That stirred things up. Soon after, he said he got a “threatening” call from an indicted business associate in Miami on his cellphone.
A month later, while smoking a cigarette outside his mother-in-law’s St. Petersburg apartment, he was accosted by strangers, he testified in his thick Russian accent. “One guy pulled gun on my head and said, ‘Good people from Miami don’t want you to testify. You have beautiful wife. Stay at home.’ Another guy just broke my leg, just squeeze it in one shot.”
After a year as a fugitive, Simchuk was arrested by FBI agents upon his arrival at Miami International Airport in July. He promptly pleaded guilty, agreeing to testify against his alleged partners and associates.
In Simchuk’s plea agreement, he admitted that his organization ran up bogus bills for booze, wine and champagne on the credit cards of blurry-eyed male tourists. All told, the scam cost customers between $400,000 and $1 million, according to the written agreement. The “B-girls” received 20 percent commissions, while Simchuk’s partners pocketed most of the illicit profits.
Standing trial on wire-fraud charges since mid-October are Stanislav Pavlenko, 41; Albert Takhalov, 31; his wife, Kristina Takhalov, 31; and Siavash Zargari, 48, who live in the Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach areas. Longtime Sunny Isles Beach Realtor Isaac Feldman, 51, is the fifth defendant.
Scene of crime
A sixth defendant, Simchuk’s “silent” investment partner, Andrejs Romanovs, is a fugitive in Russia. And a seventh defendant, Mikhail Rasner, a club investor with Albert Takhalov, is not on the docket now because his defense lawyer is currently involved in another trial.
According to the charges, Simchuk and the other defendants operated the alleged ring for a year at the Caviar Bar and the Stars Lounge, both at 643 Washington Ave.; the VIP Lounge and Tangia Club, both at 841 Washington Ave; Nowhere Bar, 653 Washington Ave.; Steel Toast, 758 Washington Ave.; and Club Moreno, 1341 Washington Ave.
Simchuk, who described himself as an international conman during testimony, would be a classic immigrant-made-good story, if he hadn’t done it by doing bad. Born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), he traveled to the United States for the first time in 1989 to study English at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. He was 23. In the mid-1990s, he became a naturalized citizen.
By then, he had started an import-export business. He would buy Toyotas, Hummers and other vehicles with a stolen ID and ship them from Mexico to Finland. He also engaged in insurance fraud, for which he was arrested and charged in Pennsylvania in 2000.
That’s when he headed to South Florida, where he started promoting “Russian Nights” at local discos and opened his own club at the Ramada Inn Hotel in Hollywood.
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Simchuk pleaded guilty to the insurance fraud charge and was placed on probation. After failing to get his probation transferred to Miami, he decided to flee the country, heading for Latvia instead of his native Russia because his girlfriend was from Latvia.
It was in Latvia, he says, that he perfected the “B-girl” business model.
In the city of Riga, Simchuk opened his first “striptease bar,” the Cleopatra, drawing his inspiration from Thee Dollhouse in the Sunny Isles Beach area. “It was my dream to have a striptease club, so that’s how I opened up,” he testified last month.