“I made a great mistake and had no intention of breaking the law.” he apologized.
His plea fell on deaf ears as the judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison citing the perjury Takhalov practiced on the witness stand, as his impetus for the long sentence.
“He doesn’t have a right to lie.” Scola said.
U.S. District Judge Robert M. Scola sentenced Albert Takhalov, 31, of Sunny Isles Beach, to 12 years in prison, and Isaac Feldman, 51, of Sunny Isles Beach, to eight years and four months in prison. A third defendant convicted at trial, Stanislav Pavlenko, 41, of Aventura, is scheduled to be sentenced on May 31, 2013.
Takhalov was convicted on December 20, 2012, of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, swell as various substantive wire fraud counts and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
According to evidence presented at the 11-week trial, Takhalov along with several others were the organizers and investors in a criminal organization, which owned and operated numerous private clubs in South Beach. The organization brought Eastern European women into the United States illegally to work as “Bar Girls” or “B-Girls” to lure out-of town businessmen and tourists from legitimate South Beach clubs to the defendants’ private clubs.
Its organizers brought the B-Girls to the United States and rented apartments for the girls during their stay here.
Some were trained in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states while working at similar clubs operated by the organization. The girls also recruited and trained other B-Girls overseas.
The girls would enter the country through the U.S. visa waiver program, typically obtaining permission to enter the country by submitting an online application to the Department of Homeland Security’s electronic system for travel authorization, which determines the eligibility of visitors desiring to travel to the U.S. under the visa waiver program.
On their applications, the B-Girls lied and declared that they were not entering the country for any criminal or immoral purpose, nor to seek employment.
Once in South Florida, the girls were hired to “hunt” in pairs for victims at legitimate Miami Beach clubs, working between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Suitable victims were sought out on the basis of their appearance and age. The girls’ ideal targets? Wealthy males, preferably tourists or traveling businessman, who would be the least likely to come back into the club after discovering how much had been charged to them. Is he sporting an expensive watch or shoes? Zero in on him, the perfect target.
After introducing themselves, two B-Girls would lure the victim back to one of the organization’s clubs. 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.
The victim would often not be told the price of the alcohol he was ordering, or would be told an incorrect price. The B-Girls would continue to order more bottles, often without the man’s knowledge, and on occasion would surreptitiously pour out the drinks and bottles into plants and ice buckets so that more drinks could be ordered.
The managers and bartenders at the clubs made sure to obtain the victim’s credit card and driver’s license, making copies of them on scanners. Sometimes they would take pictures of the man with the girls at the clubs or record them on surveillance videos.
The victim would then 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 bar managers and bartenders would charge the victim’s credit card, typically one bottle at a time, to prevent “maxing out” the card.
It would be common practice of the managers to charge at least one cent difference for each bottle in order to eliminate the appearance of accidental double charges to the card.To what extent the victim’s credit card would be fraudulently debited would depend on the victim’s response. Some men were so intoxicated by the drinks forced upon them that they could not stand and were not competent enough to sign the credit card receipts. In that case, the men were propped up by the B-Girls long enough to obtain their signatures on them.
In most cases, the bartender or manager would explain to the victim that he agreed to purchase the liquor and that the bar had surveillance video of him ordering it. Pay the bill, he would be told, or the police will be called and the guest arrested.
If necessary, the bar would call Miami Beach police officers to the scene at which point the victim would pay the bill or face arrest. Because Florida’s Innkeepers Law requires patrons disputing a bill to pay the bill, a police officer would inform the victim that his choices would be to either settle the bill and handle the dispute through the credit card company, or be arrested.
Occasionally, the club conspirators would forge signatures on credit card receipts or run card charges through without authorization.
B-Girls would receive approximately 20% of the bill to be split between the pair of them. Managers, who usually worked in pairs also, would typically receive 10% each.
If a victim challenged the charge with their credit card company, the clubs would provide copies of the signed receipts, driver’s license, and on occasion, photos with the girls as proof that the man was responsible for the charges – all in order to avoid charge-backs against their merchant account.
The Organization Is Infiltrated
In August 2010, a local police officer was able to infiltrate the organization. He posed as a corrupt cop working off-duty as a bouncer/doorman. He worked from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. at the club.
B-Girl Marina instructed him to keep out customers who were not accompanied by the girls, pretend not to know the B-Girls by checking their IDs whenever they entered the club, and to identify himself as an officer or to contact the police if it was necessary to guarantee that the male victims paid their bills.
The undercover cop won the confidence and trust of the organization’s bosses and B-Girls, who believed he was corrupt and would maintain the façade that the organization was maintaining. Not only did he enforce the Innkeeper’s Law but he provided security for the B-Girls.
Part of his duties would be to drive the girls from their homes to the organization’s clubs and to legitimate bars and clubs in the city to find victims. In this way he was able to witness firsthand the organization’s operations and, in conversations with its members, learn in detail about the fraud and the extent of their involvement in it. He was also able to audio- and video-tape many conversations as well as goings-on at the clubs.
The organization operated at least six Miami Beach clubs:
Caviar Bar, 643 Washington Ave. (from approximately Feb. to May 2010)
Stars Lounge, 643 Washington Ave. (from approximately Aug. to Oct. 2010)
A room at Club Moreno, 1341 Washington Ave. (from approximately Oct. to Dec. 2010)
Nowhere Bar, 653 Washington Ave. (from approximately Dec. 2010 to mid-Jan. 2011)
Steel Toast, 758 Washington Ave. (from approximately early Jan. to April 2011)
Tangia Club, 841 Washington Ave. (from approximately late Jan. to April 2011)
Caviar was operated primarily by Simchuk and Stanislav “Stan” Pavlenko. Listed at that address was a company called Rose Entertainment, incorporated in October 2009.
In February 2010, Miami Beach issued a liquor license to Rose Entertainment, in care of Pavlenko. That month he filed documents for Caviar listing himself as the owner. Rose Entertainment opened an account at Wachovia Bank the following month. Pavlenko opened at least one of the merchant accounts for Caviar Bar.
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 Tangia. Though Simchuk and several of his B-Girls had since returned to their native countries, this time it was the cop doing the luring and the bosses and B-Girls who would be the targeted “victims.” All except Simchuk returned to Miami.
Fully armed, the FBI raided Tangia that night, as the unsuspecting partiers were inside. Agents arrested 16: five male bosses, one female accountant, and 10 B-Girls. News footage of the bust showed young women, decked out in their sexy clubgirl finery and high heels, being escorted out of the club, one by one, hands locked behind their backs, and into a waiting paddy wagon on Washington Ave. for their pending appointments the next day in front of a man likely sporting an expensive watch and shoes: the federal judge arraigning them.
Also sentenced last week was Isaac Feldman, 51, of Sunny Isles Beach, who received eight years and four months in prison. A third defendant convicted at trial, Stanislav Pavlenko, 41, of Aventura, is scheduled to be sentenced on May 31, 2013. - Charles Bailey contributed to this report.