Two former U.S. Army soldiers who say they met fighting Russian separatists in Ukraine are now both behind bars in the U.S. after a years-long “international crime spree.” The pair met in a militia in Ukraine in 2017 before eventually killing and robbing a Florida couple and seeking fake identities to join other conflicts in Kenya and Venezuela.

Craig Austin Lang faced an initial hearing with a U.S. judge Monday after being extradited from Ukraine. Alex Jared Zwiefelhofer, 27, was convicted in March in a federal trial on murder and other crimes he and Lang allegedly committed together. His sentencing is Aug. 6.

Lang was an infantryman in the Army from November 2008 to June 2014. He deployed to Iraq between September 2009 and August 2010 and to Afghanistan from October 2011 to July 2012. Zwiefelhofer was was an infantryman from April 2015 to February 2018. He had no deployments. Both soldiers left the Army as privates.

Federal authorities say the duo met in Ukraine in 2017 as volunteers for a battalion fighting Russian separatists then spent much of the next several years committing crimes across at least four continents.

After Ukraine, the two tried to join another militia in Kenya before they were deported after crossing into South Sudan.

Back in the U.S., they reconnected in Florida. There, according to the DOJ, Lang and Zwiefelhofer restarted their international tear in 2018 with a series of crimes that Zwiefelhofer was convicted of in March and that Lang is accused of in a federal indictment.

They began with a double murder of a Brooksville, Florida couple. The couple planned to buy firearms from the two former soldiers on a website called “ARMSLIST.” Instead, Lang and Zwiefelhofer allegedly killed the couple while stealing their $3,000.

In addition to the Bonnie-and-Clyde murder plot in Florida, Lang faces charges in two other states for armed robbery, false statements in a passport application, aggravated identity theft, and misuse of a passport, officials said.

After the Florida killings, Department of Justice officials say that Lang and Zwiefelhofer used the couple’s money to pay for travel to Venezuela, where they planned to participate in a coup. According to Florida court documents, before leaving for Venezuela, the duo visited a military surplus store in Miami and discussed military equipment, firearms and ammunition they planned to bring “for the purpose of fighting against the Venezuelan government,” which they acknowledged would include killing people.

Both former soldiers face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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Lang, who is from Surprise, Arizona faced his first court appearance in Fort Myers, Florida on Monday where he pleaded not guilty, according to court documents.

Zwiefelhofer, from Bloomer, Wisconsin, was convicted of all charges by a federal jury on March 8. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 6.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center published an article on Zwiefelhofer which concluded that he may have been more “attracted by adventure than far-right ideology.” Zwiefelhofer left the Army in 2016 at 19 years old and tried to join the French Foreign Legion before joining the Right Sector volunteer force in Ukraine.

Lang’s other charges

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri called Lang’s actions an “international crime spree,” including the alleged double murder and attempts to “travel internationally to engage in other acts of violence.” Lang also had a plan to evade law enforcement “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.”

“Lang’s alleged conduct is shocking in its scope and its callous disregard for human life,” Argentieri said.

In North Carolina, Lang and and two other men allegedly came up with a scheme to apply for U.S. passports under assumed names, according to an August 2019 indictment. For Lang, his assumed name was Dameon Shae Adcock, officials allege.

Lang allegedly gave the real Adcock a suitcase with firearms, a military grenade, and $1,500 cash to pay for the use of his personal information. Days later, Lang allegedly bought airline tickets for travel from Georgia to New York and then to Ukraine.

Two of Lang’s conspirators pleaded guilty. One was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison and the other was sentenced to one year probation.

Across the country in Arizona, Lang faces charges for allegedly presenting a U.S. passport to Mexican authorities for a visa, “which was in violation of the conditions and restrictions contained on the passport,” the DOJ said about the June 2019 indictment.

Lang was escorted by the FBI from Ukraine to the U.S. The decision was made to send Lang back to the U.S. after a European court rejected his claim challenging extradition under the European Convention on Human Rights.  

According to a U.S. Military Academy West Point publication, Lang arrived in Ukraine in 2014 and joined the Georgia National Legion, a volunteer group prohibited by Ukrainian authorities from participating in combat. Lang later joined the Right Sector but returned to the U.S. by 2019 because the conflict had “got too slow” and “became trench warfare,” Lang said in a documentary.

According to BuzzFeed News reporting, Lang was part of a list of soldiers being investigated by the DOJ and FBI for alleged war crimes while fighting with far-right volunteer Ukrainian forces.

UPDATE: (June 4, 2024); The story has been updated with information provided by the Army about their service history.

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