The Bulgarian Job
On a warm November day two years ago, a gold, '80s-model Mercedes sedan sped down Northern Avenue, jockeying through the thick lunchtime traffic. The driver, Atanas Ilkov, 18, was hurrying to pick up a friend at a car-repair shop when a police cruiser zoomed up behind him, lights flashing.
As Ilkov steered the sedan into a drugstore parking lot, an unmarked pickup truck pulled in behind the squad car. Seeing a plainclothes officer step out of the pickup and walk up to the Mercedes, the young man must have known this would be no ordinary traffic stop.
The uniformed officers let Detective Tom Britt of the Phoenix Police Department do all the talking.
Britt, a lean, muscular man in his 40s, admonished Ilkov for his poor driving, then held up a document consisting of a few sheets of paper. Britt asked if the document looked familiar.
Ilkov agreed that it did: The document was a copy of the three-page last will and testament of a Bulgarian immigrant who had died recently in Phoenix. The pages were handwritten in a messy scrawl of Cyrillic letters and a few English words, plus an attached translation in English that was signed by Ilkov.
It didn't look it, but the document which had been filed with the Maricopa County Superior Court as official probate paperwork a month earlier, on October 5, 2005 was potentially worth about $750,000.
And Britt believed it was as phony as a million-dollar bill.
Standing in the parking lot, Britt explained that the court, having no Bulgarian interpreters, had asked police to track down Ilkov to verify his translation.
The explanation was pure nonsense, but the kid didn't challenge it. Britt asked him if he knew Andrean "Andy" Andreev, the man who had filed the document in court.
"In response to this question, Ilkov seemed nervous and answered very hesitantly that he [did] not know Andrean Andreev," Britt would later write.
Ilkov, who speaks English without an accent, told Britt he had come to the United States from Bulgaria seven years earlier and translates documents written in Bulgarian from time to time.
Britt went on with his ruse, telling Ilkov that the court was concerned with the key part of the will the part that describes who gets what.
The English translation of the will states clearly that Andreev, a man in his 50s who lives in Phoenix, is to receive the bulk of the estate of the deceased man, Ljuben "Louie" Gadzanov.
Britt, pretending to be ignorant of the foreign language, asked Ilkov to show him the corresponding Bulgarian words in the will. Britt would later write that the teenager looked at the handwritten document for a couple of minutes.
With traffic whooshing by on Dunlap Avenue, Ilkov pointed to some words near the end of the second page and said, "This is where it is."
Britt asked Ilkov if he was certain that this was the part that states: "I give to Andrean P. Andreev all of my personal belongings and real estate property."
Ilkov said he was certain, and he wrote his initials for Britt next to the Bulgarian words.
Britt had asked Ilkov a trick question.
The first page of the will had no match in Ilkov's translation. Only the latter half of his translation, the part that corresponded to the will's second page, was accurate.
No part of the document even implied that Andreev was to get all of Gadzanov's belongings. Any intelligent person could see by simply comparing the English words, names, and numerals on the will's first page with its alleged English translation that Ilkov's version didn't match.
The teenager's reactions seemed to Britt another sure sign that this so-called will was nothing but an amateurish forgery, a blatant attempt to lay false claim to a substantial estate.
The detective thanked the young man for his help, warned him about his unsafe driving, and let him go on his way.
Detective Britt hadn't mentioned that he knew Ilkov lived with his mother's boyfriend, Rumen Kocankov, who owned the Mercedes and was also a suspect in the alleged scheme. He hadn't mentioned he had interviewed Andreev and his wife, Ann and, according to the cop, trapped them in lies.
Britt later reviewed his collection of evidence, which began with the unbelievable coincidence that Ljuben Gadzanov had supposedly drawn up and signed the unofficial-looking will in front of three witnesses late on the night of July 18, 2005 as if he had known he would die of heart failure the next day.
Signs of a swindle appeared everywhere: The backgrounds and questionable behavior of the people involved, the dash to collect the deceased man's valuables, the convoluted stories, the out-and-out lies.
Andreev's involvement was especially troubling. He had spent 13 years in a Bulgarian prison for manslaughter.
Britt made his move on December 1, 2005. Police and federal authorities arrested five suspects in Phoenix: Ilkov, Kocankov, and the Andreevs, all naturalized citizens from Bulgaria, and Daniel Lane, the only non-Bulgarian of the group. County prosecutors charged them all with fraudulent schemes, perjury, and theft.
An Arizona Republic article about the arrest and charges appeared two days later with pictures of the accused.
Soon after, a state handwriting expert concluded it was "highly probable" the two signatures of Gadzanov on the alleged will were forgeries.
The case Britt had worked up appeared headed for convictions.
But the Bulgarians had an answer for everything.
Released on bail with the other suspects within two days after the arrests, Andreev (and his lawyer) believing the best defense is a good offense pressed the case in probate court, fighting the Office of the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary for control of the estate.
Authorities, who appear to have underestimated Bulgarian immigrant Andreev, were ill-prepared for such a flanking maneuver.
In late September of last year, to Britt's dismay, Probate Commissioner Benjamin Vatz ruled that Gadzanov's will was valid, dismissing what he called the theory of a "gang that couldn't shoot straight."
The decision blew up the criminal case. With the estate now going to Andreev, prosecutors had no choice but to drop criminal charges against all five suspects.
Shane Krauser, a deputy county attorney, wrote a reluctant motion to dismiss the case, saying he "could not disagree more" with Vatz's decision.
"Ultimately," Krauser wrote of the five defendants, "they will pocket this money that the State believes does not belong to them."
To date, there's no evidence that Kocankov, Ilkov, or Lane pocketed anything.
But the Andreevs certainly did.
This could be a story about persecution a tale of wrongful prosecution, overzealous authorities, and a group of innocent people who prevailed only after paying the price of having their reputations ruined.
Instead, it's a story about three men who helped a Bulgarian airport limo driver and, by extension, his wife inherit a small fortune.
Whether the Andreevs deserve their newfound wealth not to mention whether any of the other three men will touch a penny of the money is uncertain. The truth depends on whether the will that was ultimately accepted by the state was signed by the man who died, Gadzanov. But the truth may never be known because the state bungled the opportunity to fully examine the document.
No doubt, cops and prosecutors believe, the five committed a crime. At the same time, the former suspects claim complete innocence, and they proved their side to a judge. Calling them guilty now would be downright un-American.
Why Probate Commissioner Vatz decided as he did is spelled out in his five-page ruling, in which he questions why the state's handwriting analyst, John Gorajczyk, had used only a copy of Gadzanov's 1991 driver's license signature for comparison purposes.
Tucson handwriting expert Heidi Harralson, hired by Andreev's Phoenix attorney, Bruce Phillips, checked dozens of alleged pieces of writing by Gadzanov for her analysis. She told Vatz the signatures on the will looked good to her.
Vatz emphasized in his written ruling that the County Attorney's Office, which represented the Fiduciary's Office in the case, presented minimal evidence, compared to the other side. Vatz, now a commissioner in the county's mental health court, did not return calls seeking comment.
Through the ordeal, the alleged victims of estate fraud have been silent. The Fiduciary's Office presented no testimony or evidence from Gadzanov's Bulgarian family his brother, Dimitar Lliev Gadzanov; two sisters, Nadezhda Gadzanova and Mariya Goncheva; and a nephew, Slavcho Gadzanov. Nor did any member of the family come to the United States to stake claim or hire an attorney to represent their side. New Times was unable to reach the family for comment. Stacey Johnson, a former deputy county attorney, was reportedly in contact with Gadzanov's kin, but she refused to comment.
Britt speculates that the family could be afraid of Andreev, a convicted killer.
Lane and the Bulgarians, on the other hand, aren't shy about speaking out. They claim to be the real victims, and Commissioner Vatz apparently agrees with them. Andreev's lawyer, Phillips, filed a claim against the city of Phoenix earlier this year on behalf of the group which the city rejected accusing police officers of false arrest and defamation of his clients' character and asking for $175,000 in damages for each of them.
New Times interviewed all five suspects. Each seemed sincere. All acted indignant over their treatment by the legal system.
After the interviews and a comprehensive review of documents and statements from other sources involved in the case, it's obvious that if the five are to be believed, the following must be bought:
Gadzanov hastily prepared a will about 24 hours before he died a natural death.
In the will, he stiffed his family in Bulgaria and gave his hefty inheritance to a convicted killer who was little more to him than a camping and beer-drinking buddy.
Ilkov made an honest mistake when he initialed the wrong part of the will Detective Britt showed him.
Despite claiming to be present during the signing of the will and despite being fluent in Bulgarian, Kocankov and Andreev mistakenly filed the wrong first page of the will in court, a page that didn't remotely match the English translation by Ilkov.
Kocankov and Lane, who filed affidavits with the court stating they had witnessed Gadzanov signing his will, both made honest mistakes in failing to realize the affidavits didn't list the correct address for where the signing occurred.
A woman who swears Gadzanov was home the night of July 18 must be mistaken.
Detective Britt lied repeatedly in official reports and perjured himself in court testimony.
All of that is hard to swallow.
Ljuben Gadzanov was born in 1941 and came to the United States in the early '80s, when Bulgaria, a small southern European country, was still a Soviet-bloc nation. He worked in a low-paying job at Penn Racquet Sports in Phoenix. His English wasn't great. He liked to drink beer: An autopsy would later show he had a .10 blood-alcohol level when he died. He had two pets, a Siamese cat and a rottweiler. And he was ultra-frugal.
Gadzanov (Louie to his American friends) lived in a middle-class neighborhood popular with immigrants near Interstate 17 and Northern Avenue, renting out his home at 2615 West Vista Avenue to a woman named Lorraine Smith while he dwelled in a small cottage attached to the home.
The night before he died was hot and humid. It was July 18, 2005, and the 64-year-old Bulgarian immigrant had been having problems with his heart. The day had been frustrating: After a long drive in the heat to Sun City, his cardiologist's office told him he had arrived too late and rescheduled his appointment. One witness, Smith, puts him arriving home about 7 p.m.
Andrean Andreev, Rumen Kocankov, and Daniel Lane say he went back out.
Lane, 53, a self-described former golf course manager who works as a clerk at the Vitamin Shoppe near 20th Street and Camelback, recalls meeting Gadzanov for the first time that night, about 11 p.m.
Lane enjoys hanging out at Phoenix Greyhound Park with Kocankov, a friend whom Lane described as a professional gambler. That's where the pair say they were that Monday evening, having arrived about 7:30 p.m. They didn't spend every minute together, though, and Lane says he never saw Andreev come to the track to talk to Kocankov.
According to the three men, Andreev had dropped by the park to ask a favor for Gadzanov, who needed Kocankov's help with some paperwork. They say Gadzanov had been out to dinner in Scottsdale earlier with Andreev, and now Gadzanov wanted everyone to meet at Andreev's former apartment, a skanky little pad near Indian School Road and 16th Street.
Kocankov, 51, a fashion-conscious man who lives in a posh home in a north Phoenix golf community, says most of his income comes from the small convenience store he runs with his wife. But he has worked occasionally as a translator for the Los Angeles Asylum Office of the United States Citizen and Immigration Services and says he helps out fellow Bulgarians when he can. He says he was happy to help Gadzanov with the paperwork, though he had no idea at the time what the man was about to do.
The two Bulgarians and Lane pretty much agree on the rest of the story:
While Andreev went inside Phoenix Greyhound Park about 10 or 10:30 p.m., Gadzanov waited outside in Andreev's car. Ann Andreev was sleeping in the apartment when the men arrived in separate cars.
Gadzanov laid out four pages of scrawl on a table. The Bulgarians, including Gadzanov, conversed in their native tongue for a few moments. Then Kocankov explained to Lane that the pages were Gadzanov's will, and that Gadzanov wanted Lane to sign the document as a witness. Lane says Kocankov read aloud the four pages but in English, so Lane could understand.
Lane says Gadzanov had already signed the will, so the men agreed he would have to sign it again in front of them. Lane printed everyone's name on the document, and the four took turns signing it.
After spending 20 minutes at Andreev's apartment, Kocankov drove Lane home.
Asked whether he thought it odd that Gadzanov gave his estate to Andreev and shut out all but one family member, Lane told New Times he recalls wondering aloud the same thing that night.
The only relative mentioned in the will is Gadzanov's nephew, Slavcho. Gadzanov supposedly leaves his small life insurance policy, worth an estimated $15,000, and $10,000 from his bank account to Slavcho Gadzanov. Andreev gets to keep everything else, and he's supposed to "care for" Slavcho.
Lane says when he mentioned Louie Gadzanov's family in front of the Bulgarians, Gadzanov "inferred he had a brother who was an alcoholic."
Lane says he can't remember exactly what Gadzanov said, but that was the crux of the discussion.
The only point on which there's any disagreement is: Kocankov says the will was three pages long.
Lorraine Smith, who rented Gadzanov's home, has no use for such details. She says the whole scene of Gadzanov out signing a will at Andreev's apartment on July 18, 2005, is pure fantasy.
After Louie Gadzanov got home from the doctor on July 18, Smith says, he padlocked the fence at the edge of the driveway and sat down on her porch for a while, talking in his hot-headed way about what had happened. She says he related having stopped by the home of a woman he knew for an hour or so after the missed appointment.
"Then, he said, 'I'm going to go in the back and lay down,'" Smith says. "He went to work the next day."
Nobody came over that night, she insists. She would have heard anyone coming or going because her bedroom was next to the driveway and the cottage.
She says Louie was planning to retire by the end of July 2005, and he spoke a few times about wanting to travel to Bulgaria that summer.
Instead, Gadzanov died unexpectedly on July 19 of heart failure, an autopsy determined. Smith found Louie's body two days after the official time of death, sprawled out on his bed in the cottage.
After she called 911, Phoenix Police and Fire Department paramedics came out, followed by workers for the county Medical Examiner's Office, who took Gadzanov's body away.
When things quieted down and Smith was alone in the house, she realized it was up to her to notify someone that her landlord had died. But who? She knew he had no family in the States.
Inside Gadzanov's cottage, Smith found a notebook full of names and phone numbers. She called some of the numbers and told people that Gadzanov had died. Soon, Smith says, Ann Andreev called back, crying and saying she had known Louie for 25 years.
Smith had never met Ann but knew she was the wife of Andy Andreev, one of Louie's buddies who dropped by regularly for beers and chitchat.
Smith says Louie "hated" Ann for unknown reasons. But when Ann insisted on coming over, Smith says, she had no reason to deny the urgent request.
As soon as Ann walked into Louie's cottage, she began filling up shopping bags with personal effects and valuables, Smith says. Ann took his wallet, handgun, pictures, documents, checkbook just about everything but his clothes. Two days later, Ann came back with a young man and a van. As Smith watched, the pair loaded up Louie's lawn mower, power tools, and TV set. The pair then took off one in the van, one in Louie's Honda.
That was the last straw for Smith, who alerted Phoenix police about Ann Andreev's actions.
The cops came over, but they didn't stay long, deeming the situation a civil matter because the victim was deceased and no foul play was suspected.
Smith could recall to a New Times reporter the details from those July days two years ago partly because she had told Detective Britt the same story when he came to interview her three months after Gadzanov's death.
Britt knew that if Smith was right, then somehow, some way, the will filed in court had to be a forgery. Smith was possibly the most important witness in his case.
But when it came time to give a deposition last year in the probate court trial which resulted in Gadzanov's estate going to Andreev Smith was allowed to opt out of testifying. She had undergone an angioplasty a week before her scheduled appearance, and she was afraid the stress might kill her.
"I didn't want to sit in that courtroom, across from [convicted killer Andy Andreev]," she says. "I'm feeling guilty [now]. I should have done more."
In a mystifying omission, the County Attorney's Office could have forced her to talk but didn't. Barnett Lotstein, spokesman for County Attorney Andrew Thomas, says Smith's health wasn't the reason for the county's failure to depose Smith, but he refuses to elaborate.
Tom Britt has been with the Phoenix Police Department since 1994. He worked the streets before hooking up with the Organized Crime Bureau in 1997. Fluent in Russian, Britt has gotten more than his 15 minutes of fame.
Back in 2001, an informant of his, 21-year-old Konstantin Simberg, was murdered. Britt had been on the phone with Simberg when the young Russian immigrant was kidnapped by a group tied to a failed robbery of a million dollars in human growth hormone. The case was featured on America's Most Wanted five times, until the capture last April of the last of the three kidnappers.
Britt first heard of a possible scam involving some Bulgarians in mid-October 2005 from a source who told him to talk to Jordan Nikolov, a man who had been in touch with relatives of Gadzanov's. The dead man's family had given Nikolov power of attorney to handle the estate. The only problem was, when he went to court to file probate paperwork, he found out that Andreev had beaten him to the punch.
Nikolov obtained copies of what Andreev had submitted, which he gave to Britt. This constituted the document that, three weeks later, Britt would show to Ilkov during his traffic stop. Only the document's second page reads like a will, the page that matches part of Ilkov's English translation.
Britt, who understood some Bulgarian, and Nikolov agreed that the first page of the document was nothing more than a letter, possibly written by Gadzanov, inviting the nephew, Slavcho, to the United States. Britt later hired a company to translate the page, and an interpreter reached the same conclusion.
Nikolov, rumored to have gone back to Bulgaria, couldn't be reached for this story.
The third and last page of the document contains what appears to be a shaky signature by Gadzanov, the date of "7-18-05," and, the printed names of the three witnesses: Andreev, Kocankov, and Lane.
Under the names is another apparent Gadzanov signature, smaller and slightly different than the first.
These were the alleged Gadzanov signatures dismissed as fakes by the state's handwriting analyst and vetted as real by Andreev's hired analyst.
Nikolov also gave Britt copies of two witness affidavits. The affidavits claimed that Lane and Kocankov had witnessed Gadzanov sign his will on July 18 at the home on Vista Avenue, and were signed by the two men.
The documents all had been filed as part of Andreev's October 5, 2005, probate court motion, which aimed to make Andreev the estate's personal representative.
Nikolov urged Britt to talk to Smith, which he later did. Britt also paid a visit to the Andreevs, where he found Gadzanov's red Honda Civic. Britt had the car seized as he questioned the Andreevs about their right to take Gadzanov's property. He says they lied to him, saying the will and Gadzanov's wallet were in a safety deposit box.
The Andreevs claim they never said any such thing.
Britt later wrote in his report that, on another occasion, Andreev told him the will-signing took place at Gadzanov's home, just as it said on the witness affidavits by Kocankov and Lane.
Andreev says he never said that, either. He accuses Britt of lying.
Britt soon learned from the courts that on October 28, 2005, a week after his investigation had begun, Andreev with Kocankov's help had filed a new document in the probate case. The original filing, a week before, had contained the "wrong" first page, Andreev explained to the court. The new document was supposedly the "real" first page of the will a page of handwritten Bulgarian that matched Ilkov's English translation perfectly.
"This new document is an obvious attempt by . . . Andreev, and possibly other co-conspirators to cover their tracks," Britt wrote in his report.
Strangely, the alleged incorrect first page of the will the apparent invitation to Gadzanov's nephew is the same one Lane contends was read to him by Kocankov the night of the will-signing, the one Lane says was part of the will.
Comfortable he could make a case, Britt organized the December 1, 2005, arrests and raids on the properties of Andreev and Kocankov.
News of the arrests reverberated through the Valley's close-knit Bulgarian community. The article in the Republic's Valley & State section by Lindsey Collom mentioned how police suspected Kocankov of involvement in a smuggling ring that brought Eastern Europeans into the United States through Mexico. Police said two undocumented Bulgarian nationals, plus four ounces of cocaine, were found in a house Kocankov owns at 6310 North 15th Street. (Police never did prove who owned the cocaine.)
"Had this not come to our attention, they would have gotten away with this," Britt was quoted as saying in the article.
But Britt was counting his convictions before they hatched.
That the will was later found valid is a testament to the dogged determination of Andreev, who had made his first appearance in probate court three days before the arrests. The group bonded out of jail two days after the arrests, leaving Andreev with plenty of time to attend the important probate hearings. He didn't miss a single one.
The probate court case was heard in 2006, while prosecutors prepared the criminal case. Commissioner Vatz decided for Andreev well before any criminal trial could take place.
Of course, with Vatz's ruling, the criminal charges went south, too.
But despite the fact that all the charges were dropped against the Bulgarians and Lane, Detective Britt remains openly contemptuous of the five.
"Every one of them has lied and is dishonest," he insists, frustration evident in his voice.
On the day of the raids, police had found Lane living at Rumen Kocankov's. Kocankov himself lives in the much nicer home on a golf course.
Lane spoke to Britt briefly in a conversation tape-recorded at a Phoenix police substation.
"I asked Lane if he knows Andrean Andreev," Britt wrote in his report. "Lane responded, 'I may know him by a different name.'"
When shown a picture of Andreev, Lane admitted he recognized the man and stated, "I was introduced to him." Britt interrupted him and asked who introduced them. Lane then stopped talking and asked for a lawyer.
Interviewed at his workplace at the Phoenix vitamin store, Lane denies the statements attributed to him and castigates Britt as "incompetent and dishonest."
Kocankov, according to Britt's report, is suspected of being a kind of Bulgarian coyote, a man who police believe smuggles Eastern Europeans into Arizona from Mexico and helps illegal immigrants file bogus claims for political asylum.
Curiously, some of the immigration paperwork found during the search of Kocankov's house contained Lane's name, Britt says.
A Starbucks near 16th Street and Camelback Road is one of Kocankov's favorite hangouts, and that's where he agreed to meet a New Times reporter for an interview. He's a middle-aged guy with a friendly smile. He's wearing an untucked, sporty, short-sleeved button-down shirt and designer jeans. He apologizes for his lateness for the interview, saying his "sickness" for clothes shopping caused him to make an impromptu run to the nearby Last Chance store.
Kocankov says his arrest happened because of a series of blunders and misunderstandings, like when he filed the "wrong" first page of the will and filed a witness affidavit containing false information.
"If I have to call myself an idiot, I will," he says. "But no crime was intended. No crime was committed."
Kocankov claims that he helped prepare the will for probate court after Andreev found it among Gadzanov's belongings. First, it needed a translation into English.
But having signed the will, Kocankov says, he knew it would be "unethical" for him to perform the translation. So he asked his then-girlfriend's 18-year-old son, Ilkov, to write up the official interpretation.
Ilkov's signed translation contains no mention of his relationship with Kocankov, who was stumped when asked why this method was any more ethical than doing it himself.
Ethics aside, if Ilkov's knowledge of Bulgarian was trustworthy enough to handle such an important task, it makes little sense that Ilkov would mistranslate the document during the traffic stop by Britt.
At the request of New Times, Kocankov uses his mobile phone to call Ilkov, who is now since Kocankov married his mother Kocankov's stepson.
Ilkov explains he's "not completely fluent" in his native language. He says it took nearly two weeks, with the help of a dictionary and Kocankov's proofreading, to complete the written translation of the alleged will. He claims that's why, when Britt showed him the document first filed with the court the one with the wrong first page he wasn't able to instantly see a problem. That is, his lack of linguistic skills, plus the fact that the cops were "scaring" him, caused him to fail Britt's test.
"I was so nervous I just initialed it," Ilkov says. "The part I matched up was close."
Actually, it wasn't.
Kocankov's credibility, meanwhile, sinks lower when he discusses the human-smuggling allegations in Britt's report. After his arrest, Kocankov admitted to Britt that he had been jailed in Mexico in 2004 with a group of Bulgarian immigrants.
Britt says Mexican police suspected Kocankov of preparing to smuggle the immigrants across the Arizona-Mexico border.
Kocankov tells New Times the smuggling allegations against him are just more of Britt's lies. He says he doesn't know why the Mexican police targeted him.
Then there's Andreev and his wife, Ann.
Andreev looks like a stereotypical KGB agent: stout, with a thick neck and broad face. He complains about his arthritis and sore legs. But he's still got some fight in him, literally. He pleaded guilty last month to aggravated assault following a scuffle with a fellow airport limo driver; he says the other guy started the fight.
Andreev married his wife in the mid-1990s and met Gadzanov, a friend of hers, soon after. His and Gadzanov's relationship was "based on trust," he says. He speaks of their camping trips to the Grand Canyon and other places. He talks about one of Gadzanov's former girlfriends. He says he and Gadzanov were planning a visit to Bulgaria.
In a line worthy of the movie Borat, Andreev says he'll have to go alone to fulfill his friend's wish of building a small drinking fountain in his hometown.
Far contrary to the hatred Lorraine Smith says Louie felt for Ann Andreev, Ann gushes that she was like a sister to Gadzanov. She says she met him in Chicago in 1976, when she first came to this country.
Ann testified to as much in court, though Deputy County Attorney Tammara Wright whose job it was to stop the Andreevs from obtaining the estate never revealed what kind of relationship Gadzanov had with his real sisters and possible heirs in Bulgaria.
Ann Andreev's testimony during the probate hearings provided comic relief to the otherwise convoluted and technical court case involving an alleged last will and testament scrawled out in Bulgarian.
On one occasion, Wright asked Ann Andreev when she'd given the documents she found in Gadzanov's apartment to her lawyer. Ann said she couldn't remember. Wright asked her to at least name the month.
"My head hurts," Ann said.
"You have no idea?" the prosecutor asked.
"My head hurts real bad," Ann muttered. "I don't know."
Ann Andreev did tell the court she had been in the country for 30 years and stopped working as a laundry supervisor after undergoing heart surgery in 1996. Wright asked her if that means she worked from 1976 to 1996.
"I don't know if it's '96 or not," Ann Andreev testifies. "Ninety or 80-something."
Her husband, Andy Andreev, tells New Times he fled Bulgaria as a refugee from the oppressive Communist government, that his experience with the Soviet regime makes him wary of police.
His wariness might also come from his past legal troubles.
Asked to elaborate on why he spent 13 years in prison a fact presented during the hearings Andreev says it was a long time ago and isn't relevant to anything concerning Gadzanov's estate. Andreev says his friend Louie knew about his 1970 conviction for manslaughter in Bulgaria but didn't worry about it.
"I've been here 17 years," he says, "and I don't have a problem in the country."
Actually, Andreev committed fraud in simply coming to the country, Detective Britt says. The documents Andreev submitted when he immigrated contained no mention of his conviction, something he was obligated by law to report.
"It's beyond my comprehension why the U.S. government has not taken action against him" for the immigration violation, Britt says. "The last thing we need here is an admitted murderer who lied to get into the country."
Whatever Andreev does next, he will be able to do it in style.
He's been awarded full rights to Gadzanov's home, worth about $200,000, and Louie's checking account containing about 50 grand.
But the plum of Gadzanov's estate is 21/2 acres he owned on a strip of Pinal County near McKellips and Ironwood roads, in the north end of booming Apache Junction. A local real estate agent estimates the land is worth between $400,000 and $500,000.
Bruce Phillips, Andreev's attorney, says he's advised Andreev to put the property up for sale.
In the vast majority of wills, family members end up with the spoils. But the alleged will of Ljuben Gadzanov gave the lion's share of the estate to a friend, Andrean Andreev. That prompted Commissioner Vatz to order an investigation when Andreev appeared at the first court hearing on the matter, three days before Andreev was arrested.
The county's Public Fiduciary Office, which has the job of acting as temporary guardian for the property of dead or mentally incompetent people, was ordered to do the investigation. The office soon contested the will, using lawyers from the County Attorney's Office as counsel. But one of the lawyers, Wright, arrived on the scene late in the game, after months of gathering evidence. She parachuted into the complicated case just two months before the hearings, after the Fiduciary's first counsel, Stacey Johnson, went on maternity leave. Vatz denied Wright extra time to bone up on what had so far transpired.
After the county's team failed to convince Vatz, the Fiduciary's Office neglected to appeal his ruling within a required 30-day time limit. Which means the case is history.
The failure to appeal is baffling, considering how much effort was put into trying the case both in the probate court hearings and in preparations for the criminal prosecution. Officials from the Fiduciary's Office and the County Attorney's Office declined to comment on this issue, among others.
Britt refuses to say whether he considers the case dead, or whether it's possible more evidence could turn up against the group of five. The only court action in recent months has been the finalization of the transfer of Gadzanov's property to Andreev.
In mid-August, the Andreevs moved from their apartment to Gadzanov's home on Vista Avenue, which they now own.
As far as anyone can tell, Lane, Kocankov, and Ilkov received nothing for helping Andreev obtain the estate.
Lane calls his experience of the past two years getting arrested, charged, and exonerated a "nightmare." He says he might file a separate complaint against Gorajczyk, the handwriting expert employed by the Department of Public Safety. Lane claims he lost a job teaching golf course management days after his arrest, even though he was in jail for only two days before posting bond.
Kocankov doesn't seem as miffed, though the government fired him as an interpreter after his arrest, and it hasn't rehired him despite the outcome in probate court.
Besides the Andreevs, the only other clear winner in the case was Smith, who left Gadzanov's home with Gadzanov's cat (someone else adopted the rottweiler) after staying there eight months rent-free, after Louie was no longer around to collect rent. She says the saved rent money has been a godsend.
Andreev hasn't asked for it. He's content to leave well enough alone.
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