Miami Herald: Federal Trial of Miami Beach Club Operators Linked to Russian Mob Gets Under Way

BY JAY WEAVER

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Miami Beach’s “B-Girls” are back.

But not as the sirens who seduced men in swank hotels like the Delano, to lure them to seedy private clubs on Washington Avenue so they could be plied with liquor and swindled.

Some of the 10 Bar Girls convicted over the past year will appear in Miami federal court as government witnesses, to testify against a handful of defendants who authorities say are linked to Russian organized crime.

On trial starting Tuesday are four reputed associates, along with a Sunny Isles Beach investor who once dabbled in local politics. They’re accused of orchestrating a fraud scheme to run up the credit card bills of South Beach tourists by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Accused of being at the helm of the alleged racket: Alec Simchuk, 46, formerly of Hallandale Beach, who was out of the country in 2011 when federal prosecutors charged him and 17 others with fleecing unwitting male patrons. Simchuk, who was arrested in July, pleaded guilty to fraud and other charges and agreed to testify against his club colleagues and investors.

The trial, before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, is expected to last six weeks. Jury selection is likely to start Tuesday with opening statements on Wednesday.

Among those standing trial: Stanislav Pavlenko, 41, Albert Takhalov, 31, Kristina Takhalov, 31, and Siavash Zargari, 48, who live in the Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach area. Longtime Sunny Isles real estate broker Isaac Feldman, 51, is the fifth defendant.

Feldman, who lost a bid for a city commission seat in 2010, invested $25,000 in one club controlled by Simchuk and Albert Takhalov. Feldman “lost everything,” said his attorney, Myles Malman.

According to charges, Simchuk and the other defendants operated the alleged ring for a year at the Caviar Bar and the Stars Lounge, both at 643 Washington Ave.; Nowhere Bar, 653 Washington Ave.; Steel Toast, 758 Washington Ave.; Tangia Club, 841 Washington Ave., and Club Moreno, 1341 Washington Ave.

According to court records, Simchuk and the others leased the private clubs, obtained credit-card merchant accounts, flew in B-Girls from Eastern Europe or the Baltic States with 90-day visas, rented apartments for them and sent them out to hotels like the Delano, Clevelander and others along Ocean Drive to seduce male visitors into coming to their private clubs.

In Simchuk’s plea agreement, he admitted that his organization ran up bogus bills for booze, wine and champagne on the credit cards of bedazzled male tourists, prosecutors said. The scam cost customers between $400,000 and $1 million, according to the plea agreement.

In total, the B-Girls, who received 20 percent commissions for bringing in customers, ripped off about 90 patrons, mostly tourists or businessmen with telltale signs of wealth, such as expensive watches or shoes, authorities say.

One victim from Philadelphia, who was approached by two B-Girls at the Delano Hotel, complained he was taken for $43,000 at Caviar Beach on Washington Avenue. His American Express bill included dozens of charges for booze.

In court papers, the victim is identified as “J.B.” According to lawyers in the case as well as published reports, the victim was John Bolaris, a former Philadelphia TV weatherman who gave an interview to Playboy magazine for an article on the case.

Bolaris is expected to testify for federal prosecutors, but they’re trying to limit cross-examination of him by defense attorneys.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/09/3040953/federal-trial-of-miami-beach-club.html?story_link=email_msg#storylink=cpy
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