Ukrainian con does AM phone-in show from 'The Tombs'
- Last Updated: 2:44 PM, July 29, 2012
- Posted: 12:27 AM, July 29, 2012
Good morning, Cell Block D!
The Edward R. Murrow of the Manhattan Detention Center is Vadim Vassilenko — the alleged “godfather of cybercrime” who has taken to the airwaves to proclaim his innocence.
From a prison phone, Vassilenko, 45, does a show for Davidzon Radio, a Brooklyn-based Russian-language station.
“I’m an extrovert — I’m not shy about letting the world know,” he told The Post during an hourlong jailhouse interview last week. “It is unjust and unfair, and I want people to know what is going on.”
In 2006, Vassilenko spent about a year at Bare Hill Correctional Facility upstate for running an unlicensed check-cashing and money-transfer operation in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Shortly after his release, he was pinched again — indicted in 2007 for his alleged role in an ID-theft ring that stole 95,000 credit-card numbers.
The Ukrainian citizen has been between the lower Manhattan jail known as “The Tombs” and Rikers Island ever since — without ever having a trial. Because the case is so complicated, he’s had 45 court appearances — with no bail set.
Vassilenko has been doing the “Extreme Situation” show throughout his incarceration, calling in to host Alexander Grant, who after giving a brief introduction about the case, allows Vassilenko to freestyle.
“Usually I talk about my case, but sometimes I try to teach people using my financial expertise,” said Vassilenko, who claims innocence based on an absence of criminal intent.
Vassilenko’s portion is pre-taped. Listeners call in and offer their opinions, which occasionally gives Vassilenko a chuckle.
“Sometimes they say that I should rot in jail,” he said.
Grant, 68, called Vassilenko a natural.
“He’s eloquent, well-educated and he knows what he’s after,” Grant said. “And he’s very stubborn.”
Callers are divided about Vassilenko’s guilt or innocence.
“Half of them think he’s a criminal, while the other half think it’s the American system biased against Russians,” Grant said.
The show airs on AM 620 and is posted online, where it goes to a worldwide audience. Vassilenko estimates he’s done about 20 programs, the last one about two weeks ago, and boasted about a recent show’s 100 downloads.
Prisoners are charged for phone privileges, and over the years, Vassilenko has had to be creative about getting enough chat time. At Rikers, he bartered food from the commissary in exchange for minutes, so he would have enough for the 20- to 30-minute program. He also would just pay prisoners double, triple or even quadruple for their 15 minutes of talk time, which costs $1.
“I do whatever it takes,” he said.
Vassilenko is a minor Tombs celebrity. He said guards are supportive of his fight and his show, and have nicknamed him “Russia.”
The jail supervisor had no comment.
Last year, Vassilenko took to the sky to publicize his case, paying pilot Michael Arnold to fly a Cessna over Manhattan and Brooklyn with a banner that read: “V. Vassilenko Jailed 5+ Yrs — No Trial — Is This Legal?”
“This guy should work for me — he’s great at getting press,” Arnold said.
From his cell, Vassilenko has a view of the Empire State Building — where he used to have an office on the 44th floor.
He said he has a recurring nightmare resembling his real life: “I’m on an airplane that never takes off.”