Courts & Crime

FBI: Russian mob overshadows Italian Mafia in South Florida

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 plan to plead guilty on Thursday in Miami federal court.

One defense lawyer quipped that they’re about to become “G-Girls,” as in guilty.

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.

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