FBI investigating handler in murder case involving convicted Russian mobster

by: Jim Strickland Updated:

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ATLANTA —

Channel 2 Action News has learned new details about a convicted Russian mobster and government informant linked to a high-profile Sandy Springs murder.

Late Monday afternoon, the FBI told consumer investigator Jim Strickland that its own version of an internal affairs unit is investigating Mani Chulpayev's FBI handler.

"It just goes to show that he does have some help somewhere. Otherwise, I think they would have looked at him, especially with his history and his past much quicker," said car buyer Travis Jones.

Jones blew the whistle on Chulpayev, a convicted felon turned one-time Atlanta car dealer.

Strickland's story on Chulpayev earlier this year tracked how, as a government witness, Chulpayev got light federal sentences after two previous convictions.

District Attorney Paul Howard said Chulpayev was identified as a suspect soon after the June murder of Melvin Vernell III, known in the hip-hop community as Lil Phat.

Strickland asked Howard whether the feds delayed the murder investigation. Howard said those concerns take a back seat for now.

"Maybe sometime after we get this murder (investigation) completed then we'll look at some of the people that are involved in this incident, like the FBI participation," Howard said.

Chulpayev's attorney didn't want to comment on his client's federal connections.

"I think he feels a little betrayed," said attorney George Plumides.

"Who betrayed him?" asked Strickland.

"The higher ups. That's all I can say about that," Plumides said.

Jones expects additional fraud charges relating to his car deal, but little cash restitution for his loss near $40,000.

"Since there's murder charges we're probably not going to get any money because the state is going to supersede any of his assets before us," Jones said.

Howard credits the Sandy Springs Police Department with scoring key evidence to break the case.

In a statement to Strickland, Mark Giuliano, with the FBI, said,  “With respect to allegations of misconduct involving one of our special agents, the FBI Atlanta Field Office not only acknowledged an awareness of those allegations but took swift actions to address the matter. The details of those allegations were promptly forwarded for further review to our Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). 

"While we’re prohibited in discussing the details of that internal investigation or the current status or assignment of the special agent involved, the FBI would like to reassure the public that the FBI holds all of its employee to the highest standards and that those allegations being made in the various media reports will be addressed as part of our previously mentioned internal process.”