Their scheme fleeced male victims, most of whom were out-of-town visitors to Miami Beach, by employing beautiful Russian and Eastern European women who plied the men with over-priced liquor, then separated them from their money.
Last week, a federal jury’s guilty verdicts separated the scam’s masterminds from their freedom.
After a trial that lasted 11 weeks, three area men were convicted for their roles in the scam.
A fourth defendant, Siavash Zargari, 48, of Miami Beach, was acquitted.
Stanislav Pavlenko, 41, of Aventura; Isaac Feldman, 51, of Sunny Isles Beach; and Albert Takhalov, 31, of Sunny Isles Beach, were all found guilty on wire fraud and money laundering counts.
Their crimes were extensively reported in an Aug. 2 SunPost cover story (found here).
Russian organizers of the scam illegally brought “bar girls” – or “B-Girls” – from Eastern Europe and the Baltic states to the U.S. to work. These women were trained at similar clubs operated by the organization abroad.
The girls were hired to “hunt” in pairs for victims at legitimate Miami Beach clubs. Their ideal targets? Wealthy males, preferably tourists or traveling businessman.
After introducing themselves, two B-Girls would lure the victim back to one of the Russian organization’s six private clubs on Washington Ave. in South Beach. Those clubs are now defunct.
The clubs were not open to the general public; they operated solely as a front for the fraud. The girls would pretend not to be affiliated with the club, and would either order, or encourage their victim to order, bottles of wine and champagne from another B-Girl posing as the bartender or manager.
After the victim was either drugged without his knowledge or too intoxicated to understand what was happening, the B-Girls would order more liquor, make unauthorized charges to his credit card, and sometimes even forge his signature.
Victims’ credit cards would be charged an exorbitant amount for the ordered alcohol – as much as $5,000 for bottles of wine or champagne which cost the club anywhere from $5-$100.
The government charged that the defendants also set up shell companies to conceal their profits and salary payouts to the B-Girls.
Takhalov was also convicted of conspiracy to defraud the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He had attempted to bribe a federal agent to let him get B-Girls into the country through Customs.
The FBI expended a reported $1 million and 13 months investigating the group before staging an audacious raid on the night of April 5, 2011.
The undercover cop who had infiltrated the organization months before and posed as its bouncer invited the suspects to attend his “birthday party” at one of the clubs.
Fully armed, the FBI raided the club that night, as the unsuspecting partiers were inside. Agents arrested 16: five male bosses, one female accountant, and 10 B-Girls.
Nineteen defendants in all were charged in the fraud; 12 pleaded guilty before trial. One, Andrejs Romanovs, remains a fugitive. Another, Mikhail Rasner, will be tried separately later this year.
Most of the B-Girls have since served their sentences and been deported.
The case was a collaborative investigation by the FBI, the Miami Beach Police Department, and ICE.
A sentencing date for the convicted three is pending.