Southern Brooklyn

Confessed Criminal And Kruger Croney To Star In Brighton Beach Reality Show

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show
Michael and Marina Levitis at Rasputin's Women's Day Soirée (Source: James Edstrom)

Lifetime’s Brighton Beach reality show will star a confessed criminal and local nightclub owner facing disbarment and six months in jail after a political scandal, but the Russian community isn’t worried about negative stereotyping because they “trust” the A&E-owned network.

Michael Levitis, lawyer and owner of Rasputin Nightclub (2670 Coney Island Avenue) confirmed to Sheepshead Bites that the show is focused, in part, on his family, a casting decision that comes as Levitis is caught up in an alleged corruption scheme with State Senator Carl Kruger.

Levitis pleaded guilty of lying to federal investigators earlier this month in relation to an FBI probe dating back to 2007. The investigation explored an alleged influence peddling scheme in which Levitis was recorded telling another restaurateur that the state senator would help him with state matters if he held a fundraiser and turned over thousands of dollars for the politician’s campaign. Federal prosecutors charged Kruger last Thursday with accepting at least $1 million in bribes in a separate investigation.

Though local Russian-American leaders previously squabbled over potentially harmful depictions of their community in the Brighton Beach show, it seems all is quiet in Little Odessa despite the casting revelation.

“I trust this show to be good because Lifetime itself is just family oriented,” said Raisa Chernina, a Russian-American community leader and director of Be Proud Foundation.

Lifetime is sticking to the company line that they will produce a family-style show, featuring a multi-generational story focusing on mother-daughter relationships of Russian women, their lifestyle, dating, partying, and experiences working in Brighton Beach.

But at the Women’s Day Soirée and Fashion Show at Rasputin last Tuesday, what the cameras captured left a very different impression. Lifetime’s crews ran back and forth throughout the restaurant’s marble-lined halls, capturing the stereotypically ostentatious antics of fur-covered revelers swilling vodka, partying and opening wallets during an auction of luxury items. Rasputin itself remains popular in local mythology for its role as a famed mafia hangout during the 1990s, though the restaurant has had several owners since then.

Sources who have spotted Levitis’ wife, Marina, the star of the show, at other local events and venues said her behavior in front of cameras left them thinking more of Real Housewives of Brighton Beach than the tame tones of Lifetime’s traditional programming. That seems to be in line with the network’s rebranding efforts, in which they’re trying to draw younger audiences with shows like Project Runway and Drop Dead Diva.

After Sheepshead Bites broke the news of the Brighton Beach reality show in February 2010, Russian-American leaders and Brighton Beach residents worried that airing a show originally modeled on MTV’s Jersey Shore would foster negative stereotypes of the Russian community. But, after exchanging a few letters and conversations with Lifetime execs, leaders pulled a one-eighty.

John Lisyanskiy, founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus, was the chief architect of community outrage, penning a November 2010 letter to Lifetime signed by 42 community leaders, including State Senator Carl Kruger. They cautioned the network to break with Jersey Shore’s “form of tasteless expose and elevate the material to depict Russian-speaking Americans accurately and without ethnic bias.”

Lisyanskiy, who took flak for his campaign against the show, is now saying he’s comforted to know the Brighton Beach reality series currently in production is based on Russian living families.

“It’s a totally different concept from what I understood; they are doing a multi-generational show. It’s not going to be anywhere in the line of Jersey Shore, and that’s what we tried to battle for,” said Lisyanskiy.

Despite that the show will highlight the over-the-top family of a prison-bound, nightclub-owning Russian-American mired in an FBI political corruption probe, he and others have given up their criticism that Lifetime may play to stereotypes.

“I wouldn’t say this is a criminal family. Yes, Levitis was involved with unfortunate incidents with Senator Kruger – but they resolved it and I don’t think Lifetime will put that in their episodes,” said Lisyanskiy.

And if they’re not worried about Levitis’ family becoming the image of typical Brighton Beach Russian-American culture broadcast around the globe, the depiction of a vodka-infused party life doesn’t phase them one iota.

“If you ever go to a Russian party or nightclub there is always a lot of food, there is always wine, vodka, cognac, whatever you want, there’s always dancing and music, and nice outfits,” said Yelena Makhnin, the director of Brighton Beach Business Improvement District.

Makhnin, who’s looking forward to the show and the tourism it may bring to the neighborhood, said that when it comes to the Russian-American community, it’s all a matter of perception.

“Some people might say, ‘You know what, those Russians they know how to have a good time,’” Makhnin said. “But other people will say, ‘Look at those Russians, they’re all crooks, they have diamonds, and they drink vodka’ so it depends on how you look at it.”

Additional reporting by Ned Berke.

Comment policy


  1. Yo bro i just go buy Versace belt from century 21 i go to Rasputin tonight to show all the bitches.

  2. I just hope that in addition to showing how the “Russians” like to party in their furs and diamonds, that they love to shop in their furs and diamonds and pay with food stamps.

  3. oh wow, your an Ass. What about “African Americans” Getting out of their BMW’s wearing top of the line Nike’s, top of the line North Face jackets, and Paying for there food with Food stamps? While Returning home to the Projects where they live for $350 Monthly Rent?

    Not all Russian people have Furs and diamonds…. you just saying that cause most of them Wear Furs, but if you look at it from the same point of view as African americans do, you’ll see a Very Close identification, for example….

    Oh Snap! look at them Jordan’s Son!! only $350! dem shits would go great with my 400 dolla North Face son! Grand total $750. a Woman’s jacket from Lemonti or Manzari costs about $500 (if you bargin enough) Fur is warmer and last longer if kept Clean just like those stupid ass UGG boots EVERYBODY and their Mothers Wear now a days…. do you know those boots cost $200 a pop?

    So Listen Guest, Your perspective doesn’t count at all, you just sound like a Racist Douche bag who needs a spankin.

  4. Yo son them Jordans are the shit son. We goin to Rasputin tonight to show dem bitches whats up. Roll that blunt!

  5. Absolutely disgusting! What about the millions of Russian Jews that came here with nothing but hope that their children will have a better life? Those that re-educated themselves and educated their children and became doctors and lawyers and accountants and businessmen, to name a few; those that purchased real estate, opened businesses and are still busting their butts to live, pay bills and support their kids in a foreign country. That’s the majority on which the stereotypes aren’t based. While the Versace and such from Century isn’t far off, usually it’s with hard-earned money and the oppressed mentality of the typical Russian immigrant.

  6. Sorry Son – ain’t right when anyone defrauds the government. Russians, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Whites, Blacks – don’t matter. Fraud is fraud is fraud. The most obvious in this neighborhood, just happens to be the Russians.

  7. First of all, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!” Leaders of what? Who? I haven’t heard of any of these people, leaders of the Russian community? Who are these people?

    And Mike is gay, this is beyond retarded. He’s just trying to trump up some publicity for the Restaurant, get some props when he visits Moscow… his girl is crazy and may be fun to watch but people thinking this is the Russian community is like someone smoking a joint and thinking that Karl Kruger is a handsome young man instead of a bald, knuckle dragging midget

  8. What are you talking about? I don’t know a single Russian person who gets food stamps except the elderly who supplement their Social Security.

    Maybe 15 years ago, Russians were getting government aid when they just came to the US, but the younger generation that is profiled in this show was never on welfare.

    Young Russians have the highest level of education and (official) income of ANY ethnic group in New York. Chew on that.

  9. Nobody is interested in statistics about how Russians came here, went to school and are now averaging 60% higher income than the average non-Russian New Yorker.

    Nobody is interested that nearly all Russians graduated from college (and often have a graduate degree), often from Ivy League or comparable schools.

    Nobody cares that Russians commit less crime and have fewer kids out of wedlock.

    Nobody cares about that because it’s not interesting and it does not make others feel superior to “stupid immigrants”.

    It’s the same for other ethnic groups, however.

    Nobody cares that Italians produced a tremendous amount of art, science, etc. The only thing we hear about Italians are John Gotti & Snooki.

    It is simply more interesting. And it makes others feel better about themselves.

  10. Aah! A true “reality” show for once. Is Sheepshead Bites going to get a plug on the show? It should.

  11. You know how hard it is to commit fraud. Shit aint easy. Its not like you can take a class for that in KBCC. It takes years to learn how to maneuver in the Benz with a chinchilla on swiping benefits cards. If you want i am going to start running seminars at the Y on Coney Island Ave. for the bargain basement price of $79.99. We are calling it “The American Dream”. And for an additional $19.99 you can stay for the class on “time management while waiting in line at your local welfare center”. If anyone would like private tutoring please contact my agent Ned he knows how to reach me.

  12. I’ll tell you exactly why the Russian community is not upset and is “ok” with this casting change.

    The show is not about moronic teenagers of russian blood doing shit in public and on national television embarrassing their parents and communities. That is what the community would have been mortified of.

    Instead the show is about an “upstanding” Russian businessman who’s created a successful life in America and has been “unfairly” persecuted by the government. Remember the Russia these people came from. Authority was something to be feared. Bribing someone in power to make them look the other way was a way of life. Many people in the Russian community still don’t see a difference in our base values. It’s a little sad, but they’re right aren’t they? Our political system is rife of greed and corruption just like in Russia.

    This is why they arent offended. This is the image they WANT to show the world. Hard Working, Attractive, Well Dressed Russians being successful in America.

    Jersey Shore showed the “dark” side of “italian” sub-culture. It seems to me this show is being carefully devised to project a much more positive aspect of Russian culture.

  13. The elderly come to the USA as ELDERLY and get SSI, Medicare and Medicaid without working a day in the USA. When my grandparents came over they got NOTHING !!! Go chew on a bobka …..

  14. First lesson. Get a PO Box where you can have people send their checks to sign up for your fraud.

  15. Lesson 2. Customer service. I have not received one check from you. Please send another one at your earliest convenience.

  16. Russians as a community pay several times more in taxes than they get back.

    Because they have significantly higher than average income, they pay more in taxes, both overall and as percentage of their salary (due to progressive taxation).

    At the same time, hardly anyone who is under 65 is getting food stamps or lives in the projects.

    The tax-spend net from the Russian community is very much positive. Whatever the elderly get is more than paid for by their children and grandchildren.

  17. This is how you save money for fur and diamond you dumb fuck..You pay for food with a food stamps card and buy all the good stuff with cash without sales tax!

  18. At least they all look good…show me at least one good looking girl that is going to put out without getting something in return…

  19. I was gonna shut up but heck..
    I don’t see where an “upstanding” person was “unfairly” persecuted.
    He paid off for illegal services and turned rat to save his own tail. I remember hearing how the place was shady yeeaars ago. BigWorm might have it on the money.
    You can’t convince me about the “less crime,” I live in this area and know where the crime comes from.

  20. You really have to be kidding – I see the Russians all the time paying for their groceries with their little white and blue EBT card.

  21. I like that one “the Russian community isn’t worried about negative stereotyping” since this dude committed a crime. I’d venture to say that in the Russian community this is a “positive stereotyping”…..

  22. you can buy a car with that card as well. you just have to know people. my uncle Lenny can hook you up.

  23. yes, but so do the Indian, Irish, Italian, Chinese, African, Carribean, Eastern European, Latin immigrants (and any other I left off).
    So, what’s up with that ?

  24. Well, you’d be surprised to find out that folks that work but make less than a certain amount, can qualify for food stamps.
    A family where both parents work jobs like home attendants, will surely qualify.
    Some of the new arrivals who work low-paid jobs like that would be able to apply for food stamps.
    Majority of us have bachelor and higher degrees and work professional jobs.
    Judging by what you said, you must be shopping at some s****t hole places.

  25. BUT THEY never earned the benefit! Their children and grandchildren will EARN the benefits from the programs. PROVIDING the SENIORS of TODAY that never paid in dont drain the system dry!!

  26. Sorry dude to disappoint you, I work and make my own money and have an education too. Perhaps you need to stop picking up chicks in night clubs, face book and personals. And please, check for silicone induced cleavage before you go out – if she has them done, chances are she is not a cheap date.

  27. Maybe if Russian dudes knew how to f*ck, they would not need to buy expensive shit for a girl to put out…..

  28. Mike, I would not be so sure about that. Many still defraud the government, not those who have education and job and all, but those that are on the peripherals of society, either dead end jobs or not enough income and such. Shit, sometimes looking at the stuff people (not only Russians, I have seen blacks, chinese, indian, mexicans, orthodox jews, white trash americans, etc) sometimes looking at the stuff they buy in the supermarket I wish I had them too. Maybe I would be able to buy all the expensive cuts of meat that they do. I overheard one b*tch talking on the phone to someone and she was saying that some family was getting like $800 per month in foods tamps alone! WTF!!!!! must have been a huge family, but why breed them if you can not feed them?

  29. In addition to our net tax contribution to the society, elderly that come here with their children and grandchildren, act as babysitters and even tutors. Russians do not use Head Start sh*t like Mexicans, Chinese and blacks. And Head Start is paid for by guess who?…….. your tax dollars.
    By the way, Jal5503, I have seen Chinese and Turkish and Pakistani and countless other nations elders come here and use government benefits? Go shop in the China town one day, you will loose your cool seeing how many Chinese people pay with food stamp cards and have Medicaid and Medicare as well. You seem to be stuck on Russians, as if they are the only ones?
    What were people supposed to do, leave their elders alone without any help or family around? And is it elders fault that current day doctor’s visit can feed a small village in Africa for a week, and if anything even more serious then it is a small nation that can be fed on the amount of the medical bill. is it their fault?
    You should be more enraged with illegal Mexicans who have children in packs and who never ever contribute anything to the society besides reduction in standards of living for Americans, filth and violence. WE, Russians, already have second and third generations here, majority either got education and jobs or getting education and will be contributing. Most of the elders, especially ones over 65 are slowly leaving this world, and no one can get shit until they are 65 or older, unless they are ill.

  30. And I see Mexicans, Chinese, Pakistani and Turks, and African Americans, so what?
    Russians are not the only ones to use government benefits and they are certainly not the only ones to abuse those benefits. Brooklyn DA office recently convicted bunch of people for Medicaid fraud, among them: Pakistani older couple with combined property valued at $12mln; American husband and wife with $5mln in the bank and real estate developments in Brooklyn, LI and Queens, who did not even live in NY, but NJ, had three luxury cars and were using Medicaid for themselves and their 3 children, who were all in private schools; African american woman who was married to the city sanitation worker but claimed to be estranged from him, collecting benefits and using Medicaid; and countless others. I can continue, but you can do your own research if you like. I did not see one Russian sounding name in that list of people – granted they might be better at covering their tracks.

  31. But in the end, please get these people off the radar already.
    I’d rather watch “Mad Men” than some reality show that will be free advertisement for the gangbusters club Rasputin.

  32. No need to make it personal here. But if you need to buy expensive gifts for a woman to go to bed with you, are you compensating for some kind of shortcoming?

  33. And what would be your suggestion here? Leave them behind? Or find them work here? Well got news for you, America is age biased and no one is going to give work to a 65 year old. So now, they are here and their choices are: government help, children who have families to raise and provide for or go beg on the train?
    What would be your solution? Would you like to gather all the elders and put them in a death camp somewhere and try to hasten their demise?

  34. Wow, I hope not. Some of life components might suck, however, there is plenty of good progress to focus on.

  35. How about all the russian jews who came to America with nothing except their furs, leather and diamonds, stepped onto our soil and got welfare, medical, section 8, free education, all on the American Taxpayers.

  36. I want to worn everyone from ever dealing with Micheal Levitis or his Mortgage company Alpha Funding. This guy is not only a dirty backstabbing peace of crap, he is also a rat.

    Now to start off i want to just say that this is the 2ND TIME in almost 1.5 years that this has happened to michael levitis, why cause hes a greedy dirty rat.

    This guy hires a vice president which in this case was my brother, builds a team and then basically (because of his greediness & ambition to f people in there a**) he makes sure that the person quits.

    Now michael isnt a guy who is going to level with you in anyway he is a ignorant atterney who will not care who he f over aslong as he gets his money.

    Lets get to the point last year his crew left him leading to a case that is still opened against Michael because he basicaly stole all the money from the loan officers, and about a week ago our crew left michael.

    Michael has already canceled all our checks that were written out last week when we did work there totaling up to about 30 thousand of checks that he canceled and pretty much got free money because he never did the work for it. He also had 2 very unprofessional people call our clients some of which are referals and tell them that we got fired for doing fraud



    Brooklyn, New York

  37. Like I said before, Russians are statistically less likely to get welfare, food stamps, housing projects, etc. than the average New Yorker. The only reason you are paying attention to them is that people speaking a foreign language immediately stand out.

    That and the fact that you are racist. But that’s a different story.

  38. Almost no Russian Jew came here with money since almost all came at the time when the Soviet Union collapsed, wiping out all their savings because of massive inflation.

    Like I said, the only reason you pay attention to Russians getting this is not because they are more likely to get welfare (which is false), but because 1) foreign speakers stand out and 2) your personal bias.

    Russians pay more taxes and get less government aid than most other New Yorkers. But you will find the only Russian to do something bad just to prove a point, even if he’s a statistical aberration.

  39. It’s pretty misleading when you call these people “Russians” because they aren’t Russian. Actually very few immigrants in Brooklyn who speak Russian are ethnically Russian. Just because they came from the former USSR, it doesnt make them Russian. Read the last name people, LEVITIS, he’s a JEW, not Russian, BIG difference. Most of brighton is populated by JEWS, even the little nickname “Little Odessa” was given because the immigrants in the early 90’s were overwhelmingly JEWS from Odessa

  40. When we say Russian-we don’t say RUSSIAN ORTHODOX, which refers to Religion. These people are Russian with various religious beliefs including Judaism! YOu sure have a lot of hate towards Jews, did they take you job away, you place in Ivy league, a book you wanted from the library, an Oscar you desreved?

  41. Jewish is a religion, Russian is a nationality – most of the immigtrants are Russian Jews. I used to work for a non profit organization who helped bring specifically, the RUSSIAN JEWS (Not Russian Christians) to America.

  42. They may not have come here with money, but they came with expensive furs and leathers and beautiful gold diamond and other precious stone jewelry. I worked with serveral in the 70’s. They couldn’t even speak English properly, but they were working off the books at Palm Beach Home for Adults as companions for some of the Residents there. They were paid by the families of the resident in cold hard cash.

    They did not need money to come here. I was told by a friends neighbor (who is a Russian immigrant) that they did not necessarily want to come here, but our wonderful gov’t made it impossible to refuse. They were offered $10K per family, given a 2year fully paid stopover in Israel (then the Israelli’s didn’t want them there any more, even though they were Jewish), so then they got 2 years in Paris or Italy). Once in America, they were given free housing, food, medical. Hell yeah, it was worth it to come here. Who needs money when one can live off of American taxpayers? America, what a country!

  43. Wow, are you in denial. Watch them at the Sheepshead Bay Gourmet and the supermarkets. Most of them wield that EBT card like a pistol! There are still alot of Russians on Government Assistance.

  44. I know that there are others out there on assistance, but we’re specifically talking about Russians. Some of these people are saying that there are very few Russians receiving assistance. As an American taxpayer, I take notice of this and will argue to the death that there are still many, many Russians getting free benefits.

  45. What kills me, is that I was taking a walk through Brighton last summer and saw caviar stands on the street, and they accepted EBT. Can’t buy necessary items like soap, deodorant, or shampoo, but you can get caviar.

  46. My father came to this country with his family from Scotland in 1923. My grandfather went out and got himself a job immediately – he was a stone mason. There was none of this welfare crap back then.

  47. just saying – people went to work back then and did back breaking labor to earn a paycheck, They did not expect to get a handout.

    I can see giving assistance to those who make below a living wage, but not living on it and waiting for your EFT to your EBT every month.

    This is the point of this thread

  48. My parents came here in the mid 70s along with other friends and family and i have never heard any stories about getting anything from anyone. They made stop overs in Italy but had to pay their own way for everything and they all hustled to get what was necessary to live.

  49. This topic has been brought up before a number of times. Russians and Russian Jews are very different you probably wont understand what i am talking about but anyone from Sovetsky Soyuz knows what i mean.

  50. The first part is true, but would you like to have that job? Like cleaning feces and urine from the elderly residents there? You say “companions” like it is an escort service – sheesh…

    The second part of this comment is patently false. My uncle, for example, came here in 1980, with no fully paid anything, no free housing or anything else mentioned. All their expenses while in Italy were paid by themselves, mostly by selling their jewelry and other goods in Italian markets. Once here, he and his wife took ANY job (cash or otherwise), including cleaning for old people, for several years until he got the job based on his degree.

    So I dare your friend’s neighbor to step forward and clarify his story.

  51. It seems like you have nothing to do, just comment on story without a real “story”. The team of Brighton Beach Show has picked all characters way before Levitis case came out. I feel sorry for those who see Russians with food stamps all the time and everywhere. They might need to buy glasses to see others who work and pay taxes. But it is might be painfull for some to see others, because immigrants children in many cases are more educated and have better jobs. By the way, there are many Russian Christians on Brighton, the demographic situation has changed, so it is more Little Russia than Little Odessa. Russian leaders do not care about the show because media has done much more damage to the image of Russian community. Even this article, instead of generation discussion about “crime and panishment”, generates nasty comments about Russian community at large.

  52. The direction some of the comments took is indeed unfortunate, but I disagree that either this story or this website – which strives to bridge the gap between the neighborhood’s disparate groups – is what sparked those sentiments.

    Regardless, I’d like to clarify on one of your claims. You said the Brighton Beach Show picked all characters “way before” Levitis came out. Not true. Levitis’ case surfaced in June 2010. As of August 2010, Lifetime had not yet picked up Brighton Beach Show – they bought it sometime in September, and it was revealed in early October. When Lifetime bought the show, they dropped the entire cast (then a group of 20-somethings aiming for the Jersey Shore crowd), and started from scratch.

    When Lifetime made their choice to use Levitis’ family, the FBI investigation and Levitis’ arrest was already well-known.

  53. Sorry to disillussion you, but what you are seeing is in your neighborhood only. America is much larger than Brooklyn. What you perceive as a majority of Russian Americans defrauding the government, is really a minority when you look at it on a national scale. As far as differentiating yourself as an American tax payer, what do you think we are. Some of us have been born here, or have lived in this country for 20, 30+ years. And guess what, when my family came here in the mid seventies, we didn’t spend 1 day on Welfare or collect a single $ in food stamps. Don’t generalize it shows everyone your ignorance. Samething as saying all Irish are drunks and all Italians are mobsters

  54. Wow…Never thought someone would conclude that Levitis is a Jewish last name. Most people think it’s Greek. Shows your ignorance once again. Just to get your facts straight Odessa is in the Ukraine, not Russia, we just happen to speak russian. Very much like you happen to speak moron.

  55. This is an obvious example of the ignorant and stupid part of americans who have no idea about what Russia really is about and they go there and they feel lost. total stupidity and racism. By the way I know not all Americans are that stupid and ignorant because I wouldn’t be engaged to an American 🙂

  56. The Brighton Beach russian population does not represent real russian people, who came to USA in order to find a new Homeland.
    Most people from Russian are hard workers with inteligent minds.
    They are doctors,programmers, lawyers, teachers and more… 


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