Drugged, Scammed by Beautiful Women: Weatherman Tells His Story

PHOTO: Former weatherman John Bolaris says he was the target of a "bottle girls" scam.
credit: ABC News.
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John Bolaris was a TV weather forecaster in Philadelphia, but even he could not predict the intentions of two comely women that approached him at a luxury hotel bar in Miami.

He woke up two days after the encounter with little memory and even less money -- allegedly drugged twice on consecutive nights and charged more than $43,000 on his credit card.

Bolaris had become another mark in a scheme run by an alleged Eastern European crime ring.

Hours of FBI surveillance videos and photos obtained by ABC News show how the group of so-called bar girls, known as "b-girls," lived and operated in South Beach -- targeting wealthy male tourists and bilking them of thousands of dollars.

Watch the full updated story on "20/20: Cat and Mouse" FRIDAY at 10 ET

"They came across very cutesy, and very sincere, and very nice, like the girls next door," Bolaris recalled of his alleged scammers in an interview with "20/20." "This wasn't a hooker-type thing."

The FBI said Bolaris was one of 88 men preyed on by a crime ring that illegally brought in attractive women from eastern Europe and used them to lure men from Miami hotspots like the Hotel Delano, Clevelander and Fontainebleau to shady clubs nearby where the girls plied their alleged victims with liquor, forged their signatures and charged them "exorbitant prices" for alcohol.

PHOTOS: The Alluring Women of an Eastern European Crime Ring

Bolaris' stranger-than-fiction story began when he vacationed in Miami in March 2010. Bolaris, age 52 at the time of the incident, said he was having a drink at a South Beach bar when he was approached by two women with Russian-sounding accents.

"They come over and they said, 'Do you want to do a shot?' And I go, 'No I don't want to do a shot,'" he told "20/20."

But the women persisted.

"One comes behind me, she rubs my shoulders, pulls back my head and says, 'Come on, do a shot.' And I said, 'All right, I'll do a shot.'"

After a few drinks, Bolaris and the women piled into a taxi heading to another bar. On the way, Bolaris said, the women asked if he wouldn't mind stopping to see a painting a friend was selling for charity. Bolaris said yes, but then the weatherman's memory becomes cloudy.

"I remember standing up ... signing something, vaguely," he recalled. "Next thing I know, I'm in a cab with a big painting [of a woman's head]."

Bolaris said he did not regain full consciousness until the next morning, when he awoke in his own hotel suite.

"I had red wine on my shirt, fully clothed," he said. "Now I'm thinking: Something happened, but what?"

Then, to his surprise, he received a call from the b-girls offering to return his sunglasses that they had inadvertently taken.

"How bad can they be?" he thought at the time, he told "20/20."

Bolaris himself wanted to return the painting and agreed to meet up with the girls again that evening. According to Bolaris, they met him at the hotel and took a cab together to return the piece of art. On the way, the girls disembarked at an unmarked storefront and "whistle[d]" at him to join them inside.

"And next thing I know, I'm passed out," said Bolaris.

He woke up on March 30 feeling "very sick" and "extremely worried" because he had no recollection of the previous night.

Instead of hearing from the girls again, Bolaris received a call from his credit card company, American Express, detailing charges of $43,712.25, including a $2,480 charge for the painting.

Police Officer Goes Undercover as 'Dirty Cop'

When Bolaris attempted to dispute the charges, American Express referred him to a man named Stan Pavlenko, who was later indicted in the case and has pleaded not guilty. Pavlenko had supplied a photograph of Bolaris at the bar to the credit card company in an attempt to legitimate the charges.

Despite evidence that located him at a bar called Caviar, Bolaris vowed to fight the expenses. He eventually connected with the FBI, which had launched a full-scale investigation of the Eastern European criminal activities in the South Beach clubs.

The FBI teamed up Det. Luis King of the Miami Beach police, who served as an undercover "dirty cop" to help gather information about club.

King got close to Alec Simchuk, a suspect who remains at large after fleeing to Eastern Europe. Simchuk owned several clubs in Eastern Europe that allegedly used similar methods to entice high-paying customers.

Instead of relying on violent threats, the South Beach clubs used Florida's "innkeeper law" to force customers to pay. The law requires patrons disputing a charge to challenge the bill with their own credit card company rather than the vendor. Patrons who refuse to sign their bill risk getting arrested.

Simchuk and the b-girls became increasingly trusting of King, who can be found in surveillance videos threatening to arrest several patrons who refused to pay their "exorbitant" bills.

Wired with a microphone and color-video camera, King documented incriminating phone calls with Simchuk, girls pouring out their drinks and talking about their tactics, and male patrons refusing to sign their bills.

He also served as a driver for the girls, frequently dropping them off in pairs at legitimate venues in Miami, where they would target men wearing expensive shoes and watches to lure them back to their own venues.

In addition to King, the FBI had another undercover agent pose as an unsuspecting customer to discover first-hand whether the girls illegally manipulated their patrons.

"It's $3,000 for three $20 bottles of wine. I specifically told you I want one," the undercover officer told one of the b-girls in the video.

In court documents, the FBI said that this customer's signature was forged and he was billed thousands of dollars for unordered alcohol.

Brett Daniels, a professional magician, was another alleged victim who came forward to "20/20," claiming that his club experience cost him $1,367.38.

"I drank a Heineken, and the vodka was on them," Daniels said. "It shouldn't be this much money."

Daniels' bank, Waukesha State Bank, still refuses to refund his charges.

Jonathan Davidoff, a lawyer for one of the b-girls, said that the only laws that the girls violated were immigration laws and that the men were merely expressing "buyers' remorse."

"I think it's a great marketing plan, to be honest with you, to send attractive women to go meet guys and bring them back to a club. I see nothing illegal about that," argued Davidoff. "It happens all the time."

He claimed that many of the girls pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud because of immigration concerns, and several are now seeking asylum in the United States.

Nevertheless, after spending 13 months and more than an estimated $1 million investigating the case, the FBI staged a birthday party at one of the clubs to arrest the bar girls and their managers.

Although Simchuk and several of b-girls already had returned to their native countries, King invited all the remaining suspects to attend his pretend "birthday party" in April at Club Tangia. The b-girls dressed up for the occasion and even posed with King, who wore a birthday crown in a photograph.

The FBI raided the club fully armed, arresting 16 suspects that night, including almost a dozen b-girls and a handful of male managers and accountants.

The case against Pavlenko and others who have pleaded not guilty will head to federal court in October. Bolaris and the b-girls are expected to testify.

Bolaris lost his job as a weatherman in Philadelphia after the b-girls scandal made headlines. But there was a silver lining: He won a court battle against American Express -- the credit card company repaid him the $43,000 it originally charged and also forked over thousands more in damages -- and is glad, though nervous, about testifying against the crime ring that allegedly scammed him.

"I could've rolled over and taken it, but I did not," he said. "I fought back."

Watch the full updated story on "20/20: Cat and Mouse" FRIDAY at 10 ET

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