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Timeline: The Last, Booze-Soaked Days Of Mikhail Lesin

Mikhail Lesin in 2002. The former Russian press minister was found dead in a Washington hotel room in 2015.
Mikhail Lesin in 2002. The former Russian press minister was found dead in a Washington hotel room in 2015.

Mikhail Lesin, the high-flying former adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin who died in Washington under murky circumstances in 2015, spent his final 72 hours consuming copious amounts of alcohol, pestering service personnel for even more booze, and changing hotels after run-ins with management.

Alcohol, according to authorities, was a contributing factor to his death in a penthouse suite at the capital's Dupont Circle Hotel on November 5, 2015, which authorities ruled an accident.

Police and prosecutors attributed his death to blunt-force injuries caused by falls. But no manner of death has been given, and speculation that Lesin, who had fallen out of favor with the Kremlin, was a victim of foul play has persisted.

RFE/RL has charted Lesin's final three days in Washington based on official law-enforcement and medical documents. These include reviews of surveillance video from the two hotels where he stayed. That footage, according to authorities, did not indicate anything suspicious, though police reports indicate that due to a defective recording authorities may have been unable to review nearly three hours of video that was captured after Lesin was last seen alive.

It's unclear whether this specific footage was ever recovered by U.S. authorities, though case-related documents obtained exclusively by RFE/RL last week include one titled "903 camera footage timeline" -- a reference to the room at the Dupont Circle Hotel where Lesin's body was discovered. That timeline includes a welfare check on Lesin in his room by the hotel personnel who last saw him alive on the eve of his death.

(Some times are approximate)

October 21, 2015

Lesin arrives in Los Angeles, where his family resides, by air under a U.S. visa most commonly used for foreign tourists, according to U.S. travel records disclosed by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

November 2, 2015

3:44 p.m.: With no prior reservation, Lesin checks into the upscale Four Seasons hotel in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood. The official police report gives no indication whether Lesin had a reservation or how he paid for the room. Based on surveillance video, it appears Lesin was dropped off at the hotel by someone driving a Mercury Sable with Virginia license plates. The license plate number is "unreadable" on the video, and it's unclear whether authorities ultimately identified it.

3:53 p.m.: Lesin enters his room, No. 266. Over the next 13 hours, he removes numerous airline-size bottles of liquor from the minibar, as well as bottles of wine and beer.

November 3, 2015

5 a.m.: Over a 40-minute span, Lesin props the room to his door open, exiting and reentering several times.

5:41 a.m.: Lesin leaves his room and takes the elevator to the lobby, where he heads empty-handed toward the hotel's Bourbon Steak restaurant.

5:45 a.m.: Lesin is seen returning to the elevator with a large bottle of tequila from Bourbon Steak that was later found empty in his room. A room-service order for penne pasta was also being delivered around the same time.

1:45 p.m.: An man identified by police as Lesin's "friend" arrives at the hotel.

1:52 p.m.: A security officer and an individual whose name is redacted by police go to Lesin's room and find him passed out on the bed. They leave the room, and the unidentified person "stays at the hotel."

5:45 p.m.: Around 30 minutes after Lesin removes two beers from the private bar, hotel security conducts a welfare check and finds Lesin on the bed "either sleeping or passed out."

6:15-6:25 p.m.: Lesin removes a bottle of wine and a bottle of scotch from the minibar.

6:30 p.m.: Lesin is on the guest list of a dinner and a fundraiser honoring Russian billionaire and philanthropist Pyotr Aven at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington, but he does not show up.

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6:50 p.m.: Hotel security conducts a welfare check and finds Lesin again "either sleeping or passed out." Inside the room, a chair and an ottoman have been knocked over. The hotel decides to remove all the remaining alcohol from Lesin's minibar.

8:30 p.m.: Hotel personnel find Lesin moving about his room but somewhat incoherent. The security officer notices a contusion below Lesin's left eye. Lesin is informed that a "friend" downstairs is "concerned for his welfare" and wants to see him, but Lesin says he does not want to speak with him. After being informed of this, the friend, a man whose name is redacted in official reports, leaves the hotel.

10:38 p.m.: Lesin leaves his room, dressed but barefoot, and goes down to the hotel lobby, where he "just walks around." He uses the walls to steady himself several times.

10:42 p.m.: Lesin is denied service at the restaurant bar, but tries to take "partially consumed cocktails from the well."

10:53 p.m.: After briefly sitting down in a lobby chair -- and once entering and immediately leaving a lobby elevator -- Lesin is escorted back to his room by security. At some point during the day, video surveillance at the Four Seasons shows Lesin with a "left eye contusion" -- confirming the security officer's earlier observation.

November 4, 2015

12:35 a.m.: Lesin leaves his room and "wanders the hallway" before going down to the lobby 20 minutes later.

12:53-12:57 a.m: Lesin leaves his room and goes to the hotel lobby. He returns to the restaurant, which is now closed. He looks around, lifts the security rope and enters. He removes a bottle of alcohol from behind the bar. As he is leaving, Lesin is stopped by an unidentified "security officer." Lesin is escorted back to his room by security personnel. An individual whose name and title is redacted asks hotel staff about Lesin, after which he calls his "command post" and relays Lesin's name and date of birth.

1:45-2:30 a.m.: At the request of U.S. Secret Service (USSS), which was on site expecting the arrival of a dignitary under its protection, a hotel security officer is posted outside Lesin's room to ensure he remains inside. At one point during Lesin's stay at the Four Seasons, a USSS agent saw Lesin in the lobby in a bathrobe. Lesin was also seen "wandering the hallways and lobby in various states of undress."

4:46 a.m.: Lesin leaves his room with the door propped open and goes down to the lobby. He leaves the hotel and returns 10 minutes later. He offers money to a front-desk employee in exchange for alcohol, but the employee refuses.

5:00 a.m.: He leaves the hotel and catches a cab without checking out from his room at the Four Seasons.

5:30 a.m.: Lesin checks into the top-floor penthouse on the ninth floor at the Dupont Circle Hotel, 1.6 kilometers away from the Four Seasons, appearing "very intoxicated" and paying for one night with $1,200 in cash.

A police photo of Mikhail Lesin's room at the Dupont Circle Hotel following his death.
A police photo of Mikhail Lesin's room at the Dupont Circle Hotel following his death.

5:37 a.m.: Lesin leaves his room at the Dupont Circle Hotel.

5:50 a.m.: Lesin returns to the Four Seasons hotel with a small "traveler" bottle of Johnnie Walker and goes to his room. Hotel staff does not appear to notice his entrance.

7:51 a.m.: Lesin leaves his room at the Four Seasons, takes the elevator down, and exits the hotel premises. He returns less than 10 minutes later with what appears to be a pack of cigarettes.

7:59 a.m.: Over a 45-minute span, Lesin leaves and reenters his room six times. At one point he is seen near an elevator wearing only underwear. Video surveillance reviewed later shows "no visible signs" of blunt-force injury on Lesin's body "when he walked in the hallway with his underwear on."

8:54 a.m.: Lesin leaves his room, goes downstairs, and tries to persuade hotel staff to buy alcohol for him.

9:09 a.m.: Lesin leaves the Four Seasons, asks for a taxi, and is heard telling the driver to take him to the Dupont Circle Hotel. After learning that Lesin had left, the security supervisor at the Four Seasons enters his room and takes photographs of multiple empty bottles of alcohol on the floor, including the Johnnie Walker bottle he had brought in just hours earlier.

9:32 a.m.: Lesin is escorted to his room at the Dupont Circle Hotel by a security officer.

9:34 a.m.: Lesin leaves his room, reenters, and then leaves again.

9:37 a.m.: The Four Seasons orders the keys to Lesin's room to be changed, locking him out. A USSS agent asks the hotel about Lesin, saying he wants "to ensure there was not a threat" to the person he was assigned to protect.

10:20 a.m.: Lesin returns to the Four Seasons by taxi and, while carrying two plastic bags with alcohol, "almost falls to the ground" as he exits the vehicle. His only visible injury is the contusion under his left eye, and he shows no signs of pain as he walks into the lobby. Hotel security tells Lesin they are concerned for his well-being. Lesin attempts to retrieve the bags containing the alcohol from the valet outside but is stopped by security. Lesin insists he wants the bags, which he goes outside and gets from the valet. He leaves the Four Seasons by taxi and does not return. During his time at the Four Seasons, Lesin drank in total "14 bottles of either beer, wine, or liquor" from the minibar, along with a bottle of tequila and the bottle of Johnnie Walker.

10:48 a.m.: Lesin returns to his penthouse at the Dupont Circle Hotel with two "large grocery bags." This is the last video footage known to show Lesin alive.

Grocery bags of alcohol found in Mikhail Lesin's room at the Dupont Circle Hotel following his death.
Grocery bags of alcohol found in Mikhail Lesin's room at the Dupont Circle Hotel following his death.

1:57 p.m.: Two housekeepers enter the room and leave right away after "apparently" finding Lesin "on the bed either asleep or passed out."

2:23 p.m.: A security officer and front-office manager enter Lesin's room. They perform a welfare check and find Lesin, who greets the two wearing a blue shirt and his underwear, "drunk and stumbling around the room." Lesin is asked whether he plans to stay another night, to which he responds in Russian: "Da" ("Yes"). Lesin is then asked whether he needs medical attention. He places his arm on the shoulder of one of the visitors and says, in Russian: "Nyet" ("No"). Neither the security officer nor the manager noticed any injuries on Lesin.

8:17 p.m.: A security officer and hotel floor manager check on Lesin, who is passed out "face down on a rug" but still breathing. Attempts to wake Lesin fail. They leave the room less than two minutes later. This is the last time Lesin is known to have been seen alive. Security-camera footage does not show anyone else entering Lesin's room until he is discovered dead the following day.

November 5, 2015

11:32 a.m.: A security officer and an assistant front-office manager enter Lesin's room to remind him of his check-out time at noon. They use a master key to enter after no one answers the door. Lesin is found "face down on the rug" and not breathing. Death is "apparent." The room is strewn with empty and unopened containers of alcohol.

11:34 a.m.: A 911 call is placed from the Dupont Circle Hotel reporting the discovery of Lesin's body.

5:46 p.m.: Washington's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) informs the State Department's Diplomatic Security Bureau that the Russian Embassy "would like to help identify" Lesin. The embassy says that "if he is who we think he is," then he is a prominent Russian official, the medical-examiner office's report states.

8 p.m.: A police detective informs the medical examiner's office that a "friend" of Lesin's had called inquiring about his whereabouts, saying he was "last known alive" two days earlier "in the afternoon" leaving the Four Seasons. The identity of the friend -- and precisely when the call was made -- is unclear.

Another police photo of Mikhail Lesin's room at the Dupont Circle Hotel following his death.
Another police photo of Mikhail Lesin's room at the Dupont Circle Hotel following his death.

November 6, 2015

Washington's OCME conducts an autopsy on Lesin.

Members of the staff of the Russian Embassy in Washington identify Lesin's body. Identification is conducted "by tattoos and latent prints."

U.S., Russian, and international media report news of Lesin's death.

RFE/RL Makes Lesin Autopsy Files Available

Nearly two years ago, RFE/RL filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the autopsy records of Mikhail Lesin, the former Russian press minister who was found dead in a Washington hotel room in November 2015.

Last month, Washington Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo ordered the city to turn over the files, which were finally released to RFE/RL on March 15 by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The 149-page file offers the most precise scientific description to date about Lesin's death, around which many questions still remain.

RFE/RL is now making the autopsy files available to the general public for the first time. Find them here.

November 8, 2015

At the Four Seasons hotel, "a friend of a friend" of Lesin's informs a Washington city police detective that Lesin had stayed at the hotel prior to moving to the Dupont Circle Hotel. The name of the "friend of a friend" is redacted.

November 9, 2015

An official with the Russian Embassy in Washington, whose name is redacted, calls a city police detective. The detective informs the diplomat that Lesin's death is under investigation and that "he could not answer" some questions posed by the Russian official.

March 10, 2016

The OCME releases its first public statement describing the cause of Lesin's death as "blunt-force injuries of the head" and contributing factors as "blunt-force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities and lower extremities with acute ethanol intoxication." The manner of death is described as "undetermined" and the statement says Washington city police continue to investigate.

October 28, 2016

The U.S. Justice Department announces that its D.C. bureau and Washington city police have ruled Lesin's death an accident and closed the investigation. It says that "Lesin died as a result of blunt force injuries to his head, with contributing causes being blunt force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities, and lower extremities, which were induced by falls, with acute ethanol intoxication."

March 15, 2019

Following a successful lawsuit challenging a denied freedom-of-information request, RFE/RL exclusively obtains 149 pages of documents related to Lesin's autopsy from Washington's OCME. The documents state that Lesin sustained a fracture to a neck bone just below the jaw line "at or near the time" of his death. Such a fracture is most frequently associated with strangulation or asphyxiation, though the documents raise the possibility that the neck bone -- known as the hyoid -- might have been damaged during the autopsy.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

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