When the feds busted a syndicate of Russian-speaking nightclub owners and their so-called Bar Girls, it seemed like just another titillating tale from South Beach.
But the April bust showed that the FBI is taking the Eastern European mob a lot more seriously these days than the Italian Mafia. La Cosa Nostra is no longer the bureau's Public Enemy No. 1 when it comes to organized crime in South Florida.
"Eurasian organized crime is our No. 1 priority," said FBI supervisory special agent Rick Brodsky of the Miami office.
In April, six reputed members of an Eastern European network — along with a Sunny Isles investor and 10 Bar Girls imported mostly from Latvia and Estonia — were charged with conspiring to seduce and fleece unsuspecting South Beach tourists by running up their credit card bills for booze at private clubs on Washington Avenue. The prosecution's case has moved so quickly that two of the "B-Girls'' girls pleaded guilty Thursday in Miami federal court.
Sunny Isles Beach, where some of the reputed mobsters live, has so many immigrants from the former Soviet Union that it has earned the nickname "Little Moscow." The high-rise coastal cities of Hollywood and Hallandale Beach also are home to many Russian-speaking nationals.
The alleged B-Girl scam was hardly the first time the Eastern European mob struck South Florida. In February, 13 South Florida members and associates of an alleged Armenian crime organization were charged with extortion and other offenses as part of a series of indictments against more than 100 suspects from Miami to Los Angeles.
The main extortion charge accused ringleader Aram Khranyan, 41, of Sunny Isles Beach, and others of threatening "physical violence" against a man if he did not pay a $12,000 debt to a member of Khranyan's organization.
Despite the nationwide publicity, it didn't quite measure up to the B-Girl scam for sheer amusement.
Consider this tale:
Brett Daniels, a professional magician, had just finished his February show at the Gulfstream Casino when he and a few colleagues headed down to South Beach.
At Mango's, a lively tourist spot on Ocean Drive, he met an attractive woman clad in a short leopard-skin dress and her sidekick, who wasn't as pretty. After showing them a few magic tricks, one of the girls told Daniels it was her birthday and proposed taking him to a private club a few blocks away to drink Russian vodka.
Four or five shots later -- he can't remember exactly -- Daniels found himself fighting over an incomprehensible $1,368 credit card tab with the owner of the Tangia club on Washington Avenue. "Pay your bill or you're going to jail," the bouncer told him.
What Daniels didn't know at the time was that he had been scammed by the Eastern European mob, according to the FBI.
At the helm of the alleged South Beach club racket: Alec Simchuk, 44, of Hallandale, who is now a fugitive.