Two trials, 'hundreds of thousands' of pieces of evidence, result in five convictions of Treasure Valley counterfeit cell phone ring
Five members of a multimillion-dollar counterfeit cell phone ring operating in the Treasure Valley have been convicted in a second trial, after a jury deadlocked in a first trial last fall.
Police arrested multiple members of the Babichenko family and their associates in a 2018 series of raids, accusing the group of buying foreign-made counterfeit cell phones and reselling them in the United States as authentic Apple and Samsung devices.
Eight members of the Treasure Valley family faced a jury trial last fall, which resulted in one acquittal and a hung jury for the remaining seven defendants.
“We made the decision to pursue justice in a second trial, and we’re glad that we did,” U.S. Attorney for Idaho Josh Hurwit told reporters Tuesday as he announced the verdicts.
Hurwit was just confirmed to his post by the U.S. Senate in June. During his announcement, nearly a dozen members of federal and local law enforcement stood stern-faced behind him.
“At its core, this case was about protecting the public and the integrity of the marketplace for consumer products, and also protecting the marketplace for intellectual property owners,” Hurwit said.
Pavel Babichenko, Piotr Babichenko, Timofey Babichenko, David Bibikov, and Mikhail Iyerusalimets were convicted of a total of 24 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit trademarked goods, wire fraud, mail fraud and trafficking in counterfeit goods. Hurwit said the second jury deliberated for about a week following the trial which began in mid-May.
Convicted defendants are facing up to 20 years in prison and a $5 million dollar fine.
Jurors found each female defendant in the case not guilty. The first jury in 2021 acquitted Natalya Babichenko, and the second jury acquitted Kristina Babichenko and Anna Iyerusalimets of all charges.
Originally, prosecutors had charged ten people in the case. Charges against Gennady Babitchenko were dismissed by the court and defendant Artur Pupko pleaded guilty in 2019. His sentencing was delayed until the conclusion of his co-defendant's trial.
Defense argued that the case against their clients lacked enough evidence, or that some evidence was improperly listed by the government and charges should be dismissed were denied by District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
Hurwit said defense accusations that prosecutors mishandled evidence during the most recent trial did not put the outcome at risk.
“When you’re dealing with literally hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence, it doesn’t go perfectly,” he said.
Defense lawyers argued government prosecutors deserved to be sanctioned for withholding documents regarding one witness in the case. Judge Winmill partially granted a defense request to strike the testimony of that witness, but the specifics of that ruling were not available in court documents.
“The defendants had a fair and complete trial in this case,” Hurwit said.
Defense attorneys would not comment. A change.org petition started by defendant Peter Babichenko in 2018 claimed the charges were rooted in religious persecution.
The convicted defendants are free until sentencing, currently scheduled for November 2-3, 2022.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the judge as Lynn B. Winmill.