Fired Weatherman's 'Hangover' Helps Expose Rising Russian Mafia

John Bolaris was caught up in the Russian mafia while on a trip to South Beach.

January 20, 2012, 11:21 AM

Jan. 20, 2012— -- It's a story that has been dubbed the real-life "Hangover," but it has helped expose the underground criminal workings of a newly powerful mafia taking hold in South Florida.

What began as a leisure trip to Miami Beach, Fla., for Philadelphia weatherman John Bolaris ended with him allegedly being drugged and swindled out of more than $43,700, losing his job at a local TV station and having to make multiple court appearances.

While on his trip in March 2010, Bolaris, a notorious ladies' man with a Playboy Playmate girlfriend, became unwittingly caught up in the vast criminal empire of a new mafia made up of Russians and Eastern Europeans, and fell prey to what police call one of the mob's entry level scams.

With an ongoing FBI investigation, Bolaris couldn't talk to ABC News, but designated his friend and lawyer Charles Peruto to tell his story from the beginning.

"[Bolaris] checks into his hotel, ready to go out for a couple of drinks, see what's out there. These two beautiful girls, they come onto him," Peruto said. "This is every man's dream. He wasn't looking for trouble. Trouble found him."

This new mob has muscled out other mafias in recent years to carve out a Miami Beach monopoly, investigators told ABC News. There is no knee capping, thumb breaking or baseball bats to the head, only the velvet glove of seduction.

In a tell-all interview with Playboy, Bolaris said he was sitting in South Beach's luxury Delano Hotel when these two gorgeous women approached him.

"I'm a guy," he told the magazine. "There was a thought I might get laid. ... I was used to girls in Philly coming on to me aggressively once they found out I was John Bolaris, the TV weatherman."

The two women were Eastern European, exotic and beautiful. They told him they wanted to buy him drinks and "do shot." It's a catchphrase that later became a Twitter sensation.

According to Peruto, the next thing Bolaris remembered was waking up back in his hotel room at the Fontainebleau a few blocks away with an intense hangover and in possession of a $2,500 painting of a woman's head, but no memory of the night before.

"The next day, [Bolaris] doesn't remember a thing but gets a phone call from them saying, 'John, you forgot your glasses,'" Peruto said. "So he thinks they're perfectly honest because here they are returning his glasses."

Bolaris met with the two women who gave him back his glasses, and he agreed to go out with them again to a place called the Caviar Bar. Bolaris' attorney defended his client's actions.

"If you're a guy, your thoughts get clouded by beautiful women," Peruto said. "They're so nice and they start talking to him about what a good time [they had] and he just can't remember. He just has to presume he had a great time. It was a rough night, but these people seem to be pretty honest."

But they weren't honest, and Bolaris' second night out with the women was a repeat of the first.

"Next thing you know, he's up in his room again, has no idea what went on," Peruto said. "[Bolaris] comes back to Philadelphia, where he works, and the next thing you know, he gets this ridiculous credit card bill."

That bill was for more than $43,700. The Caviar Bar had swiped his American Express card 11 times over the course of two nights Bolaris went out in Miami, charging him $2,495.00 for a bottle of Cristal, $2,678.00 for a bottle of Perrier Jouet, $3,120 for a bottle of Dom Perignon and a $2,000 tin of caviar -- and each bill was accompanied by a $500 tip. It had all been part of the scam.

"When you're in there for a matter of hours and you spend $43,000 and you don't walk out with a deed, there's a problem," Peruto said.

According to investigators, the Caviar Bar was a front, one of six locations used by an Eastern European cartel to lure tourists and businessmen -- walk-ins are blocked at the door.

"B-Girls," or "bar girls," go to work picking up single men at South Beach hot spots and taking them back to the bars run by the Eastern European mafia, where they pretend to be customers and encourage the men to drink.

"It's fictitious from top to bottom and everyone's in on it," Peruto said. "The owner of the bar is in on it, the waitresses are in on it, these girls are in on it, everybody down to the cab driver is in on it."

Peruto said the bar's staff runs outrageous charges on the unsuspecting customers' credit cards and takes pictures of the men drinking to prove later that the men had been there and dupe their credit card companies into thinking the charges of thousands of dollars-worth of booze were legit. It worked with American Express in Bolaris' case.

"When the investigator tells John he has a picture with John having a good time at the Caviar Bar, John's response is, 'Don't you understand that it's part of the scam? They're photographing me because they want to have a plan enforced to defeat your claim,'" Peruto said.

Bolaris ultimately sued AmEx to reverse the charges. AmEx eventually settled the case, which was filed by Peruto, but would not comment to ABC News.

"This is well planned," Peruto said. "He wasn't the first victim, he won't be the last victim."

Authorities in Miami say this was all the work of a sprawling new Russian and Eastern European mob that has planted itself in this sunny vacation destination for the same reasons previous mafiosi, including mob legend Al Capone and the Italian mob's accountant, Meyer Lansky, chose it -- sun and easy money.

Richard Mangan spent 25 years as a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and teaches a class on organized crime. He said this new Eastern European mob has been involved in several different kinds of scams, not just one.

"This group has been into credit card fraud, they've been into health care fraud, they've been into drugs, everything from stocks to market fraud to loan sharking," Mangan said.

Unlike the flashier Italian mob, the Russians keep a lower profile, Mangan said, and prefer working with highly intelligent bosses instead of brass knuckles.

"A lot of the people that run these organizations were nuclear scientists, PhDs, military officers, and lost their jobs when the Soviet Union collapsed," Mangan said. "We can all kind of deal with bank robbery, extortion, but when you start talking about credit card fraud, you're talking about a different kind of expertise."

Mangan estimated that the "B-Girl" scam represented only 10 percent of the crimes the Eastern European mafia was involved in. One reason the Bolaris scheme is so successful is that the victims are often married men, targeted because they look rich, and when exposed, they are too embarrassed to fight back.

However, the FBI eventually launched an investigation and Bolaris testified before a grand jury in a case involving 87 other victims, which led to 17 indictments and 11 guilty pleas. Six defendants will be tried in October.

After Bolaris told his story to the Philadelphia Daily News and Playboy last year, the Philadelphia Fox 29 station he worked for fired him, issuing a statement saying they "mutually agreed that it was time to part ways."

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