Archive for the tag 'rasputin'

Levitis (Source: Facebook)

Stories about crime and corruption featuring Eastern European perps are juicy material for members of the “Russian Insider – News, Reviews and Gossip” group on Facebook, but the page has gone silent on one of the juiciest of stories: the guilty plea of former Rasputin owner Michael Levitis, who admitted this week to masterminding a debt-relief scheme that leeched $2.2 million from those who turned to him for help.

That’s because the page is run by Levitis himself, as well as his wife, Marina, and mother, Eva. Sources told Sheepshead Bites that the crew has been removing any mention of the scandal and booting members of the nearly 7,000-strong closed group.

“So yesterday the story was out but no one was posting it, all you saw is people posting ’7/11′” – a reference to the seven-to-11 year sentence Levitis faces – “So I private messaged one of the people who told me anyone who posted the story was banned and the story removed. I posted a few comments saying … ‘I wonder it anyone is going to address this’. This morning I was banned from the group as well,” a source told Sheepshead Bites.

According the About section of the page, it serves as “A Group for Russian-Americans to post local news, issues, business reviews, or anything else that concerns us… Let’s try to stick to interesting, useful and buzzworthy posts….”

But while the news of Levitis’ bust last year and guilty plea this week has exploded on social media, it’s not viewed by the page’s moderator as “local news” or “buzzworthy” enough to share with the community, members say.

Meanwhile, screenshots sent to Sheepshead Bites by another source show that members commonly share news items about those in the community who’ve been busted for similar crimes:

insider2A former member of the group mused to Sheepshead Bites that it was an example of “Putin-style censorship.”

A handful of members told Sheepshead Bites that the group is often used to promote businesses they believe are connected to Levitis, including an online “Groupon”-style coupon site.

Apparently, Levitis is also using the group to prepare his reading list for his upcoming stint in the big house:

levitis

The 2713 Coney Island Avenue office of Mission Settlement (Source: Google Maps)

First he denied the charges. Then he claimed he was a victim. Now former Rasputin owner Michael Levitis has come clean, admitting to scamming nearly $2.2 million from more than 1,200 cash-strapped victims who turned to him for help.

Levitis (Source: Facebook)

Levitis and the debt-relief company he ran, Mission Settlement Agency, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court yesterday to fraud charges, admitting to his role as the scheme’s mastermind.

“Michael Levitis and his company, Mission Settlement Agency, preyed on the desperation of financially struggling people across the country. Today’s guilty pleas ensure that the defendants who falsely offer debt relief, telling their victims a pack of lies in order to line their own pockets, will be held to account,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement.

As part of the plea deal announced yesterday, Levitis agreed to forfeit $2.2 million to the government to pay back victims. He faces between seven and 11 years in prison when he’s sentenced this August.

Levitis and three others were cuffed in May 2013 for operating a debt settlement company that prosecutors said took millions of dollars in fees for services never rendered.

Mission Settlement claimed to help customers struggling with credit card and bank debt by helping them reach settlements that could cut the amount owed. But while Mission collected payments from their indebted clients, they never paid down their debts. From mid-2009 to March 2013, more than 2,200 customers paid nearly $14 million, of which only $4.4 million went to creditors, according to the criminal complaint.

Rasputin was padlocked in May 2013.

The company kept $6.6 million for itself as fees. As many as 1,200 of the clients paid $2.2 million in fees without “a single penny” reaching their creditors.

Prosecutors said Levitis took the money and used it to live a luxurious lifestyle, paying down his own debts on Raputin Restaurant (2670 Coney Island Avenue), lease two luxury cars, and paid off his mother’s credit card bills.

He also misled clients, with the company claiming in sales pitches that he was affiliated with the federal government and a leading credit bureau, none of which was true, according to prosecutors.

The others involved in the scheme all turned tail and pleaded guilty in August 2013, with at least one of them ratting out his former boss as the mastermind.

“I followed instructions from Michael,” Mission’s former vice president of sales, Denis Kurlyand, told the Daily News after the plea deal.

Levitis’ home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard. Prosecutors seized it to repay his victims. (Source: Google Maps)

Levitis stood fast, though, insisting on his innocence and said he was a victim of government neglect. He pleaded not guilty and claimed that he had attempted to tip off authorities to malfeasance by “rogue employees,” but that his warnings fell on deaf ears.

After his arrest, prosecutors filed papers to seize approximately 40 bank accounts connected to Levitis, as well as Rasputin Restaurant and two properties he owns in Manhattan Beach.

It’s the second time in four years that he’s been in hot water.

Back in 2010, Levitis was charged with lying to federal agents after he got caught up in a bribery case involving former State Senator Carl Kruger.

Levitis told a fellow nightclub owner, who was secretly recording the conversation for the FBI, that he had an inside line to the state pol, and could assist him with a liquor license issue if he steered thousands of dollars to Kruger – with a kickback for Levitis’ role in setting it up.

As the case moved forward, Levitis’ claim that he had influence in Kruger’s office began to unravel, and Levitis, who is also an attorney, later pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents, sentenced to three years probation and fined $15,000.

In April 2013, Levitis was also hit with a six month suspension of his license to practice law – retroactive to January 2012 – for his role in the case.

Levitis, who along with his wife Marina and mother Eva – who owned Mission Settlement on paper – were  co-stars of Russian Dolls, a failed Lifetime reality series canceled less than two months after its premiere.

The case against Levitis and Mission is being hailed as historic, as it’s the first criminal referral from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency established after passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. The CFPB is also bringing civil charges against Mission, Levitis and others.

Levitis may still face criminal tax violations, according to the plea deal.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis (Source: James Edstrom)

Three of the six individuals charged in connection with an alleged debt settlement fraud scheme have pleaded guilty, with the latest one ratting out his former boss Michael Levitis as the mastermind.

The offices of Mission Settlement Agency at 2713 Coney Island Avenue, (Source: Google Maps)

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced yesterday that Denis Kurlyand, the former vice president of sales for Sheepshead Bay-based Mission Settlement Agency, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the multi-million dollar scheme that allegedly preyed on as many as 1,200 debt-saddled victims. After leaving court, Kurlyand then spilled the beans to the New York Daily News, saying that Mission’s de facto owner, and the owner of now-shuttered Rasputin Supper Club (2670 Coney Island Avenue), called the shots.

“I followed instructions from Michael,” Kurlyand, 30, told the paper.

Kuryland, however, didn’t give the paper any details of his plea deal, and faces a maximum of 60 years in prison. He will be sentenced in December, and has agreed to forfeit $2,196,522 to the government.

Rasputin was padlocked in May.

Kurlyand was arrested in May, along with Levitis, Boris Shulman and Manuel Cruz for their roles at Mission Settlement. According to prosecutors, the company claimed to help customers struggling with credit card and bank debt by helping them reach settlements that could cut the amount owed. But the company “systematically exploited and defrauded” customers, the criminal complaint said, by charging fees without ever rendering services.

As we reported in May:

Mission also served as the middle man, collecting payments from customers that were supposed to be passed on to those they owed. Instead, the indictment says, from mid-2009 to March 2013, about 2,200 customers paid nearly $14 million, of which only $4.4 million went to the creditors.

Levitis’ home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard. Prosecutors are moving to seize it to repay his alleged victims. (Source: Google Maps)

The company kept $6.6 million for itself as fees. As many as 1,200 of the clients paid $2.2 million in fees without “a single penny” reaching their creditors.

Meanwhile, Levitis used the remaining funds as his personal piggy bank, directing some of it to pay his own debts on Rasputin Restaurant (2670 Coney Island Avenue), as well as to lease two luxury Mercedes cars. He did also manage to pay down the credit card debt of his mother, Eva, who owned the company on paper, the Post reports.

According to the indictment, as part of his sales pitch, Levitis touted an affiliation with the federal government and one of the three leading credit bureaus in the U.S., relationships that prosecutors say was all smoke.

The U.S. Attorney’s statement elaborated further on Kurlyand’s role:

KURLYAND served as Mission’s Vice President of Sales from 2009 through 2012. In that capacity, he provided instructions to Mission’s sales representatives, who in turn lied to prospective customers about the agency’s fees to induce them to become customers of Mission. KURLYAND also helped arrange for solicitation letters to be sent on Mission’s behalf to prospective customers that falsely suggested that the agency was acting on behalf of or in connection with a federal governmental program. The letter included an image of the Great Seal of the United States and indicated that it was coming from the “Reduction Plan Administrator” of the purported “Office of Disbursement.”

The day of he arrest, prosecutors moved to seize bank accounts and properties of Levitis, and padlocked the iconic restaurant.

Levitis has pleaded not guilty, and claimed to be a victim of government neglect after he supposedly tipped them off to malfeasance by “rogue employees.”

The arrest of two individuals - Felix Lemberskiy and Zakhir Shirinov - related to Mission Settlement preceded the May arrest, and they pleaded guilty in April.

Rasputin, the windowless, mausoleum-like restaurant and nightclub at 2670 Coney Island Avenue, has been shuttered and padlocked.

There is a notice taped near the entrance that shows it was closed by city marshals and turned over to the landlord.

It’s unclear if this is related to the criminal case against Michael Levitis, the owner of Rasputin Restaurant. Levitis is alleged to be the ringleader of a fraud scheme, in which a company he controlled – Mission Settlement Agency – preyed on debt-laden victims. The company claimed to reduce a client’s debt to creditors and make payments on their behalf. In reality, prosecutors say, the company collected fees and did little or nothing to help clients, and Levitis used the fees to pay operating expenses at Rasputin, lease two luxury Mercedes and pay off his mother’s credit card bills.

Prosecutors have filed to seize approximately 40 bank accounts connected to Levitis, as well as Rasputin Restaurant and two properties he owns in Manhattan Beach. The assets would be used to pay back his victims if Levitis is found guilty.

However, the property on which Rasputin sits is not owned by Levitis. Notices like the one above are often left when a lessee fails to pay his rent and the landlord wins an eviction in court. It’s unclear if that’s the case, or if the landlord was somehow able to wrangle back control of the property amid Levitis’ problems.

The landlord was not available to answer questions as we went to press, but we will update if we hear from them.

Meanwhile, a post on Michael Levitis’ Facebook page that had announced the closure late last week or over the weekend has since disappeared. In reply to comments left on the post, Levitis had credited the closure to “higher powers,” but had not elaborated beyond that point when we stumbled across it.

Levitis (Source: Facebook)

Rasputin owner and Russian Dolls co-star Michael Levitis pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy and was released on $1 million bail after his indictment yesterday. But, more interestingly, Levitis claims he’s a victim of government neglect who had tried to tip off authorities to malfeasance by “rogue employees.” He said he was ignored.

This nugget from the New York Times has all you need to know:

Mr. Levitis, who was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud, pleaded not guilty and was released on $1 million bond. His lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, said by phone that his client had known about the investigation for several months, had cooperated fully and had tried to provide information to the government about certain employees he believed were responsible for wrongdoing. Mr. Lichtman said his client was ignored.

“The frustrating part about this is we repeatedly attempted to present evidence to the government that there were rogue employees that were working at Mission and were engaging in the sort of fraud that we now see in the indictment,” Mr. Lichtman said.

“We’re prepared to fight it to the end,” he added.

The Times also notes that the investigation into Mission Settlement Agency and Michael Levitis was aided by undercover agents and a cooperating witness who posed as a customer.

As we first reported yesterday, Levitis is alleged to be the ringleader of a fraud scheme, in which a company he controlled – Mission Settlement Agency – preyed on debt-laden victims. The company claimed to reduce a client’s debt to creditors and make payments on their behalf. In reality, prosecutors say, the company collected fees and did little or nothing to help clients, and Levitis used the fees to pay operating expenses at Rasputin Restauraunt, lease two luxury Mercedes and pay off his mother’s credit card bills.

Prosecutors have filed to seize approximately 40 bank accounts connected to Levitis, as well as Rasputin Restaurant and two properties he owns in Manhattan Beach. The assets would be used to pay back his victims if Levitis is found guilty.

Levitis and three other co-conspirators face 20 years in prison for each charge. Two additional employees were charged, pleaded guilty, and are aiding the investigation.

His attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, has represented high-profile clients including John Gotti, Jr., and rappers The Game and Fat Joe.

Levitis’ home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard. Prosecutors are moving to seize it to repay his alleged victims. (Source: Google Maps)

Prosecutors have filed papers to restrain approximately 40 bank accounts operated by Michael Levitis or those connected to him, and have moved to seize two Manhattan Beach properties in order to preserve funds for victims of his alleged fraud, according to statements by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The home at 132 Norfolk, also owned by Levitis, which prosecutors are moving to seize. (Source: Google Maps)

According to the indictment, investigators have identified several bank accounts in the name of Levitis, Rasputin, Mission Settlement Agency and alleged co-conspirators which may be turned over to victims of the debt settlement fraud charges revealed this morning. They are also targeting his stake in Rasputin Restaurant, at 2670 Coney Island Avenue.

They also list two properties owned by Levitis – his home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard, and another property at 132 Norfolk Street.

If Levitis is found guilty and ordered to compensate as many as 2,200 victims of fraud through Mission Settlement Agency’s services, the properties will be liquidated to reimburse the victims.

The charges revealed this morning allege that Levitis and three co-conspirators offered debt settlement services, in which they collected fees without doing the services they advertised. Moreover, they are believed to have made false claims about their fees and their track record. And while clients forked over millions of dollars to be paid to their creditors, little if any ever made it that way. Instead, Levitis used it to pay operating expenses at Rasputin, lease two luxury Mercedes, and pay down his mother’s credit card debt.

Aside from the four that were charged this morning, two other Mission sales representatives were also charged: Felix Lemberskiy and Zakhir Shirinov. These two employees have been separately charged and have already pleaded guilty.

Mission Settlement Agency also went by the names Mission Abstract LLC and Alpha Debt Settlement.

View the U.S. Attorney’s remarks on the case, as well as the indictment.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis (Source: James Edstrom)

Rasputin Restaurant owner and Russian Dolls co-star Michael Levitis, and three others, were charged with fraud this morning, as prosecutors claim they operated a debt settlement company that swindled more than 1,200 people out of a total of millions of dollars

The offices of Mission Settlement Agency at 2713 Coney Island Avenue, (Source: Google Maps)

Levitis, who owns Mission Settlement Agency at 2713 Coney Island Avenue in addition to Rasputin, was charged with mail and wire fraud along with three employees: Denis Kurlyand, its vice president of sales; Boris Shulman, a sales representative; and Manuel Cruz, an employee who assisted with customer solicitation.

(UPDATE: Prosecutors are moving to seize Levitis’ properties. Additionally, two other co-conspirators were identified and have already pleaded guilty.)

Prosecutors say that Mission Settlement Agency claimed to help customers struggling with credit card and bank debt by helping them reach settlements that could cut the amount owed. But the company “systematically exploited and defrauded” customer, the criminal complaint says, by charging fees without ever rendering services.

Mission also served as the middle man, collecting payments from customers that were supposed to be passed on to those they owed. Instead, the indictment says, from mid-2009 to March 2013, about 2,200 customers paid nearly $14 million, of which only $4.4 million went to the creditors.

The company kept $6.6 million for itself as fees. As many as 1,200 of the clients paid $2.2 million in fees without “a single penny” reaching their creditors.

Meanwhile, Levitis used the remaining funds as his personal piggy bank, directing some of it to pay his own debts on Rasputin Restaurant (2670 Coney Island Avenue), as well as to lease two luxury Mercedes cars. He did also manage to pay down the credit card debt of his mother, Eva, who owned the company on paper, the Post reports.

According to the indictment, as part of his sales pitch, Levitis touted an affiliation with the federal government and one of the three leading credit bureaus in the U.S., relationships that prosecutors say was all smoke.

It’s not the first time Levitis has claimed a government relationship he may not have had.

Back in 2010, Levitis was charged with lying to federal agents after he got caught up in a bribery case involving former State Senator Carl Kruger.

Levitis told a fellow nightclub owner, who was secretly recording the conversation for the FBI, that he had an inside line to the state pol, and could assist him with a liquor license issue if he steered thousands of dollars to Kruger – with a kickback for Levitis’ role in setting it up.

As the case moved forward, Levitis’ claim that he had influence in Kruger’s office began to unravel, and Levitis, who is also an attorney, later pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents, sentenced to three years probation and fined $15,000.

In April, Levitis was also hit with a six month suspension of his license to practice law – retroactive to January 2012 – for his role in the case. According to Reuters:

The appeals court said it took into account mitigating factors presented by Levitis, including “the aberrational and unplanned nature of his misconduct,” his remorse, his cooperation with the grievance committee’s investigation and his reputation as an “ethical and honest attorney.”

Levitis, his mother and his wife, Marina, were also the co-stars of Russian Dolls, a failed Lifetime reality series canceled less than two months after its premiere.

The case against Levitis and Mission is being hailed as historic, as it’s the first criminal referral from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency established after passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. The CFPB is also bringing civil charges against Mission, Levitis and others.

Marina Levitis (Source: New York Magazine/ Dina Litovsky)

Marina Levitis (Source: New York Magazine/ Dina Litovsky)

Though Russian Dolls was ripped from us at an all-too-early-time, the true spirit of Russia’s pageantry remains alive on the pages of New York Magazine.

Recently, as part of their style series, New York Magazine profiled several Russian women in all of their glory, including Rasputin co-owner and Russian Dolls star, Marina Levitis, wife of scandal-marred Michael Levitis.

From furs to giant gemstones, Ukraine-born photographer Dina Litovsky headed to Brighton Beach to capture the “the procession of red-soled heels.”

Check out the rest of the gallery and prepare to feel completely unfashionable about your t-shirt and jeans. I know I do.

Jason Koppel (Source: Erica Sherman)

Former State Senator Carl Kruger’s chief of staff is heading back to work… on the reelection campaign of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.

City and State revealed yesterday that Jason Koppel, who served as Kruger’s chief-of-staff and campaign treasurer, and whose name came up in at least one of the FBI’s probes into Kruger, is now working as a consultant for Team Cymbrowitz.

“I call him and ask him about things that are important to the community, and that’s the extent of it,” Cymbrowitz told City and State. “He’s very well-connected on my constituents issues.”

Koppel recently resigned as Kruger’s campaign treasurer, where he sat on a trove of $417,000 even though his old boss is behind bars. And, as the FBI probe into Kruger’s dealings became public, it was discovered that Koppel received a 40 percent raise over the 16 months of the investigation, making him the highest-paid legislative staffer in Albany, raking in $162,442 a year.

It is not yet known how much Cymbrowitz is paying Koppel for his consulting services, as his hiring came after the time period covered by Cymbrowitz’s latest campaign financial filings.

Besides his well-paid work for the now-imprisoned pol, Koppel’s name surfaced in an FBI investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of Rasputin Nightclub owner and Russian Dolls “star” Michael Levitis.

Levitis was recorded by an FBI informant saying he would help a fellow restaurateur gain favor with Kruger by passing a bribe off to Koppel after taking a cut for himself. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $15,000 for lying to FBI agents.

All of that said, political observers are cautioning against guilt-by-association. City and State notes:

As a couple of Brooklyn political observers noted when contacted for this story, Koppel has been extremely thoroughly vetted since then — and never has been charged with any wrongdoing. That’s even as the U.S. attorney’s office recorded years of conversations among Kruger and others that were used as evidence against the senator, and Kruger himself cut a deal on a plea agreement.

Michael and Marina Levitis during the shows filming. Except now they're sad. (Source: James Edstrom + Mr. Frownie Face.)

Rumors have been circulating that Lifetime’s Russian Dolls – yeah, you know the one – has been cancelled. Well, that’s not quite right.

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