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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cabaret Owner Gets Nine Years for Debt Fraud

MANHATTAN (CN) - The former owner Rasputin, a now-shuttered banquet hall in Brighton Beach, faces nine years of prison food for conning cash-strapped debtors, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Named after the legendary Russian peasant who was murdered as the tsars fell, Rasputin offered cabaret entertainment and high-end dining in Brooklyn's own Little Moscow.

It closed after its former owner Michael Levitis, 38, was indicted last year for defrauding more than 1,200 debtors of roughly $2.2 million though the Mission Settlement Agency.

Levitis pleaded guilty earlier this year and received a stiff sentence Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara noted in a statement that the restaurateur had "preyed upon people across the country who, like so many Americans, were struggling to pay off their debts after the financial downturn."

"Through Mission Settlement Agency, Levitis lied about quick, guaranteed cures to their serious financial problems in order to trick them out of money they could not afford to lose," Bharara said. "Worse, he created, for many people, a nightmare of spiraling debt and plummeting credit scores that plagues them to this day."

Bharara's words echoes those of Gardephe, whom the U.S. attorney's press release quoted.

"There is something special and extraordinary about the crimes here: the fact that they were directed at desperate people, hundreds of desperate people drowning in debt, trying to find a way out of their problems," Gardephe said. "The determination to extract from these people their last few dollars makes this crime extraordinary."

Levitis also must pay more than $2.2 million in forfeiture and restitution and serve three years of probation.

Mission, the company, was also sentenced today, and owes more than $4.3 million.

The remaining five defendants - Denis Kurlyand, Boris Shulman, Felix Lemberskiy, Zakhir Shirinov, and Manuel Cruz - already have pleaded guilty, but have not yet been sentenced.

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