This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The distinctive wedding band worn by a western New York businessman who disappeared while on a trip to Thailand could provide a clue to what happened to him.
The Florida man who turned it over to the FBI told authorities that he obtained the ring while destroying documents and personal items left behind by the businessman - the victim of a murder allegedly directed by Egor Michailovich Chernov, a 32-year-old Russian immigrant who lives in Lehi.
As federal police investigate the purported killing - as well as an allegation that the Florida man tried to extort money based on his knowledge of the murder - Chernov sits in a Utah jail awaiting trial in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on two counts of conspiracy to produce false passports and identification.
An FBI affidavit filed with the charges notes that the alleged murder and extortion attempt are "inextricably intertwined" with the falsified passports case.
The affidavit was unsealed in August along with the rest of the case file. It gives a chilling account of an international plot that included fake documents for three Eastern European countries, business trips to Thailand and meetings in the Bahamas.
It also describes the murder, allegedly carried out in Thailand by two Australians.
The participants in the alleged scheme are listed as Chernov and unnamed co-conspirators, or CCs. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., declined to identify the co-conspirators.
The affidavit describes them this way:
* CC-1 was at one time a motivational speaker who became business partners with Chernov and several co-conspirators. He was identified by associates as Rex Judd, an Ontario, N.Y., resident who sold motivational tapes and sales tools.
Judd is missing and presumed to be the murder victim, said Charlie Flynn, a Canadian investment banker who said he was courted by Chernov's group.
* CC-2 is Chernov's sister and CC-3 is her husband, both Russian citizens living in their home country.
* CC-4 and CC-5 are Australians and colleagues.
* CC-6 is a U.S. citizen living in Draper, and CC-7 is the Florida man who turned over the wedding band and several pairs of cuff links that he said belonged to CC-1.
"They were men of mystery," said Flynn. "They flew around the world under different names. The story's still unfolding."
Flynn, who lives part-time in West Vancouver, British Columbia, and part-time in Spain, said he looked into investing in real estate and insurance ventures with the group but ultimately declined to get involved.
Judd, however, put $3.5 million into their schemes and ended up broke, according to Flynn.
He believes Judd's efforts to get the money back later led to his death.
Flynn said he almost ended up a victim himself when he traveled to Thailand in March 2006 to discuss investment opportunities in Russian oil leases.
Chernov and his cohorts assaulted Flynn and tried to hold him against his will on a boat but he managed to escape, according to Flynn and the affidavit.
Flynn said he later discovered that a letter inviting him and other potential investors to a business meeting was a forgery of a legitimate company's letterhead.
The charges against Chernov allege he conspired with others from fall 2000 to about September 2006 to produce fake identification documents.
He allegedly made false passports from Russia, Belarus and Bulgaria.
Chernov is accused of making false identification documents for CC-7, who allegedly tried to sell a villa he was renting in Thailand.
Chernov also provided Judd with Russian passports for him and his wife after Judd came under investigation in 2002 and 2003 for tax evasion, according to the FBI affidavit.
Judd's wife wanted no part of leaving the country but "CC-1 told her that he was unwilling to go to jail" and they could disappear with fake passports made by Chernov, the affidavit says.
In April 2004, the couple's attorney received notice from the government that there would be no criminal prosecution.
The wife - called CW-1 for cooperating witness - said she last saw her husband when she dropped him off at the Greater Rochester International Airport on Sept. 14, 2005, for a flight to Bangkok.
She told investigators that he was planning to meet Chernov during the trip, according to the FBI affidavit.
The wife never heard from her husband after that and reported him missing to authorities.
In October 2005, she flew to Chicago to meet with Chernov, who allegedly tried to convince her that her spouse had purposely disappeared.
In an interview with the FBI, the Florida man allegedly admitted that he had pretended, at Chernov's request, to be a stock broker named Michael Woods at a meeting in the Bahamas to try to set up a deal with a potential investor.
The Florida man also claimed that he was present in Phuket, Thailand, when Chernov directed CC-4 and CC-5 to kill the New York businessman, according to the FBI affidavit. The victim purportedly was taken on a boat into the shipping channels off the coast and killed by the Australians, the affidavit states.
The Florida man said he and Chernov flew to Singapore so Chernov could prove he was not in Thailand when the slaying occurred.
In his interview with the FBI, the Florida man admitted he helped CC-4 destroy the victim's personal items, the affidavit states. He turned over a wedding ring and cuff links to investigators.
The businessman's wife identified the items from photographs. She said her husband had lost his original wedding band and the new one had her large engagement diamond placed on it, along with four smaller diamonds.
The story took another twist when the FBI allegedly uncovered evidence that the Florida man believed Chernov owed him money and he came to Utah in November 2006 with some buddies to find the Russian. On Nov. 15 last year, the affidavit states, Chernov's wife filed a police report that the couple's home had been vandalized.
Officers found various phrases spray painted on the house - including "Egor Chernov murdered [CC-1]" and "Russian Maggot!" - and a knife left sticking in the front door frame.
In June, a man named Paul Michael Combs was indicted by a federal grand jury in Utah on one count of extortion. His aliases are listed as Michael Woods, Aleksandar Stanislavov, Ug, Picasso, Ug-Gogh, Ugster-Brandt and Ug-BrandtGoghCasso - the same aliases and nicknames listed for the Florida man in the Chernov case.
The indictment alleges that Combs, who is in federal custody, attempted to extort cash and property from "E.C." from September 2006 to January 2007.
Combs' defense lawyer declined comment Wednesday. Chernov's attorney could not be reached for comment.