US Charges Brighton Beach Russian Club Owner in Fraud Case

WASHINGTON, May 7 (RIA Novosti) – The owner of a lavish Russian-themed restaurant and cabaret in New York City who was featured in a US television reality show about Russian-speaking immigrants has been accused of defrauding customers of his debt-relief firm out of millions of dollars and pouring the purported illicit proceeds into the nightclub and expensive cars.

Michael Levitis, owner of the Rasputin nightclub in New York City’s predominantly Russian-speaking Brighton Beach enclave, is accused of defrauding struggling credit card debtors out of millions of dollars and using the money to operate the restaurant, lease two Mercedes cars and pay the credit card bills of his mother, according to an indictment unsealed by US federal prosecutors Tuesday.

Levitis and three other suspects were set to be arraigned in federal court Tuesday for operating the scam under the auspices of the Mission Settlement Agency, the debt-relief company operated by Levitis.

Levitis’ wife, Marina, was a central figure in the television show “Russian Dolls,” which followed the lives of eight Russian-speaking immigrant families in Brighton Beach and was canceled in 2011 after a brief run on the cable network Lifetime.

The show was likened in the US media to a Brighton Beach version of the scandalous MTV reality show “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives” series on the Bravo Network.

Among other charges, prosecutors say Levitis and fellow defendants Denis Kurlyand, Boris Shulman and Manuel Cruz took a total of $2.2 million in fees from more than 1,200 clients seeking to consolidate their credit card debt and “never paid a single penny to the customers’ creditors.”

“Preying upon the financial desperation of individuals struggling to pay their credit card debts, the defendants falsely and fraudulently tricked over a thousand such individuals into becoming Mission’s customer with significant – but false – assurances about Mission’s ability to help,” federal prosecutors said in the indictment.

A man who answered the phone at Mission Settlement Agency on Tuesday said he had no comment about the charges.

Prosecutors said the debt-relief agency is formally owned by Levitis’ mother, Eva Levitis, but that her son controlled and operated the firm. According to the indictment, some of the allegedly skimmed profits went to cover her credit card bills.

Eva Levitis also made appearances on “Russian Dolls,” with one episode of the show focusing on her reentry into the dating world.

This is not the first time Michael Levitis has faced criminal charges. In 2011 he was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay a $15,000 fine after pleading guilty to lying to federal law enforcement officials investigating a corruption case involving a New York State senator.


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