Beware of This Globe-Trotting Genealogist

Heir hunterThis genealogist has made a cottage industry out of searching Eastern Europe for the long-lost relatives. The problem is he may be cutting corners!

Here is the cautionary tale of Vadim Tevelev. He has worked on more than 100 Surrogate’s Court cases to find heirs and help the heirs to gain a portion of the decedent’s estates.  While that may sound philanthropic it doesn’t always work to an heir’s advantage.

Take this recent example.  Tevelev is working on behalf of a Russian-born New Jersey woman to win her part of an $8 million fortune left behind by Isaac Kramer, a Brooklyn lawyer who died in 2008 at the age of 94. However, some estate lawyers and genealogy experts have said that the family trees and genealogical records Tevelev submits as proof of kinship are not always 100% real.

A court-appointed lawyer reviewing the case said that the Ukrainian birth records Tevelev submitted were probably faked. Roger Olson wrote in his report for a Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court judge that Tevelev has been involved in other cases where genealogical records were called into question.

Tevelev currently represents Elizabeth Hovav. He says Hovav is Kramer’s first cousin once removed and is entitled to some of the decedent’s estate. As in other estate cases, he has power of attorney for Hovav and her interest in the estate. If he’s successful in proving kinship, he typically receives a commission of one-third of the inheritance. However, Hovav and 36 other alleged relatives of Kramer have battled in the courts over the estate for almost nine years. The attorneys for the other Kramer relatives also question the validity of the documents that Tevelev has submitted over the years.

Olson obtained a 2013 report by the public prosecutor’s office in Lviv, Ukraine, which said a civil servant had pleaded guilty to forging records that showed Hovav’s mother was born in Lviv and to falsifying the identities of Hovav’s grandparents. Hovav’s mother was actually from St. Petersburg, Russia. The public prosecutor’s report also says the forgeries were made for unidentified people to get money from Kramer’s estate.

Tevelev also submitted records from the central archive of Russia’s federal security service that said Hovav’s grandparents were arrested in 1947 and executed.  However, Olson reported that he obtained a letter from the federal security service that showed it had no records of Hovav’s grandparents and had never provided such a document.

Tevelev’s attorney said that Ukraine’s National Police Department later conducted its own investigation into the civil servant’s alleged forgery in 2016 and decided that no crime had occurred. But the police also said that evidence in the case had been lost because of the 2014 riots in Ukraine.

Tevelev, who lives in New Jersey, but was born in Russia, said he’s been an “heir hunter” since 1991. He said he considered himself a specialist in foreign documents and locating people overseas.

Even with Olson’s report, Tevelev and Hovav may still get some money from the Kramer estate. The lawyers for all the alleged relatives in the case have asked a judge to allow the parties reach a settlement, despite the forgery accusations. If there’s a settlement, one proposed deal would give Hovav as much as $300,000, according to court filings.

Reference: New York Daily News (May 15, 2017) Genealogist who helps heirs obtain fortunes in estate cases accused of using forged documents”


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