An Oregon couple who worked for an Oregon publishing giant have been charged with stealing $34 million in exorbitant and bogus charges, including lavish properties and a private jet, according to court documents.
Sergey V. Lebedenko, 53, and his wife Galina A. Lebedenko, 48, were charged with wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly defrauding Win McCormack, a 79-year-old political activist and founder of Tin House Books, from 2016 to 2023.
For years, Sergey Lebedenko worked as a driver for McCormack, and their business relationship soon changed with time and he and his wife housesat for McCormack and ran his errands, a criminal complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of Oregon said.
The Lebedenkos charged their services to McCormack’s American Express card in the name of their business, Astra Car Service. However, McCormack did not regularly check his card charges, and for years the couple raked in piles of money — including $9 million in 2019 alone — right under McCormack’s nose, the complaint said.
The charges were flagged to the FBI in December by McCormack’s legal representatives, per the complaint.
Win McCormack is a Democratic donor and writer who was the editor-in-chief of Tin House Magazine and was involved in the starting of Mother Jones magazine, according to his bio for Tin House. Though the court records did not name McCormack, his attorney confirmed that he was the alleged fraud victim.
McCormack met Lebedenko and starting using his chauffeur services in 2006 or 2007, and soon after Lebedenko became his handyman and essentially his personal assistant helping him with errands, the complaint said.
At the start of their arrangement, Lebedenko charged McCormack $90 an hour on his Amex for rides. An invoice Galina emailed to McCormack in 2013 showed the charge of $90 an hour for driving services and $60 an hour for walking services.
McCormack “occasionally discovered” that the couple had overcharged his AmEx. On an occasion in Aug. 6, 2022, McCormack confronted Lebedenko in a text message, a screenshot of which was included in the complaint.
McCormack wrote: “Sergey did you try to charge $3,400 to my Amex card?”
Lebedenko responded “Of course not” and “Why you always think I’m doing something? If I’m problem in your life fire me and that’s it.”
Though Lebedenko denied the charge, records showed that the couple had charged McCormack’s Amex $28,900 over a two-day period of Aug. 5-6, 2022, the complaint alleged.
The following year, on Nov. 18, 2023, McCormack discovered his Amex was charged 10 to 15 times by Lebedenko when McCormack was outside the Portland area and shouldn’t have been charged, according to the complaint.
He confronted Lebedenko about the charges and told him to stop charging him until they could discuss the matter and threatened to fire him. Even after that interaction, additional charges were made to his Amex card and McCormack blocked further charges by contacting American Express, the filing said.
After that Nov. 18 conversation, McCormack’s AmEx had been charged 108 additional times totaling an amount of $15,703, according to the filing.
McCormack texted Lebedenko on Nov. 18: “Sergey American Express tells me you have charged me about approx about $300,00 over the course of October and November, probably more. I warned you about this and you and Galina didn’t pay any attention. If this keeps up even a little bit longer you will be fired for sure.”
According to the filing Lebedenko responded saying: “Got your waning and sorry about that, Galina didn’t charge you more then we agreed with you last year, there’s probably other charges coming from, if you think I’m spending all your money then definitely fire me and you will be more comfortable with me and working for you.”
He added, “you know I can work for free for you because you been like my father to me” and sent “I love you Boss” with a heart emoji.
The complaint said McCormack spoke to agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation unit on Jan. 4, 2023, and told them he later discovered Astra Car Service LLC had charged a total of $34 million on McCormack’s AmEx card from 2016 to 2023.
“I was astounded … utterly astounded,” he told agents, adding he would have confronted them had he known the magnitude of the amount.
“V-1 said V-1 had never spent that amount of money on anything and feels taken advantage of. The loss is beyond anything V-1 could have conceived,” the complaint said.
An FBI agent review of the charges found that McCormack was charged by the couple for services allegedly completed on days when he wasn’t even in town.
Lebedenko and Galina charged McCormack’s Amex 225 times for a total of $602,490 from April 1-30, 2022 — an average of 7.5 transactions a day at an average amount of $2,677.73, the complaint says. But, McCormack was in Portland for just eight days that month, and spent the rest of the time outside the city and didn’t receive daily services from the couple.
The complaint said Lebedenko and his wife had acquired several luxury properties in the time they were charging his card: A $2 million home in Bermuda Dunes, California; a $2.3 million residence in Sunriver, Oregon; a $1.5 million private Cessna Citation III jet; and other properties in the Portland and Battleground and Vancouver, Washington, areas.
Court documents show that the husband and wife are naturalized U.S. citizens who moved to Portland in 1995.
Sergey and Galina Lebedenko appeared in court this week where a judge allowed them to be released but they must submit to GPS monitoring, they are banned from traveling on a plane, traveling outside Oregon, and any financial transaction over $10,000 must be approved by U.S. pretrial services.
An attorney for Galina declined to comment on the case Friday, and attorneys for Sergey did not respond to a request for comment.
McCormack said in a statement shared by his attorney Friday that the ordeal has left him “deeply saddened.”
“The fact that this crime was committed by someone with whom I had a long and trusting relationship and friendship, feels like a personal violation and an extreme breach of trust,” he said.