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California federal court next for FBI informant re-arrested in Las Vegas

Updated February 23, 2024 - 4:26 pm

A California federal judge will determine if former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov will be released from custody following his second arrest in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Alexander Smirnov, 43, is facing charges of lying to officials about an alleged multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and a Ukrainian energy company.

According to court filings, Smirnov is scheduled to appear in a Los Angeles federal court on Monday morning for a detention hearing. U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II, who will oversee Monday’s hearing, wrote in an order on Friday that defense attorneys sought an emergency hearing in Nevada to secure Smirnov’s release, “likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States.”

Defense attorneys have also filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, typically used to appeal a judge’s decision, in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The document was filed under seal as of Friday afternoon.

“We are advocating for Mr. Smirnov’s release in both the federal district court and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Smirnov’s Las Vegas defense attorneys, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, said in a statement. “We will have no comment on the case and look forward to appearing in the appropriate federal court.”

Smirnov’s attorneys filed an emergency motion on Thursday in an attempt to prevent federal authorities from transporting Smirnov to California.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Albregts denied the motion in a minute order on Friday, indicating the Nevada federal court no longer has jurisdiction over the case.

Albregts had ordered Smirnov’s release from custody on Tuesday, after finding that prosecutors did not prove it was necessary to hold Smirnov in custody to ensure he would appear in court.

He was arrested again on a warrant out of California while at his attorneys’ office on Thursday morning, according to court documents.

Chesnoff and Schonfeld alleged that re-arresting Smirnov, who has lived in Las Vegas for two years, was an “interference with his cherished Sixth Amendment rights,” according to a motion filed Thursday for Smirnov’s release from custody.

Smirnov is accused of falsely reporting to his FBI handler that executives from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid President Biden and Hunter Biden $5 million each around 2015, a claim that has become central to the Republican impeachment inquiry in Congress.

An indictment returned on Feb. 14 charged Smirnov with making a false statement to federal agents and creating a false and fictitious record.

Prosecutors have said that Smirnov worked as an FBI informant for at least 10 years, and that he has ties to multiple foreign intelligence agencies, including Russia.

Smirnov has lived in Las Vegas for two years, and spent 16 years before that living in California, defense attorney’s have written in court documents. He has lived in Las Vegas with his significant other, Diana Lavrenyuk, in a home that she owns, Chesnoff and Schonfeld wrote.

Property records show that in February 2022, a Diana Lavrenyuk purchased a $980,000 unit in the One Turnberry Place luxury condominium complex overlooking the Strip near Paradise Road and Elvis Presley Boulevard.

Little else is known about Smirnov. When he was released from custody on Tuesday, he exited the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas arm-in-arm with a man and a woman wearing face masks. Smirnov covered his face with a hat, hooded jacket and sunglasses, and refused to speak with reporters.

Prosecutors have written in court documents that Smirnov had plans to leave the U.S. on a “months-long, multi-country foreign trip” scheduled for two days after he was initially arrested, during which Smirnov claimed to have plans to meet with foreign intelligence contacts.

Smirnov has access to more than $6 million between him and Lavrenyuk, prosecutors claim, which he did not disclose to authorities. Defense attorneys have argued that Smirnov disclosed his personal assets to authorities and was not asked to disclose “the business account.”

He has both a U.S. and Israeli passport, which Smirnov was made to turn over to authorities when he was released from custody on Tuesday. Prosecutors have painted him as a flight risk who may flee the U.S.

According to the indictment, Smirnov told the FBI the false allegations about the bribery scheme in 2020, after expressing bias against Joe Biden to his FBI handler when Biden was the presume Democrat presidential candidate.

“And the false information he provided was not trivial,” prosecutors wrote in their appeal of Smirnov’s detention status. “It targeted the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties in the United States. The effects of Smirnov’s false statements and fabricated information continue to be felt to this day.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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