I’ve done my fair share of private tutoring, and a few years ago I visited the Sunny Isles residence of a Russian seventh-grader to drop some algebra knowledge. When I walked in, her long-haired, undershirt-clad father — an absolute Drago of a man pushing 300 muscly pounds — was in the kitchen holding a butcher’s knife. On the cutting board in front of him sat a whole not-yet-baked potato. It was our first meeting. I introduced myself. He didn’t. I asked where I could find his daughter. He pointed — with his knife — down the hall. Down the hall I went, hoping it wasn’t the last hall I’d ever have the pleasure to know.
Seventy-five minutes and about as many multivariable equations later, I approached the father for compensation. Leading me to his bedroom, he asked how much he owed me for the hour. I explained the session had been 75 minutes long. He asked if I intended to nickel and/or dime him. I said no, that I merely wanted to be paid for my time. He eyed me coldly as he reached into his bedside table and pulled out a stack of bills the height of a club sandwich. With notable manual dexterity, he thumbed a few bills into his hand and then extended the money toward me. I took it, left, never returned.
This was my lone run-in with the Russian mob in Miami. I’ve heard other stories. For example, an acquaintance saw the all-Haitian work force at his Hallandale apartment building turn, in a single day, into an all-Russian work force. Then there was the host of the Italian restaurant who got boxed in by SUVs on Bal Harbor Drive and had his female companion — a Russian — confiscated from him by a few burly Russian men.
I don’t know whether either of those stories is true, nor do I know definitively that the man with the potato was “affiliated”. What I do know is that the Russian mob is now the primary target of the FBI’s Miami office. From the Herald’s “Russian mob eclipses Italian Mafia in South Florida, FBI says”:
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.
The article describes a string of schemes in which Russian women scammed South Beach club goers into racking up multi-thousand-dollar tabs, including this one:
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.
This was hardly an isolated incident, as the Herald reports that the Russian “B-girls” ripped off about 90 patrons, “mostly tourists or businessmen with telltale signs of wealth, such as expensive watches or shoes.” Nor is this particular scam the only trick in the mobsters’ collective briefcase. The repertoire also includes credit card fraud, cybercrime, human trafficking, prostitution, drugs, extortion, and arms smuggling.
Impressive, yes, but with reputed ringleader of the South Beach B-girl scam Alex Simchuk on the lam and the FBI focusing its attention on the Russian mob in South Florida, the problem should be stamped out in no time, right?