MERRIMACK, N.H. — Their home at 30 Ellie Drive is the picture of American suburbia: Two stories, blue shutters, tidy landscaping. An SUV in the driveway with a “Baby on Board” decal and a small army of inflatable Christmas decorations standing sentry in the yard.
Alexey and Daria Brayman, a pair of thirtysomething Eastern European emigres, blended well into this land of shared casseroles, poker nights, and neighborhood book clubs. They ran a popular online craft store — selling quirky night lights on Etsy — and stood out largely for their generosity and good will.
“They are the nicest family,” said a delivery driver who frequently stops at the home, dropping off packages of various shapes and sizes. “They’ll leave gift cards out around the holidays. And snacks.”
But Tuesday morning, that perfect American image was shattered as Alexey Brayman, 35, and six others were named in a sprawling federal indictment that accused them of running an international smuggling ring that illegally funneled sensitive technology to Russia. Brayman, an Israeli citizen who was born in Ukraine, was taken into custody shortly after and appeared Tuesday evening in federal court in Concord, dressed in jeans and a red, white, and blue track jacket. He was released on a $150,000 bond, ordered to turn over his passport, and is subjected to travel restrictions and a curfew.
Federal authorities also arrested two other alleged conspirators, including one in Estonia last week and a second in New Jersey on Tuesday.
Prosecutors allege the Braymans’ home has been a clearinghouse for expensive semiconductors, oscilloscopes, and other items bound for Russia, items that experts said are commonly used in weapons systems, including those used in the country’s ongoing war with Ukraine.
The federal charging documents, obtained by the Globe, outline a plot pulled straight from “The Americans” TV series, about KGB agents raising a family near Washington, D.C.
As the Braymans lived a seemingly quintessential American lifestyle — attending Celtics games, vacationing in Florida, visiting local arts festivals — Alexey Brayman allegedly received a steady stream of “advanced electronics and sophisticated testing equipment used in quantum computing, hypersonic and nuclear weapons development and other military and space-based military applications,” according to the indictment unsealed in the Eastern District of New York.
Those items, investigators alleged, “could make a significant contribution to the military potential or nuclear proliferation of other nations or that could be detrimental to the . . . national security of the United States.”
To evade US export sanctions, prosecutors say, members of the ring shipped the equipment piecemeal to Alexey Brayman’s home in Merrimack using fictitious front companies headed by Russian businessmen and associates. Brayman, authorities allege, would then forward the equipment on to Germany and Estonia, “common transshipment points for items ultimately destined for Russia.”
The accused smugglers have been on the radar of federal investigators for some time, documents show. In early October, a federal magistrate judge approved an extensive FBI search of the Merrimack home, including computers and cellphones, according to a copy of the search warrant application obtained by the Globe. FBI agents specializing in espionage and counterintelligence activity later raided the home.
On Tuesday morning, federal authorities unsealed a 16-count indictment, naming Brayman, Yevgeniy Grinin, Aleksey Ippolitov, Boris Livshits, Svetlana Skvortsova, Vadim Konoshchenok, and Vadim Yermolenko. They allegedly played various roles in the scheme and are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling, and bank and wire fraud.
Konoshchenok was arrested and taken into custody in Estonia, while Yermolenko was arrested and taken into custody Tuesday morning in Upper Saddle River, N.J., authorities added.
“The Department of Justice and our international partners will not tolerate criminal schemes to bolster the Russian military’s war efforts,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement. “With three of the defendants now in custody, we have disrupted the procurement network allegedly used by the defendants and Russian intelligence services to smuggle sniper rifle ammunition and sensitive electronic components to Russia.”
The arrests come as the war in Ukraine nears its 10th month, outlasting Russia’s original projections and sapping the country’s stockpiles of weapons and microelectronics. The Kremlin’s ability to sustain the offensive now hinges in part on its access to Western electronics that are more difficult than ever to obtain under current US sanctions.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the United States and Russia remains fraught. Just last week, the countries executed a high-stakes prisoner swap: Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who had been arrested in Russia for allegedly carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil.
On a weekday afternoon in late November, delivery drivers piled packages of various sizes on the Braymans’ garland-wrapped front porch. A security camera pointed inconspicuously from its perch above the front door.
When the doorbell beckoned, Daria Brayman greeted a Globe reporter wearing bright blue socks that said “Fun City.” When she learned of the reason for the visit, she stepped out onto the front porch and quickly pulled the door closed behind her.
She initially invited a reporter to return later to speak with her husband, who she said was not at home, before later saying she would need to consult with her lawyer.
Asked about allegations that her husband was using their home to funnel sensitive materials to Russia, however, Brayman denied knowing about anything illegal.
“We do craft festivals and fairs,” she explained, an apparent reference to the family’s night light company.
The couple’s online profiles suggest they would be unlikely associates in the Russian war machine.
On his Facebook page, Alexey Brayman lists his hometown as Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and court records identify him as an Israeli citizen. He also once posted a clip of Ukrainian performers on “America’s Got Talent,” calling attention to the years-long conflict with Russia.
Last spring, while the components for warfare were allegedly being smuggled through their home, Daria Brayman used her Facebook page to tout her donations to a charity that provides “life-saving medical and humanitarian aid to Ukrainians affected by the Russian military invasion.”
For decades, experts said, Russia has relied on a discreet web of agents to illicitly procure materials the country struggles to produce itself, such as high-level electronics components used for combat and defense.
The battle to obtain such goods has taken on an added urgency in recent years, however, as tensions over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine in February resulted in an extensive list of prohibited exports aimed at choking off Russia’s access to crucial Western-made products.
The materials at the heart of the Merrimack case — semiconductors — are known as “dual-use” technologies. Though ubiquitous in everyday items such as PlayStations and motor vehicles, the tiny chips are also vital to producing weapon systems such as the ballistic missile that struck a southern Ukraine maternity ward in November, killing a newborn child.
“You need these things to hit very specific targets, like a power station or a hospital,” said James Byrne, a director at the Royal United Services Institute, in an interview with the Globe. They’re “a very important part of how Russia fights a war.”
Despite the institution of widespread sanctions — as well as the insistence of US officials that they’ve had a crippling effect on Russia’s war efforts — there is little question that American-made materials have continued to flow into Russia.
Researchers have identified hundreds of electronics produced by US-based companies in Russian weapons systems recovered by Ukraine , according to a report released by Reuters and the Royal United Services Institute in August.
“Russia [has] a lot of expertise in obtaining those components — they’ve had a long experience of doing it, and it’s something they take very seriously,” said Nick Reynolds, a report coauthor and research analyst at the institute.
“People who do that are valuable assets.”
The Braymans arrived in this town of 26,000, perhaps best known for its long-running barbecue rib festival, in 2019, settling into a well-kept home at the end of a quiet street popular with joggers and dog-walkers.
Those acquainted with the couple described them as friendly, if private; few who spoke to the Globe in recent weeks acknowledged knowing the Braymans closely. But public records, as well as the couple’s social media activity, offer a glimpse into the lives they built after arriving in the United States more than a decade ago.
Posts from Alexey Brayman’s Facebook page from a decade ago teem with musings on sex, women, and gambling: in one photo, he poses behind the wheel of a convertible; in another, between a pair of scantily clad women, smiling slyly. He seemed to strike a more domestic tone following his 2015 marriage to Daria, however. He posted images of their dinner dates and family vacations to St. Augustine, Fla., and Israel, where the couple ate sushi and posed with giraffes in Haifa.
“Nice overtime win! Celtics #BleedGreen,” he wrote in a Facebook post in January, along with a photo taken near the court at TD Garden.
His wife also appears to have assimilated smoothly into American life.
Her LinkedIn profile suggests she spent her early career working for a pipe company in the Russian city of Kopeisk. Later, she earned a master’s degree in professional communication from Clark University in Worcester in 2012, according to her online resume. She then went to work as a project manager at inSegment, a digital marketing agency based in Newton, according to the resume. Daria Brayman has not been charged with a crime.
In 2016, state records show, Alexey Brayman launched a business, Cool Houz LLC, specializing in personalized night lights — adorned with dolphins, ballerinas, and the Boston Bruins — that Walmart would eventually carry online.
The scheme, as outlined in the indictment, was extensive. The Globe also obtained a search warrant application for the Merrimack home when the file was briefly available in the federal courts records system.
Beginning as early as 2017, the records allege, a team of Russian nationals — most operating from their home country — sought to obtain banned US items in a plot that would involve millions of dollars, a slew of front companies, and various international locations.
The group worked on behalf of Serniya, a global network of Russian agents and front companies with clients such as the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Federal Security Service, or FSB, according to the indictment. US officials have described Serniya as “instrumental” to Russia’s war machine.
Working at the behest of agents in Russia, Boris Livshits, a Russian national who once lived in Brooklyn, allegedly purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in sanctioned items from American electronics companies, misleading sellers about the equipment’s ultimate destination.
Once purchased, authorities allege, Livshits, using the alias “David Wetzky” and a host of front companies, arranged for the items to be shipped to the Braymans’ Merrimack home. In March 2022, 18 days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Brayman and Livshits discussed sending items to Russia through Germany “by hook or by crook,” according to the indictment.
Brayman regularly sent shipments to Vadim Konoshchenok, a Russian national and suspected FSB agent in Estonia, who, authorities say, would then smuggle the goods across the border into Russia. On one such trip in late October, Konoshchenok was detained and found with 35 different types of semiconductors and electronic components, according to court documents. He has also been found with tens of thousands of rounds worth of American ammunition, including sniper bullets made in Nebraska. A search of his warehouse revealed some 375 pounds of ammunition.
As part of the conspiracy, prosecutors alleged, members of the network falsified financial and shipping documents and were careful to break up large shipments in an effort to avoid attention and suspicion. Payments, too, were intentionally muddied, authorities said, with large amounts shifted among accounts in the names of shell companies held at banks around the world.
How and when authorities first became aware of the alleged plot is unclear; court records offer few details about the case’s origins, and federal authorities declined requests for comment.
But by this fall, court records show, authorities had amassed a trove of evidence, including e-mail correspondence among the alleged conspirators, shipping records, and the assistance of at least one confidential source.
In July, a Nevada magistrate judge signed a warrant for a tracking device to be placed on a “signal generator” purchased by Livshits from an Illinois-based company. With the company’s cooperation, investigators traced the item from a shipping point in Nevada to Merrimack before intercepting it at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where it had been repackaged and was bound for Germany.
Not long after, federal agents armed with a search warrant arrived at 30 Ellie Drive.
This all allegedly played out under the radar in the Meadowoods subdivision, a place where the last controversy of note involved a camper parked in a residential driveway, against neighborhood policy.
As Joe Camar, president of the Meadowoods neighborhood association, put it: “There’s very little that happens here.”
On Tuesday afternoon, not long after Alexey Brayman had been taken into custody, the family’s home sat quiet. Snow blanketed the front yard, and a collection of news vehicles had gathered out front. A woman who briefly appeared at the front door said little before disappearing back inside.
“This is crazy what’s happening in our little neighborhood,” said Amy Goodridge, who lives across the street from the Braymans.
“They did get a lot of packages,” said Goodridge. “Which I guess makes sense now.”
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