MIAMI – Two Eastern European women employed as so-called "B-Girls" in an alleged scam to fleece male tourists in South Beach pleaded guilty Wednesday to immigration fraud charges and agreed to testify against the others involved.
Anastassia Mikrukova, 24, of Estonia and 23-year-old Agnese Rudaka of Latvia became the first of 17 people charged in the case to plead guilty. They face a maximum of five years in prison when they are sentenced Aug. 31, but because of their early pleas and agreements to cooperate they will likely get less than a year.
The two appeared in court Wednesday wearing shackles and baggy beige prison garb, each wearing their hair in a tight ponytail braid. They spoke in Russian with the help of an interpreter only to answer questions from U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez.
Federal prosecutors say the two women were part of a group of "B-Girls" — short for "Bar Girls" — imported from Russia and Eastern Europe who prowled legitimate South Beach nightclubs looking for wealthy male tourists. The men were invited to supposedly exclusive clubs and plied with liquor and champagne for which they were charged exorbitant amounts — in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars.
The clubs, with names like Caviar Bar, Steel Toast and Tangia Club, existed only for the scam, investigators said.
Prosecutors have identified at least 88 victims. Many got so drunk they didn't realize how much had been charged on their credit cards until much later, according to the FBI. The "B-Girls" generally got to keep 20 percent of what they extracted from their victims.
Mikrukova and Rudaka both pleaded guilty to falsifying documentation that allowed them to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Under this program that affects 36 countries, travelers must come to the U.S. only for tourism and for no more than 90 days.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said both women lied about that. Mikrukova, he said, claimed she would be staying at a Miami Beach resort but was actually put up in an apartment by the operators of the scam. Rudaka also gave a false address and both women answered "no" to questions about whether they intended to work in the U.S.
The two had faced a number of other fraud charges, but those will be dismissed under their plea agreements. They also will be required to stay in the U.S. if they are released from prison before they testify.
Trial for the remaining suspects is currently set for October. One of the alleged leaders of the scheme, 44-year-old Alec Simchuk, fled the country before he was arrested and remains at large.
Curt Anderson is on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt