Couple Accused of Swindling $34M From Publishing Millionaire

A couple who worked as chauffeurs for the publishing giant Win McCormack have been accused this week of swindling their boss out of $34 million over the last seven years, a scheme federal prosecutors described as being a “colossal heist” to The Oregonian.Sergey V. Lebedenko, 53, and his 48-year-old wife, Galina A. Lebedenko, were arrested

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A couple who worked as chauffeurs for the publishing giant Win McCormack have been accused this week of swindling their boss out of $34 million over the last seven years, a scheme federal prosecutors described as being a “colossal heist” to The Oregonian.

Sergey V. Lebedenko, 53, and his 48-year-old wife, Galina A. Lebedenko, were arrested Tuesday in Oregon on federal charges of wire fraud and money laundering.

The couple is accused of using McCormack’s American Express credit card to make thousands of fraudulent charges between 2016 and 2023. In that time, prosecutors said the couple purchased multiple properties—including one that “may have” been bought for their pastor—that included a $2.3 million residence in Sunriver, Oregon, and a $2 million home in Bermuda Dunes, California.

Prosecutors said McCormack, a 79-year-old political activist who founded Tin House Books, was unaware of the money being stolen from him for years. He “occasionally discovered” red flags on his bank statement, but ultimately didn’t act upon his suspicions until late last year, according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast.

The complaint did not identify McCormack as the man who was allegedly swindled, but his attorney confirmed that he was the fraud victim in an interview with The Oregonian.

McCormack, who was the heir to a Midwest banking fortune and has regularly been a major donor to Democratic causes, first hired the Lebedenkos in 2006. Back then, they were solely his drivers, hired through their chauffeur service called Astra Limousine and Town Car Service.

The relationship between McCormack and the couple grew over time, however, and Sergey Lebedenko eventually became a personal handyman and assistant to McCormack, the complaint said.

With the relationship growing, the complaint said Lebedenko went from charging his boss $90 an hour for rides to supposedly charging him a lower rate for the broader services he was providing.

The complaint said the couple only sent an official invoice to McCormack on one occasion. Other charges were both initiated and collected by the couple, who prosecutors say eventually took advantage of their new purchasing power by gifting themselves millions.

Prosecutors said the couple charged $9 million to McCormack’s card in 2019 alone. By the time they were arrested this week, prosecutors wrote that an “eye-watering” amount of money was discovered at their Portland home, including $100,000 in cash, 150 ounces of gold bullion worth approximately $300,000, as well as 12 firearms.

The raid of the Lebedenko home wasn’t completely out of the blue. Prior to alerting authorities to the charges, the complaint showed that McCormack had confronted the couple previously about large charges on his card he never authorized.

The first confrontation occurred on Aug. 6, 2022, when McCormack texted Sergey Lebedenko about a charge he didn’t recognize, asking, “Sergey did you try to charge $3,400 to my Amex card?”

Text messages between Win McCormack, right, and Sergey Lebedenko, left.

U.S. Attorney’s Office

Lebedenko wrote back in a seemingly frantic quartet of texts: “Of course not,” “absolutely not,” “no no no,” and “Why you always think I’m doing something? If I’m problem in your life fire me and that’s it.”

That encounter put McCormack on alert, the complaint suggested, but didn’t stop the Lebedenkos—who became naturalized citizens of the U.S. in 2001 after moving from Ukraine—from spending on his card, prosecutors alleged.

The next year, prosecutors said McCormack discovered on Nov. 18 that his card was charged fraudulently 10 to 15 times while he was outside the Portland area and didn’t require services from the couple. The complaint said he confronted Lebedenko again and threatened to fire him, but the charges continued to come in.

After that confrontation, the complaint said McCormack’s card was charged an additional 108 times for a total amount of $15,703.

By that point, McCormack appeared to be fed up with the mysterious charges, text messages included in the complaint show.

“Sergey American Express tells me you have charged me about approx about $300,00 (sic) over the course of October and November, probably more,” wrote McCormack in one text. “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.”

The filing showed that Lebedenko responded by gaslighting his boss, writing: “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.

Text messages between Win McCormack, right, and Sergey Lebedenko, left.

Text messages between Win McCormack, right, and Sergey Lebedenko, left.

U.S. Attorney’s Office

That appeared to be the final straw for McCormack, who then went to the FBI with the evidence he’d uncovered, the complaint said. There, agents dug deeper and uncovered the true amount he’d spent on the Lebedenkos services—a whopping $34 million between 2016 and 2023, according to the complaint.

The complaint said McCormack told federal agents he was “utterly astounded” by the amount, adding that he’s never spent “that amount of money on anything and feels taken advantage of.”

“The loss is beyond anything (McCormack) could have conceived,” the filing said.

Among the most egregious periods of alleged spending occurred between April 1 and April 30 in 2022, where the couple charged McCormack for a total of $602,490 across 225 charges. During that same month, McCormack told prosecutors he was home only eight days where he would’ve required the couple’s services.

Sergey and Galina Lebedenko made their initial court appearance this week, where a judge OK’d their release so long as they submit to GPS monitoring. They’ve also been banned from air travel, leaving Oregon, and from making any transaction over $10,000 that’s not first approved by pretrial authorities.

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