VIP, Stars, Tangia, Nowhere Bar and Moreno
A convicted member of the South Beach “bar girl” racket that used sexy women to rip off male customers at Russian-style clubs was sentenced Friday to 6-1/2 years in prison.
Stanislav Pavlenko, 41, managed the credit-card transactions at one of the ring’s Washington Avenue clubs, Caviar Bar, for its owner, an admitted Russian mafioso.
Pavlenko’s sentencing by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola followed the harsher punishment of a co-conspirator, Albert Takhalov, 31, who was recently sentenced to 12 years. A third defendant, Isaac Feldman, 52, was also sentenced last month to more than eight years.
All three men were convicted at trial in December of deploying beguiling Eastern European women to fleece hundreds of thousands of dollars from male patrons by racking up bogus bills for champagne, vodka and caviar on their credit cards at seven private Miami Beach clubs.
Takhalov, who also managed credit card transactions, received the stiffest sentence because he played a key role at five of the illicit clubs (VIP, Stars, Tangia, Nowhere Bar and Moreno) throughout the duration of the scheme from 2010-11.
Feldman, a high-profile Sunny Isles Beach real estate broker, invested in the Stars and VIP lounges.
A fourth defendant, Siavash Zargari, 48, who did business with Takhalov, was acquitted.
All lived in the Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach and Miami Beach areas before their so-called B-girl network was busted by the FBI in April 2011.
The jury reached its guilty verdicts on a variety of conspiracy, wire fraud and money-laundering charges after an 11-week trial filled with tales about Miami Beach’s underground bar scene. The panel also issued acquittals on numerous wire fraud offenses involving credit card transactions and cleared Takhalov of bribing a U.S. immigration official to bring the bar girls from Eastern Europe.
Still, Scola ordered Takhalov, Feldman and Pavlenko into custody after trial because he found that they gave testimony that “I don’t believe was honest.” Several relatives and friends wailed openly in court when the judge issued his detention order.
The 12-person jury heard testimony from Alec “Oleg” Simchuk, the admitted Russian mobster who organized the racket; a few bar girls who lured male customers from swank hotels like the Delano to the private bars; a former Fox TV weatherman who was taken for $43,000 over two nights; and an undercover Miami Beach police officer who posed as a dirty cop and worked as a bouncer for the clubs while recording the illicit activity.
The puppet master behind the scam: Simchuk, 46, a Russian native and naturalized U.S. citizen who testified in October about his partners and associates.
Simchuk, who pleaded guilty before trial, testified that he modeled the South Beach clubs after his former bars in Latvia and Estonia. He said he illegally brought many of the same young women who had worked for him there to South Florida.
Simchuk said he opened Caviar Bar with the help of Pavlenko, who ran the credit card operations, and Stars Lounge with the assistance of Takhalov, who also managed the card transactions. His wife, Kristina, worked as a bartender, and Feldman was an investor who had met Simchuk through the Sunny Isles Beach community, home to many Russian immigrants.
The four defendants took the witness stand to fight the fraud charges, which is highly unusual during a trial. It backfired for all but Zargari.
In 2010, Miami Beach police and the FBI launched their undercover investigation into the B-girl network after customers complained to their credit card companies about the outlandish bar tabs. The following year, 19 defendants were charged in the fraud conspiracy. Fourteen defendants, mostly women, have since pleaded guilty.
Almost all have already served short prison or probationary sentences. A final defendant, Andrejs Romanovs, a Simchuk partner, is a fugitive believed to be in Eastern Europe.
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