In a case tinged with irony, intrigue and tragedy, the mother of a top FBI organized crime supervisor has pleaded guilty to swindling investors out of $4.5 million through several bogus global recycling companies she ran with her late husband.
Milana Murcia - who allegedly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen funds to her daughter, but gave none to her FBI agent son - pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges ten days ago in a deal that calls for a maximum of five years in prison instead of the 20 years she would have faced if convicted of various fraud charges at trial. No other Murcia relatives have been charged, and the investigation is over, sources say.
Last year, when agents moved quickly to arrest Murcia and her husband Phillippe to shut down their schemes even before the investigation was concluded, FBI honchos in Washington called the arrests one of the "FBI's Top Ten News Stories" of the week.
Among other things, according to an arrest complaint filed in January 2008, the couple fraudulently claimed their companies mined diamonds in Africa, made "charcoal from trees on its land in the Congo and Russia," was building "plants in Portugal and Spain to convert waste into coal," and had a water purification "contract with Club Med Resorts in Morocco."
In the complaint, FBI agent Francis Gasper wrote that "business bank account records" of the Regenat Corp. - one of several companies the couple controlled - showed that in recent years, $670,000 had been transferred to personal and business accounts of Milana Murcia's brother, and of her daughter. The scheming began in 1997, according to court records.
There have been no allegations that Murcia's son, FBI agent Vadim Thomas, currently assigned to the Inspection Division of the FBI's Washington D.C. headquarters, ever received any funds from any company account. He also has not been implicated in the scheme in any other way.
Contacted by Gang Land, Thomas said he "had nothing to do with the investigation," did "not know much about it, and had no interest in talking. "I don't have a relationship with my mother," he said, before hanging up.
Thomas, a Russian-speaking agent who worked Russian organized crime cases before overseeing traditional mob investigations, may not have known much about the probe into his mother's crimes, but it was not for a lack of trying, according to one FBI source.
"He heard his mother was under investigation and tried to find out where it was going," said the source. The source explained that even though Thomas was an organized crime supervisor, "he was plugged into the white collar squad that ran the investigation."
The FBI declined to answer any questions about the agency's handling of the probe, which began, according to court records, at least two years before the Murcias were arrested. The FBI also declined to discuss why Thomas has been transferred in and out of several different squads, both in New York and Washington, in recent years.
Regarding his relations with his mother, her attorney agrees with Thomas.
"She has nothing to do with her son. They are estranged," said lawyer Ronald Fischetti, who declined to discuss when mother and son stopped talking to each other.
On the day that his mother and her husband were arrested at the Greenwich, Conn. house that also served as the corporate headquarters of several companies they ran, sources say Thomas - who was working in New York at the time - was notified of the arrests by David Shafer, head of the New York office of the FBI's organized crime investigations.
Meanwhile, his mother and step father, a French-born inventor believed to be the main player in the multiple scams the couple operated, were arraigned on the fraud charges, with each ultimately released on a $200,000 bond secured by properties owned by friends and relatives.
The story took a dark turn a few days later when, on the evening of January 15, 2008, when Mrs. Murcia returned home and discovered that her husband had hanged himself in front a picture of Jesus Christ that adorned a living room wall.
"It was a horrible, horrible tragedy," said Phillippe's federal defender, Suzanne Brody, to whom he wrote a signed, suicide letter that thanked her for her services, which, he noted wryly, would "not be any longer" needed "because I'm taking my life today." In the letter, he absolved his wife and step-daughter of any wrongdoing, stating they had acted under his "request, order and command."
In an emotional, handwritten good-bye note to his wife of 22 years, whom he addressed as "Baby," he begged her to forgive his decision to kill himself, and to ask his children and their dearest friends for their forgiveness as well as their prayers. "Pray for my soul," he wrote.
The letter ended: "I love you and kiss you. Yours for eternity. Lee."
Mrs. Murcia, 65, faces between 37 and 46 months in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines. But her attorney is going to press White Plains Federal Judge Kenneth Karas for probation when she is sentenced in November.
"Her husband was a scientist, he traveled around the world making deals, not my client," said Fischetti. "She did what he told her to do. Now she's lost everything, her husband, her home. She doesn't deserve to be in prison. She deserves probation."
In conversations with several investors from 2004 to 2007, however, including several that were tape-recorded, Milana Murcia said that Regenat "was preparing to sign several significant contracts in Maine ...with companies in the potato industry" to build plants "to convert waste into coal."
Those claims, prosecutors Nicholas McQuaid and Jason Halperin might counter, are not small potatoes. Gang Land expects them to push for prison time within the recommended guidelines range.