By Abigail Bostwick Contributing Writer
A former Bloomer man and U.S. Army soldier has been arrested by federal police for accused involvement in a Florida double homicide to steal money and use it for activism in a resistance organization against the Venezuelan government.
Federal Charges Post-Double Homicide
Recently indicted is Alex Jared Zwiefelhofer, 22, Bloomer, along with Craig Austin Lang, 29, Arizona.
Together, they are said to have come up with a plot this April to murder a couple who thought they were buying guns in a private sale. The ex-military men planned to take their cash so they could travel overseas to fight “…in an armed conflict against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela…” with a resistance group, according to court records.
The men—who appear to have been friends for several years—now face conspiracy to commit robbery affecting commerce and to discharge a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, robbery interfering in commerce, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, resulting in death. They face life in prison and death if convicted.
Zwiefelhofer made an initial appearance in Madison recently. He’s still detained there in the custody of United States marshals, pending extradition to Florida. Lang is currently in custody in Ukraine.
The case will be prosecuted by Ft. Myers Assistant United States Attorneys Jesus M. Casas and Josephine W. Thomas.
Zwiefelhofer Joins Army, Goes AWOL
Zwiefelhofer is a former United States Army soldier who went absent without leave in summer 2016. Lang also is ex-military. Both came to the attention of the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya after trying to enter South Sudan in fall 2017. They were deported back to the United States—Zwiefelhofer to North Carolina, Lang to Texas.
When interviewed in North Carolina by the FBI, Zwiefelhofer told authorities he’d gone to France in fall 2016 to join the French Foreign Legion but then went to Ukraine where he met Lang. Together, with a group called the Right Sector, they fought “Russian separatists” there. After, they aimed to go to Kenya to fight Al Shabaab, but that’s when they were stopped and detained in Sudan, the complaint reads.
At that time, FBI and Customs agents found child pornography on Zwiefelhofer’s cell phone and he was charged with five counts third degree sexual exploitation of a minor and jailed there in North Carolina. After being released on bond, he returned to his hometown of Bloomer in late 2017.
Florida Murder Plot
Multiple 911 calls April 9 just before 11 p.m. reported rapid gunfire near Cypress Park Circle in Estero, Florida. A crime scene was not immediately found. The next morning, a 911 caller reported a dead person near Corkscrew Road, in a parking lot near where police responded the night prior. The man was found dead, shot at least 7 times outside the truck while the female was in the passenger seat yet, with at least 11 gunshot wounds. More than 63 spent shell casings were found for a 9 mm and rifle firearms. Identified dead were Serafin Lorenzo, Jr., 53, and his wife, Deana Lorenzo, 51.
A license plate check found the couple had traveled just over two hours from Brooksville, Florida. Based on review of their cell phones, they’d been responding to an Armslist posting to purchase firearms. The meeting location changed several times, the criminal complaint notes via text messages between the four. The $3,000 agreed upon was not there. Their deaths were ruled “…homicide from multiple gunshot wounds.”
Authorities tracked down the Armlist email, which led them to Zwiefelhofer and Lang through emails, social media and Trac phones. They were able to ping phones used in Florida near the crime scene, the complaint indicates.
The social media messages revealed that in March 2018, Lang and Zwiefelhofer were making plans online to go to Florida via Facebook. Their plans including buying body armor, committing robberies as well as hotwiring and stealing boats or a yacht so they could “escape to South America or Ukraine” while smuggling firearms and ammo. The men exchanged photos of firearms back and forth.
Zwiefelhofer ultimately left Bloomer via Greyhound to Florida to meet Lang, who traveled from Arizona, in April until they met in Florida. More Facebook messages shows the two men in tropical shirts in a hotel room—they posted those photos to their accounts, the complaint indicates.
In March 2019, Zwiefelhofer came on the radar when trying to buy a gun at Tilden Gun, where he made false statements on the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms form. The FBI arrived shortly after to search his Bloomer home.
There, police found clothing that matched what Zwiefelhofer was wearing in the Facebook photos - the tropical shirts - that were taken in Florida. He was arrested in Chippewa Falls by ATF agents.
Google searches made by Zwiefelhofer at the time included “Miami Armslist, Classified Miami Handguns, Hotwire Boat Ignition Switch, Cheapest Hotels Miami, How to Smuggle Myself into South America” as well as multiple searches for a movie scene featuring people being shot ambushed and shot while inside a car, based on the complaint.
Zwiefelhofer has no criminal record in Wisconsin.