After life on the lam for a year, Russian mobster Alec Simchuk surrendered to U.S. authorities and cut a plea deal, admitting that he imported a beguiling brand of “bar girls” to South Beach to swindle male customers at his private nightclubs.
On Friday, “Oleg,” as his friends called him, was sentenced to three years in prison in Miami federal court.
Simchuk apologized to the judge, asking for “another chance,” in light of his guilty plea to fraud charges in the cooperation deal last year. In exchange, the 46-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen testified against a group of business partners and associates at trial in the fall.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola recognized Simchuk’s testimony in crafting his sentence, after a prosecutor recommended three years and four months and his defense attorney requested two years.
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“It appears Mr. Simchuk has been involved in criminal activity his entire adult life,” Scola said, before giving him credit “for facing the music” in Miami. “I do believe you were honest about your involvement and other people’s involvement” in the club racket.
Prosecutor Michael Thakur said that Simchuk was generally truthful, but pointed out that he initially lied about how he broke his leg when he was a fugitive in 2011. Simchuk first said he broke it when he slipped on ice while in Russia. But the defendant later admitted that some thugs broke his leg because it became known that he was going to return to Miami to testify against his former club colleagues.
Simchuk’s defense attorney, Michael B. Cohen, said his client lied at first because “his wife was still in Russia and he was protecting” her. Cohen added that his client faced “great danger” in returning to the United States, which has no extradition treaty with Russia.
In December, a federal jury convicted codefendants Albert Takhalov, Stanislav Pavlenko and Isaac Feldman of conspiring to fleece hundreds of thousands of dollars from dozens of patrons by racking up bogus bills for champagne, vodka and caviar on their credit cards at the group’s seven Miami Beach clubs.
They face up to 20 years each in prison at sentencings in April, though the punishment is likely to be substantially less because of the relatively small losses.
A fourth defendant, Siavash Zargari, who did business with Takhalov at a Washington Avenue lounge, was acquitted.
The jury reached its guilty verdicts on a variety of conspiracy, wire fraud and money-laundering charges after an 11-week trial that zigged and zagged with tales about Miami Beach’s underground bar scene.
The 12-person jury heard testimony from Simchuk, who organized the Miami Beach club racket; a few bar girls who lured male customers from swank hotels like the Delano to the private bars; a former Fox TV weatherman who was taken for $43,000 over two nights; and an undercover Miami Beach police officer who posed as a dirty cop and worked as a bouncer for the clubs while recording the illicit activity.
Before trial, 12 other defendants, mostly women, pleaded guilty and received short sentences.
The man behind the curtain was Simchuk.
Simchuk testified that he modeled the South Beach clubs after his former bars in Latvia and Estonia. He said he illegally brought many of the same young women who had worked for him there to South Florida.
In 2010, Miami Beach police and the FBI launched an undercover investigation into the B-girl network after customers complained to their credit card companies about the outlandish bar tabs.