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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bypassing Authorities: Simply a Matter of Money

ST. PETERSBURG -- Posing as recruiters for a modeling agency, Andrei and Olga have sent more than 700 young Russian women abroad over the past year. The women work as prostitutes in bars, strip clubs and brothels, in Israel, Germany and the United States. Andrei said he tailors the job description from woman to woman, telling some they will be taking modeling lessons and others that they will in fact be working as prostitutes.

"It all depends on what you think [the recruit] can handle. Some women actually want to work as prostitutes and are happy to make the money," he said. "But regardless of what they want to do, or will later be forced to do, each recruit is money in our pockets."

The two recruiters agreed to speak with reporters on the condition that their real names not be used and that the name of their agency -- one of several listed in the local advertising tabloid Reklama Shans, as well as other newspapers throughout Russia -- not be revealed. Andrei, a soft-spoken man with a well-bred manner, underscored the inadvisability of identifying his firm by opening his jacket to reveal a pistol on a shoulder holster.

But he added that publishing the name of his agency would be only a minor hindrance, as his company is registered under five names in various locations. "Registering in five different cities may seem like a hassle, but making $24,000 for each three months one recruit works makes it easy to overlook the inconvenience," Andrei said. For each recruit they line up, their agents in America pay Andrei and Olga $12,000 up front plus travel expenses for the women. The agents send another $12,000 if the recruit stays for three months without fleeing.

To obtain visas, Andrei and Olga send women off in groups because they believe consular officials are more suspicious of young single women traveling alone. The easiest U.S. visas to get -- and overstay -- he said, are tourist and student visas. The invitations from the American side are secured on letterhead from companies and schools that exist only on paper. "All we have to do then is coach the women so their stories are consistent once they have their [visa] interviews," said Andrei.

Obtaining passports for women is simply a matter of money. "The Russian authorities couldn't care less about what we are doing as long as we pay enough," Andrei said. The asking price for such bogus documents -- which include passports with inflated ages for minors -- is between $800 and $1,000, according to Olga.

Duma Deputy Sergei Boskholov, deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, says law enforcement officials are aware of more than 100 flesh trade agencies posing as dance schools, modeling agencies, massage training institutes, travel agents or marriage brokers. Authorities investigated about 20 of those agencies in the past two years, but never brought charges against them. "It is almost impossible to finger such agencies as purveyors of prostitutes for work abroad," said Deputy Justice Minister Larisa Zavadskaya. "No particular license is needed to run a modeling agency or a dancing troupe, and you certainly don't need a license to place a classified ad."

"They'll never catch us, of course," said Andrei, noting the vast supply of interested in women in a country where an estimated two-thirds of them are out of work. "We know about the beatings from the pimps," he said. "But once we get them out of the country, they're not really our problem any more."