A Tangled Web – Times Publications, December 2012
By Shanna Hogan
Viktoriya Anthony strutted into the reporter’s office cradling a stack of police reports she had just received from her attorney.
Her deep-set green eyes darted around the room as she sank into the chair at the edge of the desk. The 37-year-old Ukrainian beauty gently placed her handbag on the carpet and swept her long blonde hair behind her shoulders.
Speaking in a thick Russian accent, her English broken at times, Viktoriya began to recount her tragic tale.
“In Russia these things don’t happen so common,” she said. “I never heard anything like this. Never.”
On the floor, a tiny black dog crawled out of her purse and pawed at her ankles. She picked up the 2-pound Shih Tzu, which she says is now her “life’s only remaining joy.”
For the past four years, Viktoriya has been on an exhaustive legal crusade—working with attorneys and most recently the media—to gain her fiancé’s release from jail.
Dimitri Rozenman, a 42-year-old Russian immigrant and owner of a chain of Phoenix cigar shops is behind bars, charged with attempting to hire a hit man to murder his ex-wife, her parents and her younger sister. On Feb. 19, 2009, he was arrested after the hit man became a police informant and allegedly recorded Dimitri plotting the murders.
But the case was not open and shut. Days after the arrest, the would-be hit man turned up at his target’s doorstep with a strange request—$175,000.
It would become just the first in a series of twists, turns and tawdry details in a case that has crept slowly through the justice system.
This is Viktoriya Anthony’s tangled true story of her imprisoned fiancé, his much younger ex-wife, and a murder-for-hire scheme that she claims is actually a convoluted conspiracy.
A Broken Marriage
When Viktoriya met Dimitri in the summer of 2008, he was already embroiled in a bitter divorce from his second wife, Jana Rozenman.For most of 2008, Dimitri and Jana clashed in court over money, their businesses and custody of their 3-year-old twin daughters. Jana claimed he was a mentally abusive adulterer; Dimitri said she was materialistic and an unfit mother.
“We were fighting, fighting over custody and the parenting time and the split,” Jana told Phoenix detectives in a 2009 interview. “Another issue, which was bigger for him, was the division of businesses which was acquired during the marriage.”
Dimitri and Jana had been married nearly five years, having met in 2003 when she was just 18 and working as a waitress at a local restaurant. A blonde, blue-eyed Russian from Estonia, Jana and her family had settled in Arizona in 2003, seeking political asylum in the United States.
Tall and lean with closely cropped graying hair, Dimitri, then 33, was a Russian Jew who had fled his homeland in the 1980s before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fifteen years earlier, he’d migrated from Kiev, Ukraine, to New York where he worked as a busboy and taxi driver. He saved every dollar he earned to put himself through college and was determined to become an American success story, says close friend Alex Stern, a fellow Russian immigrant.
“He was extremely poor but very proud,” he said. “He would make little money and go to college and live in extreme poverty. He never really lost his frugality, even after he became successful.”
Dimitri eventually earned a master’s degree from Cornell University in business administration with a concentration in finance and began working as a stockbroker.
After one failed marriage, which led him to Phoenix, he launched a chain of discount cigar stores in the Valley called The Cigar Warehouse. It was during this time he met Jana. Although he was 15 years her senior, they began dating, and within weeks were wed, much to the shock of Dimitri’s friends.
“I was suspicious of this whole marriage to begin with,” said Alex. “She was in this country for a short period of time. There was a big age difference. And they had only known each other for a short period of time. It was too fast for two people to get to know each other.”Within two years, Dimitri’s new bride was pregnant with twin girls. As his family grew, so did his cigar business—expanding to six brick-and-mortar locations in Arizona and Texas as well as a successful online company, TNTCigars.com.
But the rapid growth of his companies seemed to worry Dimitri, especially as his marriage began to crumble. In early 2008, he presented Jana with a postnuptial agreement, which would give her just $50,000 if they split.
“He pretty much gave me an ultimatum,” Jana later told detectives. “He says, well you know if you are not going to sign it—you have no choice—but if you want to be married to me, well you’re going to sign the paper.”
Jana refused, and on Valentine’s Day 2008, Dimitri filed for divorce. After briefly withdrawing the petition, he filed for divorce again in March.
Jana moved in with her parents, and Dimitri moved on with his life. Five months later he met Viktoriya. Recently divorced herself and working as a nanny, Viktoriya had been introduced to Dimitri through mutual friends in a close-knit Arizona community of Russian immigrants.
“We had a lot in common. We like the same kind of books, art, music. We are from the same hometown in Ukraine,” Viktoriya said. “We get to know each other and we fall in love.”
Jana, meanwhile, struggled—claiming Dimitri was terrorizing her. In October 2008, when someone slashed her tires and poured sugar in the gas tank of her and her parent’s cars, Jana was convinced Dimitri was behind it.
“He left me with no money. He didn’t support me or the kids,” Jana said. “Between the trial, he’s harassing me via emails, saying nasty stuff.”
For a year, the divorce dragged on. At the final hearing in January 2009, the judge granted joint custody of the children and awarded Jana a considerable monetary settlement. Dimitri prepared to file an appeal.
“The whole sum comes up to about half a million,” Jana said. “He was very upset about how much money I’m getting.”
According to authorities, Dimitri’s rage would drive him to do the unthinkable.
“There is a plan,” Jana told detectives on Feb. 13, 2009. “He wants me to die. All of us dead.”
Just weeks after her divorce was finalized, Jana went to Phoenix police to report that her ex-husband had hired a hit man to kill her and her family.
The previous night, an employee of Dimitri’s named Levi Najar showed up at her parent’s doorstep. Levi was a 24-year-old stock boy at The Cigar Warehouse in Mesa. With a 10th-grade education and a felony record for DUI, Levi earned $9 an hour to stock the shelves, sweep up, package merchandise and do anything else his boss required.
“He does everything Dimitri tells him to do,” Jana said.
The latest task assigned by Dimitri was deadly.
“Dimitri basically offered me a job,” Levi told Jana. “A job to get rid of you and your family.”
Later that day, detectives picked up Levi at The Cigar Warehouse and brought him to the Phoenix police station to tell his story. The plan had been born months prior, Levi said. Dimitri was furious about the divorce and seethed with hatred.
“He was yelling at the top of his lungs sometimes,” Levi told detectives. “He was physically shaking himself and throwing stuff, ranting.”
In January, Levi said Dimitri approached him about killing his wife.
“He said, ‘I need you to go and silence my wife and her parents and her sister,’” Levi said. “And I said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ And he was like, ‘Don’t play naïve. I need you to go kill my wife and her parents because this is going to make it a lot easier and the company is going to be better off.’”
At first, Levi said he refused, but after being pressured by Dimitri, he eventually accepted the job and an initial payment of $5,000.
Dimitri’s plot was cruel and complex. Before slaughtering the family, Levi would force Jana to sign a legal document absolving her ex-husband of any financial obligations. Dimitri would then pay Levi $50,000 or $70,000, after which he would kill Jana’s family by any means necessary.
“It didn’t matter what my methods were,” Levi said. “He just wanted to know that they were dead.”
For months Levi dragged his feet, later claiming he had no intention of following through with the killings. But once the divorce was finalized, Dimitri grew impatient and told Levi he had a friend in the Russian mafia who would carry out the murders, according to Levi. Fearful that a professional hit man would actually take the family’s lives, Levi told Dimitri he would finish the job. Instead, he went directly to Jana and revealed the plot.
“How much time do I have,” Jana asked Levi.
“He said a week,” Levi replied. “At the most, nine days.”
The following morning Jana went directly to her divorce attorney, who sent her to the cops. At the police station, Levi told authorities he was willing to do whatever they needed to catch Dimitri.
“I just want him to go to jail,” he said. “This whole thing is too much for me.”
Barbed wire capped the chain link fence enclosing the parking lot of The Cigar Warehouse on Camelback in Phoenix. The parking lot was bathed in the faint glow of the streetlights late on the night of Feb. 13, 2009.
Across the street, detectives were parked in a surveillance van surveying the scene as Levi, wearing three recording devices and a small camera attached to a keychain, approached Dimitri.
They climbed into the front seat of Dimitri’s van.
“I am already finished,” Levi told Dimitri. “Your paperwork is done.”
Dimitri was silent.
“Talk to me,” Levi said.
Nearby, police detected no audible response. “Only Levi could be heard on the recording device,” Detective Edward Warner wrote in his police report. “All that could be heard was scratching noise which sounded as though someone was writing.”
Levi would later tell detectives that instead of speaking his responses, Dimitri was writing them on a kid’s toy—an Etch-A-Sketch pad that belonged to his daughters.
Levi asked Dimitri if he still wanted to proceed. Again the sound of writing could be heard.
“Just talk to me!” Levi ripped the Etch-A-Sketch out of Dimitri’s hands.
“I got flustered because he couldn’t talk, and so I had to bust the Etch-A-Sketch so he would talk to me,” Levi later told prosecutors. “It broke into a lot of little pieces.”
Levi kept talking, baiting his murmured dialogue with mentions of shooting people, referring to Jana and her family.
Dimitri changed the direction of the conversation, talking about real estate, distressed properties and construction permits. Levi would later tell investigators that Dimitri had come up with the code of real estate terms to disguise their real intentions in case they were overheard.
“No, I don’t understand this,” Dimitri said. “You go to the City Hall and get permits to the houses.”
Suddenly, Levi broke the code.
“I am not going to give you details about how they going to be murdered,” Levi said.
“What?” Dimitri replied. “I never bought distressed properties.”
On the tape Dimitri is never heard ordering a hit. To detectives, however, it was clear he was a willing participant in the plot.
“There is apparently no misunderstanding of the nature of the conversation, nothing to indicate that Dimitri does not only fully understand what the conversation is in reference to, but an active participant,” Detective Warner wrote in his report. “Even though his responses are at times muted, or written, he at no point stops the conversation and asks for clarification even after extreme violence is mentioned.”
Levi left the warehouse and provided the 38-minute recording to the detectives. Certain portions of the tape were inaudible, but it would nevertheless become a key piece of evidence at trial.
Now that the trap was set, it was time for Jana and her family to die—or at least appear as if they were dead.
As part of the ruse, Jana’s parent’s home was staged as a murder scene in case Dimitri decided to drive by the house. Police tape cordoned off the perimeter; rotating red-and-blue ambulance lights reflected onto the driveway.
Meanwhile, Jana and her family were secured far away in protective custody with detectives.
At 3 a.m., a Phoenix detective knocked on the door of Viktoriya’s apartment rousing the couple from their bed.
“I’m sorry to tell you, your ex-wife has been killed,” the detective told Dimitri and Viktoriya. “It was a homicide.”
In shock, the color drained from Viktoriya’s face.
“I didn’t understand what was going on,” she said. “We didn’t know what to think about it. It didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t believe she had been killed.”
The moment Dimitri stepped outside the apartment, he was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. An hour later, he sat slumped against the wall of a police interrogation room, legs crossed, arms folded.
“Tell us what you know,” a detective said. “We need to figure out who’s responsible for this.”
“I wish I knew,” Dimitri muttered. “My kids just lost their mom.”
That night Dimitri was charged with four counts of conspiracy to commit murder.
Later, Dimitri would say the entire thing was a misunderstanding. He had hired Levi for a job, but not to kill his family. Instead he had asked Levi to act as an intermediary between himself and Jana in the custody dispute.
The plan, Dimitri claimed, spun out of control the night of Feb. 13, when Levi staged a one-sided conversation for surveillance.
“Levi Najar knew how to play me,” Dimitri said in court. “I just never knew that not talking to someone can have it be interpreted as an agreement.”
As he learned more about the sting, Dimitri became convinced that Levi and Jana had partnered to put him away for the rest of his life and take control of his money.
To detectives, Dimitri’s story sounded ridiculous. Seven days later, they weren’t so sure.
A Strange Twist
It was around 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2008, when Jana Rozenman heard a knock at the front door. Standing in her doorframe was Levi Najar.
“Hey,” Jana said. “How have you been?”
“It’s been fine,” Levi said.
Jana stepped outside, and they both took a seat on a bench in the front courtyard.
“I’m not even supposed to be in Arizona,” Levi said. He told Jana he had just driven 32 hours straight to Arizona from Kentucky, where he’d been staying with family since the sting.
Levi confided he had a problem—one that Jana found so unsettling she met with police the next day to relay the conversation.
“He actually started talking about money,” Jana told the detective. “I said, ‘How much are we talking about?’ … He said, ‘at least $175,000.’”
Jana was willing to assist Levi financially but felt pressured.
“I told him, I said, ‘You have to understand, I can’t … Those $175,000, it’s not going to be, you know, one sum lump—I mean an amount. It will probably, you know, over a period of time … It’s not going to be one-time payment.’”
In a subsequent police interview, Levi denied that he ever asked for money. On the night of Feb. 26, he admitted he drove from Kentucky to Arizona because, “I wanted to make sure they were OK.”
“Did you talk about money,” defense attorney Ulises Ferragut asked.
“Well, no,” Levi replied. “She said that she was going to always be there for me.”
“You didn’t ask her for $175,000?” Ferragut asked.
“No,” Levi said.
Jana’s statement to police about Levi’s request for money, however, would deter the course of the investigation. Police now had to investigate whether Levi was involved in a plot to set-up Dimitri in exchange for money.
Detective Warner later said the $175,000 request was disconcerting.
“It just seemed an unusual amount,” Detective Warner told defense attorneys in a March 2012 deposition. “It just seemed like an odd number that was thrown out there.”
Warner added, “I was concerned that he was asking her for any amount of money.”
On Feb. 28, 2009, Detective Warner confronted Levi.
“Did you conspire with Jana to frame Dimitri or set Dimitri up for this murder for hire plot,” Warner asked.
“No,” Levi said.
“Did you approach Dimitri in any way suggest to him the plot that has unfolded about the killing or his wife,” the detective asked.
“No,” he said.
“There was no way of misunderstanding it?”
“Most definitely not,” Levi said.
For the next year, Dimitri sat behind bars as inmate number P804301 in Phoenix’s Fourth Avenue Jail. Because of the heinous nature of the crime and Dimitri’s international ties, he was eventually held on a $2 million cash bond that he could not afford to pay.
Throughout it all, Dimitri remained optimistic, certain he would soon be vindicated, according to Viktoriya.
“He was positive he would win and no one would believe it,” she said. “He knew he was innocent and felt people would see it all crazy.”
In February 2010, Dimitri was tried on four counts of conspiracy to commit murder as well as a criminal damage charge that involved slashing the car tires of his ex-wife and in-laws. After a two-week trial, the jury took just 2 1/2 hours to find him guilty on all counts. The verdict was handed down March 18, 2010.
At sentencing, Jana testified about the pain she and her family had endured.
“The impact of the whole ordeal has been immense for all my family,” she said. “Every day, I wake up with the thought what does the future hold for me and my girls? Our lives have been turned upside down.”In the end, Dimitri was given a chance to speak. Addressing the court for the first time, he maintained he had been framed by Jana and Levi.
“The prosecutor asked why would Levi Najar want to come with this conspiracy?” Dimitri said. “I can think of 175,000 reasons why.”
On April 30, 2010, Dimitri was sentenced to life behind bars.
Then, in the summer of 2010, in a stunning development, the conviction was overturned.
During the trial, two separate recordings of the conversation between Levi and Dimitri were entered into evidence. Both recordings were poor and had to be filtered and amplified to be understood.
After the verdict was delivered, however, defense attorneys uncovered a third recording, which had been suppressed. Referred to as the “Hawk,” the recording was of superior quality and Dimitri’s words rang clear.
During the trial, a prosecution expert had testified that Dimitri said on the tape, “You can kill them Friday.” On the new recording, however, Dimitri can be heard saying, “You could take care of it on Friday,” according to the defense expert.
“The quality of the Hawk recording is significantly better than the quality of the (other) recording,” said Gregg Stutchman, a forensic analyst and defense expert. “The difference is such that the causal listening one wouldn’t know they were listening to the same conversation.”
The judge ruled that the recording was not properly disclosed and that it “undermines the court’s confidence in the outcome of this trial.”
For Viktoriya and Dimitri, it was further proof he had been set up.
“It was conspiracy,” Viktoriya said. “The police have good recording and they hide it. They suppressed it.”
Dimitri’s new trial is currently scheduled for January 2013.
Jana Rozenman did not respond to an interview request from The Times for this story. In a phone interview from jail, Dimitri told The Times he is an innocent man and his conviction was a grave miscarriage of justice.
“I believe that justice is not when an innocent person gets acquitted but when innocent get acquitted and guilty go to prison,” Dimitri said. “Anything short of that, I consider that that’s not justice.”
Seated in the reporter’s office, Viktoriya thumbed through pages of the police reports, pointing out the passages that support her fiancé’s case. Displayed next to her on her open laptop is a photo of Dimitri.
Since his arrest, Viktoriya’s life has revolved around jailhouse visits, attorney interviews and meticulous studying of the court transcripts and surveillance videos.
“This has all been really hard for me,” she said. “But if I do not be there for him, his convictions would never get overturned. Nobody else would do this.”
Although she had known Dimitri for just seven months before he was incarcerated, she has become his biggest advocate. Earlier this year, after numerous trial delays, she decided to take her cause to the media in an attempt to cast a spotlight on his case.
She is currently preparing for his retrial and is convinced he will be acquitted. Even if his conviction is not overturned, she said she will fight for the man she calls the love of her life.
“Finally I met him. I have been looking for him all over the world and I finally found him,” she said. “And I’m not letting him go. I be there for him.”