A sultry hostess, a seedy nightclub and an amorous out-of-towner with a loose grip on his credit card. According to the FBI, "b girls" at six Miami Beach clubs who were part of an international crime ring used that recipe to defraud nearly 100 male tourists out of as much as $43,000 at a time.
"This international organized crime group has victimized tourists and defrauded them of tens of thousands of dollars," said John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami field office of the FBI. "The crimes this group committed have impacted our south Florida community and our economy. The dismantlement and disruption of this organized crime group reaffirms the FBI's and our law enforcement partner's commitment to remove organized crime from our neighborhoods."
"South Florida, by virtue of its geography, is a gateway for domestic and international travel and business," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer said. "Unfortunately, we also attract criminal elements, including transnational criminal organizations and groups like the one involved in this South Beach tourist scam. ... Without hesitation, I can tell you that our investigations into transnational criminal organizations operating in South Florida will continue."
Earlier this month, the FBI arrested six men and 10 alleged "b girls" linked to the scheme on federal charges that include wire fraud, immigration fraud and bribery. If convicted, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count, 10 years for each immigration fraud count and 15 years for each bribery count. Federal authorities are still seeking nightclub operator Alex Simchuk, a suspect who remains at large.
Authorities say the "b girls," from Estonia, Latvia and Russia, were chosen for their beauty and brought to the U.S. expressly to prey on tourists. Working in pairs they would look for marks at swanky South Beach hotels like the Delano or the Clevelander and then entice them to one of the nightclubs.
At the clubs, according to the FBI, the bar girls would order their guests multiple bottles of liquor, wine or champagne at exorbitant prices -- as much as $5,000 -- often without the knowledge of the patron. The girls would pour drinks into plants, ice buckets or other large containers so that the guest would be sure to order more. Later the victim would find thousands of dollars of mysterious charges on his credit card bill.
A victim from Philadelphia identified in the U.S. Attorney's criminal complaint only as "J.B." was hit with the biggest credit card bill of the 88 alleged marks. J.B. was approached at the Delano Hotel in March 2010 by two females. He says he had drinks with them, but then his memory became vague.
According to the complaint, "His fuzzy recollection was of people physically holding him up at an unknown location and having him sign something three times."
The same thing allegedly happened the next night. J.B. learned a few days later that his credit card had been charged $43,000 for items that included a painting on the bar's wall. He continues to dispute the credit card charges and alleges that he was drugged by the women.
According to authorities, the club where his recollections grew fuzzy was called the Caviar Bar, and was operated by Simchuk and another man.