ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona man appeared in Florida court in murder case after extradition from Ukraine

Jun 4, 2024, 4:05 AM

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An Arizona man who faces numerous charges in three different states made his initial court appearance in Florida, officials announced Monday. (Pexels photo)

(Pexels photo)

PHOENIX — An Arizona man who faces numerous charges in three different states made his initial court appearance in Fort Myers, Florida, officials announced Monday.

Craig Austin Lang of Surprise faces charges relating to double homicide, armed robbery, false statements in a passport application, aggravated identity theft and misuse of a passport in violation of conditions and restrictions.

The 34-year-old has charges in the District of Arizona, the Middle District of Florida and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Officials say Lang was a former U.S. soldier who became a foreign fighter before being extradited by Ukraine.

“As alleged in the indictments, Craig Austin Lang went on an international crime spree that included a double murder in Florida, attempts to travel internationally to engage in other acts of violence outside the United States, and a plot to evade law enforcement detection by trading guns, a grenade, and cash to use another person’s identifying information to apply for a U.S. passport under an assumed name,” the Justice Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri said in a news release.

“Lang’s alleged conduct is shocking in its scope and its callous disregard for human life. His wrongdoing, however, was no match for the efforts of dedicated law enforcement personnel and prosecutors in the United States and abroad to investigate, locate, arrest, and extradite Lang so he would face justice before courts in the United States.”

What was the Arizona man charged with in his home state?

An indictment returned in the District of Arizona in June 2019 charged Lang with misuse of a passport.

Lang allegedly presented a U.S. passport to Mexican authorities to obtain a Mexican visa, which was in violation of the conditions and restrictions contained on the passport.

If convicted, Lang faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

What was the Arizona man charged with in Florida and North Carolina?

According to a superseding indictment in Florida, Lang and a co-defendant allegedly murdered a couple from Brooksville in 2018.

In 2017, Lang and Alex Jared Zwiefelhofer, both former soldiers in the U.S. Army, met in Ukraine. Zwiefelhofer claimed they were both members of a volunteer battalion fighting Russian separatists.

The pair allegedly also traveled to Kenya, where Zwiefelhofer claimed they intended to fight against terrorists, before attempting to enter South Sudan. They were allegedly detained by authorities in South Sudan and deported back to the United States, where they met up in Florida in April 2018.

The indictment says the Brooksville couple planned to purchase guns from Lang and Zwiefelhofer. The two men allegedly killed the couple to steal the $3,000 that the couple had for the firearms.

Lang and Zwiefelhofer allegedly robbed the victims to pay for travel to Venezuela, where the defendants planned to fight the Venezuelan regime.

The former soldiers are charged with violating the Neutrality Act, conspiracy to kill, kidnap, or maim persons in a foreign country, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, conspiracy to discharge a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence as well as interference with commerce by robbery and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

If convicted on all counts, Lang and Zwiefelhofer face a maximum penalty of life in prison. On March 8, a federal jury convicted Zwiefelhofer on all of the charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 6.

According to the indictment returned in North Carolina in August 2019, Lang and his co-conspirators allegedly took various actions in September 2018 to evade law enforcement detection and minimize scrutiny when travelling internationally.

Within Lang’s group, co-conspirators allegedly exchanged identities and applied for U.S. passports under assumed names. Lang also allegedly gave the co-conspirator who’s information he used a suitcase with multiple guns, a military smoke grenade and $1,500 in cash as payment for the favor.

Lang was charged with conspiracy to commit passport fraud and aggravated identify theft, passport fraud, aggravated identity theft, fraud, and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents, aiding and abetting these offenses as well as false representation of a social security account number.

The co-conspirators were also charged in connection with the criminal scheme. If convicted, Lang faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison on the fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents charge.

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Arizona man appeared in Florida court in murder case after extradition from Ukraine