NATIONAL NEWS

Ex-US soldier charged in ‘international crime spree’ extradited from Ukraine, officials say

Jun 3, 2024, 3:49 PM

A former U.S. soldier has been extradited from Ukraine on years-old charges that he went on an alleged “international crime spree,” including the 2018 killings and robbery of a couple in Florida to fund travel plans to Venezuela to wage military-style raids against its government, federal prosecutors announced Monday.

In a U.S. Department of Justice news release, authorities noted that 34-year-old Craig Austin Lang has faced federal indictments in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona since 2019. The Federal Bureau of Investigation brought Lang from Ukraine to the United States after the European Court of Human Rights rejected his claim challenging extradition, the release said. Lang, a U.S. citizen from Surprise, Arizona, pleaded not guilty in Florida on Monday, according to court documents.

Lang faces a bevy of charges in the three cases. They include using a gun during a deadly violent crime in Florida, and violating the Neutrality Act and conspiring to kill people in a foreign country for his plans in Venezuela, which is a country with whom the U.S. is at peace, the indictment notes.

Several months after the alleged Florida killings, in North Carolina, Lang traded a military smoke grenade, guns and cash to use someone’s identity to apply for a U.S. passport, another indictment claims. And in Arizona, he is charged with showing a U.S. passport to Mexican authorities in September 2018 to try to get a Mexican visa in violation of the passport’s restrictions.

“Lang’s alleged conduct is shocking in its scope and its callous disregard for human life,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

The Associated Press emailed an attorney listed for Lang seeking comment on the charges and extradition.

Meanwhile, several others were indicted alongside Lang in the Florida and North Carolina cases and have already been convicted or pleaded guilty.

The killings in Florida unfolded in April 2018, the year after Lang and another former U.S. Army soldier, Alex Jared Zwiefelhofer, had met in Ukraine, where they claimed to be part of a volunteer battalion fighting Russian separatists, authorities said. The two were detained in Kenya while trying to enter South Sudan in 2017 and were eventually deported to the U.S., according to an FBI affidavit.

In Florida, a couple in their 50s from Brooksville planned to buy guns that Lang and Zwiefelhofer had listed for sale online, but the two men allegedly killed the couple to steal the $3,000 charged for the guns, authorities said.

In Facebook Messenger conversations that had begun the month before, Lang and Zwiefelhofer discussed traveling to Florida, buying body armor, committing robberies, stealing boats, escaping to South America or Ukraine, and smuggling guns and ammunition, the FBI affidavit says.

Federal authorities said they found records of Lang leaving Mexico City for Bogota, Colombia, in September 2018, then departing Colombia for Madrid, Spain, that November, with no record of Lang reentering the U.S. after leaving Mexico. The FBI agent’s affidavit, filed in August 2019, said social media posts showed Lang was in Ukraine at that time.

A jury convicted Zwiefelhofer in March on charges in the Florida case, including the use of a gun during a deadly violent crime and others. He is awaiting his sentencing.

The AP emailed an attorney listed for Zwiefelhofer seeking comments on the developments in the case involving Lang.

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Ex-US soldier charged in ‘international crime spree’ extradited from Ukraine, officials say