Aleksandr Zhukov is not happy.
The accused leader of an advertising fraud scheme that U.S. officials say defrauded international companies out of millions of dollars wrote a letter last week to Judge Edward Korman of the Eastern District of New York asking for assistance in finding new legal representation.
Zhukov, in the note submitted Friday, asked the judge to appoint Simone Bertollini, a New York-based attorney, as his public defender. He hopes to hire Bertollini because of the attorney’s representation of Fabio Gasperini, an Italian man convicted in 2017 of operating a botnet of 100,000 hacked computers for malicious purposes.
Bertollini would replace Igor Litvak, another New York-based attorney who withdrew from the case in March because of Zhukov’s inability to pay his legal fees. Litvak also appeared to be negotiating with prosecutors seeking a plea deal, though it’s clear now Zhukov intends to go to trial.
In his letter to Korman, the Russian cited Bertollini as “the only lawyer in history of USA who won the jury with cyber crime case,” adding that he has no money to pay a lawyer.
“I have Russian lawyer education,” he wrote. “Being in jail I read law library and found the only pretty similar with [my] case. If we call American judgment and American judge system as the standards for all over the world…[it must be] FAIR and EQUAL for both sides of trial.”
In an article posted on his website, Bertollini said the Gasperini case was the first time he represented a client accused of click fraud. Gasperini faced five felony charges and up 70 years in prison, but the jury acquitted him on all but one misdemeanor charge.
“The cases are essentially identical,” said Bertollini, who only learned of Zhukov’s request when reached by CyberScoop. “The judge can make the appointment and, in turn, I will be paid by the government. If they do so, I’ll be happy to take the case.”
Zhukov’s letter, made public Monday, also makes clear that he is unhappy with the government’s case against him. He and four other men are accused of using more than 1,900 computer servers to simulate humans viewing ads on fabricated web pages. The group, known as Methbot, developed relationships with legitimate ad networks, collecting at least $7 million between 2014 and 2016.
“Being in USA now, I feel myself absolutely helpless, because I have here no family, no parents, no friends,” he wrote in broken English from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. “My cyber crime in my indictment is just imagination of FBI and I wish to go to jury…I had invented the Artificial Intelligence and use it to run absolutely legal business in advertisement industry. I’m a weaponless soldier in front of a tank with name FBI.”
It ultimately is up to the court whether to appoint a specific lawyer as a public defender, and that attorney often must work on such cases pro bono.
Zhukov’s letter to the judge is available in full below.
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This story was updated on April 18 to include comment from Bertollini.