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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mavrodi Walks Free After 4 1/2 Years

ReutersMavrodi, right, founder of the MMM investment scheme, leaving the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center Tuesday.
Sergei Mavrodi, the mastermind behind the notorious MMM pyramid scheme that scammed millions of people in the early 1990s, walked free from Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina detention center Tuesday after serving out a 4 1/2 year sentence for fraud.

Clad in a green T-shirt and black sweat pants, Mavrodi emerged from the detention center Tuesday evening to congratulatory cheers from elderly women who, despite having seen their investments disappear in MMM, remain loyal to the businessman.

Mavrodi mumbled a few words of thanks while wading through the crowd of former MMM investors before being whisked into a black Nissan sport utility vehicle by a bodyguard and driven away.

Well-wishers were not the only ones who greeted Mavrodi, however. Seconds before the car took off, a member of the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Guard pelted the vehicle with a container of sour cream, which splattered on the side doors.

Also on hand for Mavrodi's release was Vladimir Permyakov, the actor who played Lyonya Golubkov, the hero of MMM's famous television ads that captured the nation's imagination.

MMM was the first and the biggest in a series of financial pyramids that hit Russia in the 1990s. The Chertanovsky District Court convicted Mavrodi last month of defrauding 10,000 investors of 110 million rubles ($4.3 million), though in reality millions of people lost money.

The court sentenced him to 4 1/2 years in prison. He was released Tuesday because he had served out the term in detention after being detained in a rented Moscow apartment in 2003.

He was also ordered by the court to pay some 20 million rubles ($800,000) to compensate victims of the scam.

A crowd of supporters, enemies, journalists and lawyers had gathered outside the detention facility in eastern Moscow since 9 a.m. Tuesday, waiting for Mavrodi to walk out the doors. He finally exited at 6:30 p.m.

The release was delayed several times because the jail warden was not present to sign off on the release papers, Mavrodi's lawyers told reporters.

Svetlana Kunyk, who said she invested $90,000 in MMM in 1994, handed Mavrodi a bouquet of lilacs as he left the building.

"I don't believe he is guilty," said Kunyk, 60. "Mavrodi always wished the best for us. The state just framed him."