved in an auto theft ring that sent stolen cars to Mexico. They have presented their evidence to the DA and as of May were still awaiting a possible indictment. Serge was no stranger to the LAPD’s Burglary Auto Theft Division. They had investigated Mezheritsky so often, and so unsuccessfully, that he felt he had not only an immunity from prosecution but also a relationship with the police. “He thought he had the same deal with us,” Krumer says- “He told us tons of stuff,” McCartin adds, “assuming that in return for helping us, we would protect him. But everything he told us was self-serving and mostly lies. He thought he was a genius, and we were flat-out stupid.”

Without actually confessing to any personal wrongdoing, Serge told the police he was having a torrid affair with Lyudmyla. For free, of course. He also told them he was having affairs with a number of the other newly arrived Russian prostitutes. And always for free. He was that irresistible. He had no interest in how his lovers earned their living. Serge surmised that Lyudmyla had met her end at the hands of a jealous madam. Insisting that he wanted to see her avenged, Serge gave the investigators the names and numbers of several Russian callgirls.

Almost all the women Serge identified were extremely attractive-tall and tawny with great figures, the athletic beach-goddess types the world associates with southern California. The cops could see why these women were taking over the sex trade. American girls with these looks charged upwards of $500 an hour. The Russians had undercut them with a bargain rate of $150 an hour. Small wonder that Heidi Fleiss, upon her release from jail, hadn’t gone back into the business. The Russians had priced her out of the market.

“One thing they are not is lazy,” McCartin explains. “In the USSR they grew up with no religion, no morality. Prostitution is not considered a bad thing. In fact, it’s considered a great way to make money. That’s why it’s exploding here. What we saw was just a tip of the iceberg.” McCartin the notion of white slavery. “These girls didn’t come over here expecting to be nannies. They knew exactly what they wanted and what they were getting into.”

There were three ways that the women could enter the U.S. The most enterprising would pretend to be Jewish and request political asylum. Witll the liberalization of the new Russia, religious persecution has become largely a nonissue, making this ruse much more difficult to employ. Others would enter the country on a three-month tourist visa and simply never leave. And then there was the third option, the one the feds were trying to stop. It was called being trafficked, but, as McCartin notes, there were few unwilling participants. A fee, ranging from $2500 to $10,000, paid to a “travel agent” in Kiev would get a girl to Mexico and a villa in Rosarito for about a month. There, to get the California look, she would work on her tan, start dressing in LA clothes – UCLA T-shirts or anything Gap – and be taught American inflection and slang like “totally” and “awesome.”

Once in California, the girl would be auctioned to a Russian pimp or madam for anywhere from $2500 to $20,000. The sum of the travel fee, the auction fee and a cost-of-living fee constituted what a girl had to earn out before she was free. In hooker accounting, the girl could credit only half of her sexual gross toward her goal of breaking even, then breaking out, which took the average girl about a year. With no English and few lucrative options, most of the girls elected to remain in the game. The most motivated of the lot would become madams and take their place in this pyramid scheme of commercial sex.

The prostitutes would be housed in apartments in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Studio City, places with high concentrations of entertainment industry types, the core clientele. The madams would advertise their charges on the Internet and in local alternative newspapers such as LA Weekly and New Times. In addition to the estimated thousands of Russian prostitutes in LA, there was an elaborate support group of drivers, telephone touts, hairdressers, manicurists and bikini waxers to sell, transport and glamorize the girls, and another support group of lawyers, accountants and money launderers-almost always Russian-to keep track of the spoils. The system was decentralized. There were many small agencies, as the madam operations were known, and few ran more than 15 girls are a time.

For the past several years Mezheritsky himself was believed to have been in an alliance with an elegant 50-yearold Russian in the Valley named Tetyana Komisaruk. An indictment alleges that together they imported illegal aliens from Ukraine and sold some of them into prostitution. Tetyana’s involvement was a family affair: Her 40-year-old husband, her pretty daughters, 31 and 25, and her stylish son-in-law, 29, were allegedly all part of a ring that included a number of Kiev-based Ukrainians on the supply side and a real estate agent in Los Angeles who laundered profits by buying and selling expensive property.

Serge gad two pleasure crafts he used to transport Ukrainians from Tetyana’s fancy beach villa in Rosarito to San Diego. He also had a Lincoln rigged with special shocks so that the car wouldn’t look weighted down by the Ukrainians being hidden in the trunk. But Serge was getting greedy. Having learned the smuggling business from the Komisaruk family, police theorized that Serge wanted to jettison them and take on a single partner, namely the clever, hard-working Lyudmyla. Lyudmyla was well connected in Kiev; she could be Serge’s new Tetyana.

Moreover, as the feds learned through wiretaps, Serge was concoctiug a far more ambitious prostitution operation, typified by such jazzy accoutrements as his Sex UV. He was talking about setting up video cameras in the apartments of his whores to blackmail rich and famous johns. Serge had seen how Hugh Grant and Eddie Murphy, apparently­ at sea without a madam like Heidi Fleiss, had suffered in the press for their street dalliances. The hush money he discussed would be as much as a quarter of a million dollars per celebrity. Serge also wanted to upgrade to “Heidi prices,” so that the cream of his Russian beauties would each gross $10,000 a day.

As titillating as these details were, they were of no real help to Knolls, McCartin and Krumer. They had a murder to solve, and a month later there were still no tangible leads. Then they learned of a taped conversation between Serge and his Fairfax High classmate Alex Van Kovn, another Americanized Russian indicted for allegedly providing fraudulent documents for some of the illegal Ukrainians. He later pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens, witness tampering and making false statements in court.  The cops listened to a tape on which Serge and Van Kovn discussed Someone Called Boxer. Van Korn stated, “He killed your girlfriend, he killed my girlfriend, he killed your business completely.”

“Absolutely, pal.” Serge agreed. ‘He just totally killed my business.” Then Van Kovn, who sounded as if he, too, had been sleeping with Lyudmyla, shared his regrets that Serge’s “grandiose plans” had all been destroyed by Lyudlyma’s murder.

Who was Boxer? The cops had the tape from the surveillance camera at the Arch Drive apartment on the morning Lyudmyla was murdered, and it recorded lots of people in and out. The three cops pored over the grainy tape until they could identify each tenant, each delivery person, each handyman and maid. Finally, there were only two entries who could not be identified: a bald man and a woman who arrived together at 9:03 and departed at 9:23. It was a short stay, but time to have dispatched Lyudmyla.

After they showed the video to the FBI, the feds recognized a potential suspect. The man, Alexander Gabay, 36, was a classmate of Serge and Van Kovn at Fairfax High. Unlike Serge, however, Alex had gone straight. A former Navy Seabee, he had graduated from the prestigious Southern California Institute of Architecture. Alex’ specialty was architectural welding, and he had fancy clientele in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Malibu. A killer? Not likely. But as Krumer worked the West Hollywood grapevine, he found out that before his family had immigrated to Los Angeles when we was 15, Alex was a kickboxing expert in Moscow. Hence the nickname Boxer, used only by Serge, Van Kovn and a few others in the high school circle.

The girl on the tape was identified as Oxana Meshkova, 23. She was one of six Kievans Serge had helped transport from Mexican to San Diego on July 4, 2000. She and three other fellow travelers were sold to Lyudmyla Petushenko at auction with the expectation that they would enter the business.

Lyudmyla became dissastified with Oxana, who clearly had no interest in play for pay. Lyudmyla tried to unload Oxana to other madams. None wanted her. Only Gabay, who had met Oxana at a party Serge had thrown for his new arrivals, showed an interest in the girl, who had lifted weights back in the Ukraine. He invited her to move into his downtown loft on East Sixth Street. Alex and Oxana became the LAPD’s prime suspects in the murder of Lyudmyla Petushenko.

Speaking perfect English, Gabay acknowledged having gone with Oxana to visit Lyudmyla on the day of her death so Oxana could pick up a bag of clothing she had left there. He found Lyudmyla alive and left her alive. In a separate interrogation room, Oxana, extremely anxious because of her illegal status, told the same story to Krumer, who translated it for his superiors. By the end of a long day, however, Oxana had changed her story several times, from Lyudmyla’s being alive when she and Alex left to Lyudmyla’s being dead when they arrived. That evening Alex and Oxana were arrested and charged with Lyudmyla’s murder.

Alex Gabay’s loft didn’t fit with his image of being a successful architect. “It was a pit,” says Krumer. “His mother would have been appalled.” The bathroom plumbing didn’t work, and there was nothing but a hot plate to prepare food. The walls were plastered with pornographic photos of Alex’ assorted girlfriends, some of them with a naked Alex participating in kinky poses. Weapons abounded. There were crossbows and arrows, rifles, pistols and bullet casings. There were welding torches and clumps of metal the police assumed were Alex’ art. “It was a junkyard,” said Krumer. though Alex did not seem like a killer, his lifestyle did nothing to establish confidence in his character.

Still, the LAPD case was by no means open-and-shut. For nearly a year after their arrest and incarceration in downtown jails, Alex and Oxana continued to insist on their innocence. Despite repeated police interrogations, they confessed to nothing. No witnesses to the murder came forward. None of Serge’s prostitute friends knew Alex; he wasn’t in that loop. A few of the Kievans had met Oxana when she arrived, but none had ever worked with her. As far as anyone knew, she had never turned a trick in America.

Serge Mezheritsky proclaimed his friend Alex’ innocence, even after Serge himself was arrested in May 2001 by the federal task force. Serge, Tetyana Komisaruk and her family – in total, 18 co-conspirators – faced years in prison on alien-smuggling charges. Serge continued to bargain. “His lawyer came to me and said Serge would give us the information we needed if we got him released. I said no dice,” McCartin says. “I had told him at the beginning that if I didn’t get the truth, it would come back to bite him, and it did. He’s convinced I screwed him.” Feeling betrayed by his cop friends, Serge now claimed that th FBI’s wiretaps of his conversations with lawyer Van Kovn, also indicted as part of the ring, about Boxer’s culpability had been grossly misinterpreted. The alien smuggling trial began this past April.

Unwilling to risk using any of Serge’s doubletalk in a trial of Alex and Oxana, the prosecution got a break when DNA evidence linked a tiny spot on a pair of Alex’ jogging shoes with Lyudmyla’s blood. But no other blood was found on any of the alleged assailants’ garments, and the spot didn’t necessarily come from the commission of the crime. It could have been generated by casual contact with the splattered blood in the apartment after someone else had killed Lyudmyla. The DNA was helpful. but not enough to build a case.

As the cops waited for a bigger break. the smuggling case and the arrest of Serge and Tetyana had halted the supply of Russian prostitutes in Los Angeles. The only way madams could 0ffer new faces and bodies to their insatiable clients was to raid the stables of their rivals. What ensued were the “whore wars.” In late August 2001, two Russian girls were lolling about in Gucci cocktail dresses in a fancy Sherman Oaks apartment, waiting for a client who had seen their Internet ad. When the man arrived, he had a gun in his hand and several large accomplices behind him.  “You’re working for us now,” the intruder announced, as his heavies ransacked the apartment for cash and passports. The girls were blind-folded, packed into a van and taken to an equally luxurious three-bedroom condo off of Beverly  Boulevard.

“The madam who organized this raid was making $4 million a year, laundered through Russian-owned banks in New York City,” says a source in the LAPD. Adds Bret Richards, 44, the LAPD detective in charge of a series of felony kidnapping cases in the whore wars: “These are brutal people.” A few days after the August abductions, another Russian madam’s army invaded a rival’s mid-Wilshire playhouse, kidnapping four more prostitutes. One of the abductees called 911 from the bathroom of the Beverly Hills penthouse where she had been taken, and the LAPD made its first raid. “But the girl got the Stockholm syndrome,” Richards says. “She fell in love with the chief abductor and refused to testify against him.” Richards has been frustrated that several of the other rescued girls, whose testimony is key to convicting the madams, have returned to Russia or New York. “Even if the girls stayed under our protection, they’re terrifed that they could be targeted for reprisal. It has been a tough case,” says Richards.

As Richards worked to end the whore wars, Knolls, McCartin and Krumer finally got their break. Oxana Meshkova decided to against her lover Alex Gabay to get herself out of and out of trouble. “We made a deal with her,” McCartin says. “But only because we believed she was finally telling the truth.” Oxana now said that she and Alex had gone to Lyudmyla’s to ascertain the whereabouts of Oxana’s close friend, also a prostitute. Oxana had heard that her friend had been turned into a heroin addict, and she wanted to rescue the 19-year-old she referred to as her “baby sister.”

According to Oxana, when Lyudmyla refused to reveal her friend’s whereabouts, a fight followed. Alex nearly kicked Lyudmyla to death, then finished her with a bullet from his .45. What gave Oxana added credibility was her revelation that a third person, Alex’ buddy Marvin Graham, a Santa Monica bartender, had driven Alex and Oxana to Arch Drive that August 17.

Knolls had now been transferred from the RHD back to the beat work that he loved, so it was McCartin who found and questioned Graham. The interrogation proved extremely successful. Graham not only told him Alex had admitted to him that he had shot Lyudmyla, but also surrendered part of the murder weapon: the frame of a gun he had been hiding for Alex, who had melted down the .45 barrel but hated to let a good gun go to waste. With Oxana, with Graham and with the DNA, the DA was at last ready to go to trial.

Alex Gabay’s mother and stepfather, a prosperous Russian businessman, hired ace criminal lawyer Ronald Hedding to defend Alex. Hedding passed up a plea bargain. In spite of the evidence, he believed that the cops’ deal with illegal alien and would-be prostitute Oxana would not survive scrutiny in court. Why should she go free just to get Alex, whose own record was spotless? Hedding felt there was enough reasonable doubt to win an acquittal for his client.

The trial in the case of California vs. Gabay opened on January 2, 2002. Opposing Hedding was Deputy District Attorney Jane Winston, who looked like a surfer girl gone Armani. In the two week trial, Winston would call a battery of witnesses, but her star was Oxana Meshkova, just as Hedding’s was Alex Gabay. In the end, the battle of reasonable doubt would come down to he said, she said.

Oxana, dressed in jailhouse blues, with her even drabber prison pallor and greasy hair, was an unlikely callgirl. According to her, as explicated by a string of translators, she never was a callgirl, never intended to be one, nor had any idea that sin would be the price of her immigration to California. She recounted how, after Lyudmyla was reluctant to reveal her friend’s location, a nasty argument erupted in which, after Lyudmyla ridiculed her as a “cow,” Alex erupted in a lover’s fatal rage.

In his cross-examination, Hedding challenged Oxana’s entire story. Oxana knew precisely why she was here, Hedding said. He dragged out her weightlifting past, which slie minimized as an attempt to shed pounds. He also got her to admit she occasionally shot guns for target practice in Alex’ loft.

Deputy District Attorney Winston ran a chaste prosecution. She stayed away from sex. She didn’t bring up prostitution when she questioned wake-up caller Leyla Ismayilova. Serge Mezheritsky was barely mentioned. And so it went, until Alex took the stand in his own defense.

His head no longer shaved and his blond hair slicked back, Alex, in his navy Italian suit, could have easily passed as a European banker. In a mellifluous voice, Alex conveyed his incredulity that he could be accused of this murder. The inelegance of it seemed to offend him. He spoke of his teenage kickboxing laurels. His athletic physique spoke for itself. Why, Hedding asked him, would he beat a woman to death if he could have neatly killed her with one thumb pressed to her temple? “She wouldn’t have had a mark,” Alex said. Yes, the gun that killed Lyudmyla belonged to him, for recreational use. But Oxana kept it in her purse “for self-defense,” and it was Oxana who had shot Lyudmyla. According to Alex, weight lifter Oxana had beaten the madam to a pulp for her role in turning her beloved girlfriend into a heroin addict. After Lyudmyla called her a “fat cow,” Oxana snapped, crushing Lyudmyla to the floor, stomping on her head and neck, and, as the coup de grâce, shooting her.

What did you do? Hedding asked. “l thought I should let them duke it out together,” said Boxer, unaware of the depth of Oxana’s rage. One witness said Alex loved Oxana as a “cultural girlfriend” who would please his mother. Alex explained that he had told Marvin Graham, who had simply stopped for them at Lyudmyla’s en route to what was to have been a pleasant day at the beach in Venice, that he had shot Lyudmyla because “I didn’t want Oxana to be implicated at the time. I think if he would have known that she did it, he would have just flipped” and turned Oxana in. As it was, Alex trusted his friend to protect him, if not his girlfriend.

Cross-examined by DA Winston, Alex Gabay had an answer for everything. Except for one detail. If Oxana had the gun in her purse, why was that purse not visible on the surveillance tape? Winston repeatedly played the entrance and exit of Alex and Oxana. Alex kept his composure, complaining that the tape was blurry and vague and stating that Oxana always carried her purse. So where is it? Winston pressed, and, for once, Alex could only shrug.

In summation, Hedding denounced the government’s deal with Oxana, who had the motive of revenge against Lyndmyla, a motive Alex lacked. He was a gentleman who might stand up for this lost soul of a lover, but would he kill for her? Hedding said no.

After deliberating for less than an hour, the jury found Alex Gabay guilty of second-degree murder. Since he used a gun, he faced a mandatory prison sentence of 40 years to life. As always, Alex remained cool. His mother wept.

Oxana was released, but still faces deportation charges. “She has nothing to celebrate. Even if they were to let Oxana stay, God knows what could happen no her family back in Kiev. Russians do not forgive or forget,” says Krumer, who went on to help Richards on the whore war cases. By April 2002, four male abductors had been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 12 years. None of the madams, however, was convicted, and the investigation continues.

“I feel good,” says McCartin of the verdict. “There was a time when Gabay was testifying that I questioned thejury’s ability to come to the right decision. He was good.” McCartin is off on another capital case now. He’s relieved to be moving on from the prostitution scene. He’ll leave the whore wars to other cops. “Gabay’s conviction will have no deterrent effect” on Russian crime, McCartin says. “They’re all backstabbers. And there will be a lot more Lyudmylas. They’e entrepreneurs. They’re looking at $10,000 a month for turning tricks. For them, that’s the American dream.”