Fraud suspect in Chicago asks judge to be released to ‘join Ukraine in its war with Russia’
Vitaliy Baka told the Chicago Sun-Times he’s innocent of defrauding investors of millions but would plead guilty if his sentence could be limited to the time he has spent in jail awaiting trial.
Vitaliy Baka, who’s charged with taking part in swindling investors out of millions of dollars, is asking a federal judge in Chicago to release him from jail so he can join the war against the Russians who invaded his native country of Ukraine.
In a court filing Tuesday labeled “Defendant’s request for immediate release and deportation to join Ukraine in its war with Russia,” Baka, 50, offered to plead guilty to the fraud charges he faces in Chicago, even though he told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday he is innocent.
Baka is asking to be sentenced to “time served” — the year-plus that he’s been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal lockup in downtown Chicago.
Baka said he’s a permanent legal resident of the United States and a citizen of Ukraine.
He told the Sun-Times he learned to fire an AK-47 while in high school, and in the early 1990s, he served as an engineer in the Russian army during that country’s conflict in Moldova, building bridges and training troops to use weapons.
He said he would agree to be deported to Ukraine to fight the Russians and evacuate his parents and other relatives from the country.
Baka told U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman he’s “in spectacular shape mentally and physically.”
A hearing on his request is scheduled in the coming days.
Baka said he was born in Zhmerinka in central Ukraine, where his parents, now frail, and his son and grandson live.
“My hometown is under attack,” he said in an email from the federal jail in Chicago. “It is not safe there at all. Russian missiles just fly over my home and shelled [the] military airport, killing civilians just a few miles away. Air sirens every day.”
Baka said he worries about his sister: “My baby sister used to live in [Kyiv], but she [had] to escape. Russians bombed the building next to her apartment. Her well-being is unknown.”
He said he has spoken with Ukrainian military leaders about his desire to fight.
And Baka wrote in his court filing: “The country of Ukraine has ordered that all men ages 18 to 60 remain in the country and fight against these attacks. The president of Ukraine has released all of its prisoners whether already sentenced or pre-trial allowing them to assist in protecting the country.”
On Feb. 28, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that prisoners in Ukraine with combat experience would be freed to help with the “struggle for our state.”
“Ukrainians with real combat experience will be released from custody and will be able to compensate for their guilt in the hottest spots,” Zelenskyy said.
Two Ukrainian prisoners were released from a jail in the Netherlands in late March to fight in Ukraine. Dutch authorities had arrested them on a yacht last year, saying they were trying to smuggle Albanians into Britain.
The ruling to free one of them said, “The interest that the suspect has in his release outweighs the public interest served by continuing the suspect’s pretrial detention,” according to news reports.
In a separate filing in federal court in Chicago, another man awaiting trial, Glenn Stepul, is asking a judge to let him travel to Ukraine so he can get relatives out and move them to Poland.
Stepul wrote his and his wife’s families escaped Russian attacks on Kyiv and are living together in western Ukraine. They speak only Ukrainian “and are having a very difficult time attempting to cross the border into Poland,” he said.
In his request, filed March 23, Stepul said he’s a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Ukraine.
The prosecutor in his case opposes releasing Stepul. A hearing on his request is set for April 26.
Two years ago, the judge in the case denied Stepul’s request to travel to Ukraine for his grandfather’s funeral.
Stepul, who’s free on bail and lives in Miami, is charged with violating U.S. export laws. According to the charges he faces, his Buffalo Grove business shipped pistol slides, gun barrels, rifle scopes and night-vision cameras to Ukraine in 2014 and 2015. His co-defendant is a fugitive prosecutors have said is believed to be living in Ukraine.
Ukraine has seen an influx of people from the United States volunteering to fight the Russians, help war victims and get their families out.
Among them is Harrison Jozefowicz, a former U.S. soldier who served in Afghanistan. He quit his job as a Chicago police officer and in March traveled to Ukraine, where he’s been training civilians to be soldiers. Earlier this month, Jozefowicz pleaded on Facebook for donations of tourniquets, bandages and other medical supplies for people in Ukraine.
Baka said he came to Chicago to “chase the American dream” after the fall of the Soviet Union led to high unemployment and food shortages. He said he lived in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village for about a decade and worked for a Ukrainian-language radio station.
“The broadcast was to help new immigrants find a job, a place to live and become Chicago-Americans,” he said.
Baka is charged with participating in a scheme that bilked about $4 million from about 50 people. He was indicted in 2010 but remained a fugitive until he was arrested in Miami in March 2021.
A co-defendant, Maria Chychula, was convicted of fraud and sentenced in 2012 to four years in prison.
They and another co-defendant who’s a fugitive were accused of conning investors into plowing money into phony business ventures.
In one of them, prosecutors said the trio lied to investors, telling them they were “negotiating with the United States Secret Service to use Gnxpert Color technology to ‘tag immigrants, spies and militia illegally crossing the United States borders with glow-in-the-dark particles so that the agents could trace the movements of these individuals throughout the United States.’”
Baka said he was duped into participating and his only involvement was in designing products and getting patents for them.
“I trusted my boss and was simply doing [my] job ... with no knowledge that I’m breaking the law,” he told the Sun-Times.
Contributing: Jon Seidel