A Twin Cities woman admitted Monday that she staged her ex-husband's death to collect $2 million in insurance money as part of a scheme stretching into Eastern Europe and back to a Minneapolis cemetery, where ashes that were not his were interred behind a stone tile bearing his name.
Irina Vorotinov, 49, of Minneapolis, pleaded guilty in federal court in Minneapolis to mail fraud and a related felony count for her role in the concocted death of Igor Vorotinov, who was last said to be alive in Ukraine and Moldova.
A charge of money laundering was dismissed as part of the plea agreement, which awaits approval from U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz.
The agreement acknowledges that Irina Vorotinov faces a sentence in the range of 37 to 46 months, with prosecutors agreeing not to seek more than the minimum. However, Schiltz can deviate below or above the range. The question of restitution remains unsettled.
"The FBI and Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS determined that Igor Vorotinov's death was faked," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. MacLaughlin. "The hard work of the agents on this case illustrates the ability of the United States government to effectively investigate complex international crimes. Would-be fraudsters should be warned that it is very difficult to steal millions of dollars from United States insurance companies with impunity."
Defense attorney Matthew Forsgren declined to discuss specifics of the case against his client, but did say, "There is much more to this than meets the eye. But Irina fully accepts responsibility for her conduct, and awaits sentencing."
The couple's son, Alkon Vorotinov, 26, of New Hope, has pleaded guilty to concealing a felony for his role in the alleged plot and awaits sentencing. Vorotinov, who works as a credit repair specialist, declined to comment on Monday about his mother's plea agreement.
As part of the investigation, ashes interred in late 2011 at a Lakewood Cemetery mausoleum as being Igor Vorotinov's were removed for examination last June.
While authorities have yet to officially address the identity of the remains, a law enforcement source who was briefed on the case said, "There were human remains found in the urn, but they were not Igor's." The source did not know the identity of the remains.
The source, who declined to be identified because these details have yet to be put into the public record, said Igor Vorotinov is believed to be in hiding in Eastern Europe.
Federal investigators have contended that the family made up the story that Igor Vorotinov died in October 2011 in Moldova, a westerly neighbor to Ukraine, and that Mutual of Omaha did not have to make good on the insurance claim.
Irina Vorotinov and Igor Vorotinov, who was 47 at the time of the death claim, were charged in federal court in February 2015, and he remains charged.
The son agreed to cooperate with federal authorities early last year and said his father has been living in various locations in Moldova and Ukraine under the name Nikolai Patoka, a search warrant application read.
According to the case against the Vorotinovs, Igor bought a life insurance policy in April 2010 and listed Irina and his son as beneficiaries.
In October 2011, police in Moldova were alerted to a body in the bushes at the entrance to the village of Cojusna. A passport, hotel cards and phone numbers identified the man as Igor Vorotinov.
Irina Vorotinov traveled to Moldova, went to a morgue with a U.S. Embassy official and identified the body as Igor's. At her request, the body was cremated about 130 miles east of the village, in Odessa, Ukraine. She returned to Minnesota with the ashes, held a funeral on Nov. 4, 2011, at the mausoleum and filed a death claim on the insurance policy, authorities said.
Mutual of Omaha sent a $2 million check to Irina Vorotinov, who was living in Maple Grove at the time, and it was deposited in a bank account. Court documents say the son knew that his father's death was a hoax. Between March 29, 2012, and January 2015, mother and son transferred more than $1.5 million of insurance proceeds to accounts in Switzerland and Moldova.
A tipster in Moldova told an FBI agent in June 2013 that Igor Vorotinov had staged his death and was living in Ukraine under a new identity, authorities said.
Customs agents stopped Alkon Vorotinov in Detroit in November 2013 as he returned from Moldova, and digital photos on his computer dated April and May of 2013 showed his father "very much alive" more than 1½ years after his supposed death, a court filing read.