Public Safety

Mariana Lesnic's ex-husband says their 'romance scam' could serve as warning for others

Mariana Lesnic enters the courtroom during her trial in the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Lesnic was found guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ernest Kummer on Sept. 6, 2017.  Kummer, 60, a Monroe truck driver, was found dead in his truck with a gunshot wound to his head.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Mariana Lesnic enters the courtroom during her trial in the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Lesnic was found guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ernest Kummer on Sept. 6, 2017. Kummer, 60, a Monroe truck driver, was found dead in his truck with a gunshot wound to his head. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Bert Wolfson said it chills him to think he slept for five years next to the woman who was convicted Thursday in the fatal shooting of a Monroe truck driver as he was sleeping.

Wolfson, 60, a retired wine distributor from Littleton, Colo., said it wasn’t surprising to learn Lesnic took advantage of a man others considered kind and giving because he was that man in 1999 when he met Mariana Lesnic in Odessa, Ukraine, and married her a year later.

Odessa is next to Romania and Moldova, where Lesnic grew up.

“Her victims are all the same person — givers — and she’s a taker,” he said Friday during a phone interview with The Gazette.

Wolfson, however, was shocked that Lesnic shot a man four times at close range, investigators said during her trial. During their five years together she was never interested in guns and never owned one, he said. But she was manipulative and was a “right fighter” — she always had to be right.

Lesnic, 44, was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder in the Sept. 6, 2017, fatal shooting of Ernest Kummer, 60, as he was sleeping in his semi-trailer cab at a rest stop on Interstate 80, near Victor.

According to testimony, Kummer had given Lesnic, a hitchhiker, a ride. She wanted him to take her to Washington state, but Kummer was headed back to Nebraska, where he initially picked her up.  

Lesnic, acting as her own lawyer during the trial in Iowa County District Court in Marengo, took the stand and told a confusing, rambling account that accused Kummer of threatening her with a gun and “pressuring” her to have sex and not letting her leave while they were traveling to Chicago then back through Iowa.

Investigators said there was no evidence Kummer had any guns or that he prevented Lesnic from leaving. She was the one carrying a 9 mm handgun in her purse and had a cellphone.

Wolfson said he had never met a woman like Lesnic, and never hoped to again. He said she was a “female narcissist,” who only can see what she wants and looks to see who she can victimize. He said he knows this because he was willing to help her once, too.

“I felt guilt when I first heard (about what she did to Kummer). After the divorce, I knew she was going to damage people. Take advantage and use people,” Wolfson said.

Wolfson was 42 and Lesnic was 27 when they met on an internet dating site.

“It was a whirlwind romance or romance scam,” Wolfson said. “(I) loved to travel the world and found it appealing — exotic — to meet her. She was pretty and young, and I wanted to start a family. You want to believe a story, and it seemed perfect because she already had a 3-year-old son. She grew up in Moldova — the smallest and poorest country. I felt like I could give her a better life.”

Wolfson admits he wasn’t initially attracted to her when they met in Odessa. Lesnic met Wolfson at the airport, and she had dyed auburn hair and was wearing a pinstriped black-and-white suit and dark sunglasses — “she looked like Natasha,” a character from “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon, he said. She was living with her father, a former “crusty” Soviet soldier and not a nice man, he said.

During his two week visit, she got sick and had internal bleeding. She was admitted to a hospital, which was “horrible,” he said. That incident let him see a more vulnerable side to her.

Wolfson said they continued to correspond when he went back to Colorado. He returned to Ukraine a few months later to visit, and in 2000 he asked Lesnic to marry him. They had already begun to fight, he said, but he was committed to making it work and he loved having a child.  

He said Lesnic gained U.S. citizenship by marrying him, but he doesn’t think she used him for that reason. They had a connection in the beginning. But nothing seemed to please her, he said. He didn’t have “enough money or a big enough house” after they married, which is ironic because she came from poverty conditions, Wolfson said.  

He paid for her to go to cosmetology school and she got a job at a salon, but she wouldn’t tell him where she worked or how much money she made. He didn’t find out until they separated, Wolfson said.

Their marriage got to the point where they didn’t talk for months, he said, and they finally divorced in 2005. The only thing wanted is for her to not keep his name.  

About five years later, Lesnic’s former boyfriend, who had recently ended the relationship with her, called Wolfson seeking information about her, saying she was interfering in a legal matter. She was trying to get a cut of a possible settlement, the man told Wolfson.

Other than the call from the boyfriend, Wolfson said he hadn’t heard from or about Lesnic since their divorce — until her trial this week.  

“She disappeared and stopped communicating with her friends and family after the divorce,” he said. “It didn’t surprise me to hear during the trial that she was leading a vagabond kind of life (hitchhiking).”

Two detectives from Colorado came to his door last year after Lesnic’s arrest in Kummer’s death and wanted to talk to him.

“I just rolled my eyes and said ‘What did she do now?’” Wolfson said. “I gave them two boxes of information from our marriage and divorce to forward to Iowa authorities.”

Wolfson said he wanted to come to the trial but, after talking to Iowa authorities, he decided not to attend because it might create more distraction. But he did follow The Gazette’s coverage.

“This has been sort of cathartic for me to talk about this,” Wolfson said. “Maybe this could be more of a warning for others. There are people out there like her. I don’t want harm to come to others.”   

Lesnic faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Her sentencing is set for Oct. 22 in Iowa County District Court.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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