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Feds Charge 17 In South Beach Alcohol Scam

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MIAMI (CBS4) – Federal prosecutors in Miami have charged 17 people in an alleged scheme to defraud out-of-town visitors by using so-called “Bar Girls” or “B-Girls” to lure them to shady South Beach private clubs.

Authorities say businessmen and tourists were victimized by having exorbitant alcohol costs charged to credit cards, sometimes without the victims’ knowledge. The charges were often unsigned, unauthorized, or the victims’ signatures would be forged, according to prosecutors. If they disputed the charges, prosecutors say the club owners would threaten to have victims arrested or would show credit card companies photos of the victims with the “B-Girls” as proof.

Prosecutors say the owners brought women from Eastern Europe to serve as the “B-Girls.” The women, prosecutors say, would go to legitimate clubs to find people and lure them to the private clubs.

The victims were targeted by their expensive watches or shoes, according to prosecutors.

At least 88 victims have been identified, one of whom was charged $43,000 for liquor. Typically, B-Girls would 20-percent of what they brought in; private club managers would be 10-percent.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “This scheme used women from Eastern Europe to lure and defraud out-of-state businessmen and tourists. Our local economy depends, in large part, on tourism. This scheme preyed on our tourists and gave our tourism industry a black eye. We are pleased to have put this ring out of operation.”

“This international organized crime group has victimized tourists and defrauded them of tens of thousands of dollars,” said John V Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office. “The crimes this group committed have affected our South Florida community and our economy. The dismantlement and disruption of this organized crime group reaffirms the FBI’s and our law enforcement partners’ commitment to remove organized crime from our neighborhoods.”

The complaint lists six private clubs allegedly owned and operated by the defendants in South Beach: (1) Caviar Bar, 643 Washington Avenue (operating from February to May 2010); (2) Stars Lounge, 643 Washington Avenue (operating from August to October 2010); (3) a room at Club Moreno, at 1341 Washington Avenue (operating from October to December 2010); (4) Nowhere Bar, 653 Washington Avenue (operating from late December, 2010 to mid-January 2011); (5) Steel Toast, 758 Washington Avenue (operating from early January 2011 to the present); and (6) the Tangia Club, 841 Washington Avenue (operating from late January, 2011 to the present).

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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