updated 2/13/2007 9:06:28 PM ET 2007-02-14T02:06:28

A jury recommended the death penalty Tuesday for the ringleaders of a kidnapping-for-ransom scheme targeting rich Russian immigrants whose bodies were found in a Northern California reservoir.

Jurors deliberated less than a day before recommending the sentences for Iouri Mikhel and Jurijus Kadamovas. Last month, the federal jury convicted both men of three counts of hostage-taking resulting in death and three counts of conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian scheduled sentencing for March 7. The case will be automatically appealed, as in all federal death penalty prosecutions.

“They got what they deserved,” said Ruven Umansky, whose son Alexander was among those killed. “It’s a relief.”

Defense attorney Dale Rubin called the jury’s decision “a revenge verdict.”

“They lost sight of what their job was,” Rubin said.

Prosecutors said the two men led a group that sought to build a fortune by kidnapping affluent Russian immigrants from Los Angeles in late 2001 and early 2002 and extorting money from their families and friends. About $1.2 million was collected in ransom.

Defense attorneys said the accomplices who cut deals with prosecutors for lesser prison sentences were the group’s leaders.

Five victims were killed regardless of whether the ransoms were paid, prosecutors said. The bodies were tied with weights and dumped in the New Melones Reservoir near Yosemite National Park.

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