A Fort Lauderdale company that offers to help foreign students enroll as exchange students at American universities took more than $174,000 and delivered “fake” acceptance letters from Nova Southeastern University, a federal lawsuit alleges.
The company, Travelworks, is registered with the Florida Division of Corporations as doing business at a Fort Lauderdale address, along with another company, StudyGRI. Denis Smorchkov is listed as president of Travelworks and as registered agent of StudyGRI.
Smorchkov, Travelworks and StudyGRI are all named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale by Pavel Solovev, a Russian-speaking Canadian resident.
According to the lawsuit, Solovev hired Travelworks in an effort to get his daughter, Kristina Solovyoff, enrolled into Nova Southeastern or another university in the U.S. He did the same for her boyfriend, Daniil Lapshin.
Solovev signed a retainer agreement with Travelworks in August 2022 and paid $9,320, then was sent another invoice for $78,004 “for various items such as a ‘Computer Science BS,’ ‘Bachelor of Arts in Dance,’ ‘Transit Forms,’ etc.,” according to the lawsuit.
A copy of the invoices and contract, in Russian, were filed as exhibits with the lawsuit.
Solovev paid both sets of costs twice, for his daughter and her boyfriend, adding that in total, he handed over $174,648, the lawsuit says.
On Sept. 21, 2022, Solovev received letters signed, ostensibly, by Dr. Anthony DeNapoli, dean of undergraduate admissions and international affairs, accepting Solovyoff and Lapshin into Nova, the suit says.
DeNapoli died in 2021, according to Nova Southeastern.
The letters, sent on what appeared to be Nova Southeastern letterhead, “were fake,” the lawsuit states. “Neither Daniil Lapshin or Katrina Solovyoff were accepted to Nova Southeastern University, nor had any application been made on their behalf,” the suit says.
“Likewise, none of the transit forms or other services that Travelworks Inc. claimed they would perform were actually done,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit says the defendant(s) “intended to lie and induce plaintiff into signing the agreement and procuring money, knowing that it had no intention of even making the required application to Nova Southeastern University.”
Smorchkov did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment for this story and no listed phone number could be located.
The lawsuit accuses Smorchkov and Travelworks of fraud and says that StudyGRI as a “successor company,” a company set up to continue the same work of another, also bears liability for the alleged fraud. The suit seeks damages, costs, pre- and post-judgment interest and attorneys’ fees.
Reached by phone in The Netherlands, Alina Grygorian, identified on the Florida Division of Corporations website as president of StudyGRI, said she didn’t know anything about the allegations described in the lawsuit.
“If this is true, I’m shocked,” she said about the allegations. “I have nothing to do with Travelworks, I swear to you. I’m a 100% clean and transparent person.”
Grygorian, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said StudyGRI is not a successor company to Travelworks.
She said she met Smorchkov at a conference in Miami and he offered to help her establish a presence for her company in the United States by registering it at his company’s address.
StudyGRI has two websites — one in English and another in Russian. The English-language version of StudyGRI’s website states that the company places more than 120 students a year at top universities in the European Union, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Its LinkedIn site says it was founded in 2018 and is headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Smorchkov incorporated Travelworks with a Miami address in 2019, state records show. By 2021, the company’s primary address was listed in Hallandale Beach and in 2022, it had moved to the Fort Lauderdale address. StudyGRI was registered at the same Fort Lauderdale address in February 2023.
Broward County court records show that Smorchkov and another person were subjects of three eviction lawsuits this year at the address filed with the Florida Division of Corporations website as the companies’ primary address.
The address is a residential apartment called EON Squared.
Eviction lawsuits filed in March and May against the duo for nonpayment of rent were dismissed, court records show. In the second suit, a default judgment was vacated after the defendants paid the amount owed.
Then a new suit, also for nonpayment of rent, was filed in October. Smorchkov did not contest the third eviction case. A default judgment was issued against Smorchkov and another person on Nov. 3 and a writ of possession was issued to the landlord on Nov. 6.
Andre Raikhelson, a Boca Raton-based attorney representing Solokov, said he hopes the lawsuit serves as a warning to people, particularly from outside the country, to look more closely at companies offering services in the U.S. before spending large amounts of money.
Asked whether Nova Southeastern was aware of the incident described in the lawsuit, spokesman Joe Donzelli said, “when it comes to current or potential litigation, NSU does not provide comment.”
Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at email@example.com.