I first want to start off by saying that I know Ludwig “Tarzan” Fainberg, the main protagonist of Operation Odessa airing on Showtime, personally. I met him in Panama City, Panama, at Bongo’s, the restaurant I was helping run alongside my best buddy, and the restaurant’s owner, Anthony “Fat Tony” Galeota. Tony and Tarzan knew each other very well. Tony, (who also appeared in Operation Odessa) was Tarzan’s right-hand man for many years at Porky’s (strip club) in Hialeah, Florida. Tarzan eventually got into his “submarine trouble” and those days were over. He was deported after prison and was never “legally” allowed back in the United States. He somehow someway ended up in Panama.
Tarzan was pressing Tony to get back into the strip club game. He pressed hard enough, that he convinced Tony to partner up. They teamed up with Russians that were already in that business in Panama and soon enough, Dollhouse Panama was born.
Dollhouse was only open for three months after it too was raided like Porky’s (albeit, for different reasons). But that is another story and will be in another documentary that Bearded Hashtag Productions out of Miami, Florida is currently in pre-production on.
Operation Odessa, directed by Tiller Russell, is very well made and actually pretty funny. The characters are endearing. You really kinda like these guys even though you know you shouldn’t. It is like a “keystone cops” but instead “keystone criminals”. Tarzan is the center of the trio as Juan Almeida and Nelson “Tony” Yester “costar” in this incredible, and truly hard to believe crime caper.
Odessa jumps right in. You do not get much in the way of a background on these fellas. I felt slighted by that. I wanted to know who these people actually were. So, that aside, the doc jumps right into Tarzan showing up to Miami from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and starting his strip club empire. He meets Juan and Nelson along the way. Tarzan is like a king and his criminal malfeasance continue. Whether it was cocaine, military helicopters, prostitution, racketeering, or whatever he could get his hands in, Tarzan had at least a finger in it (rub said finger on gums now).
But the doc (named after the actual DEA/FBI/Miami-Dade Police investigation), centers around his biggest and most egregious act of all. His “middlemanning” a deal to unload a Russian nuclear submarine that had been retired, to members of the infamous Cali Cartel for cocaine transport. That deal never happened! In part, the feds already had the drop on Tarzan. He was using a tapped cell phone for the longest, and they had more than enough to put him away. And that is what they did. Tarzan did his time and was then deported.
What people do not know, is that this documentary only got made (or even hatched as an idea) because Tarzan reached out to Tiller from the absolutely disgusting, and one of the world’s worst prisons, La Joya Carcel. He wanted out so bad, that he had hoped any media or notoriety would make that happen. It didn’t. But the story was still told after Tarzan was released from La Joya. The story about his and Tony’s release will be in the Bearded Hashtag doc.
Operation Odessa does truly cover the entire story and every angle of the submarine plot and the plots that “tentacled” out from it. It is very entertaining and most of the reviews prove that. These guys not only did biz together, but they genuinely loved each other. Putting the term “partners in crime” in its truest context.
Tarzan didn’t like me too much. I know why, and that will be discussed in the Bearded Hashtag doc. But I sincerely liked this film, and it actually inspired me to tell the story of Fat Tony as a result. If you have not seen this film, you really should. If you like docs, true crime or mafia stuff, or you are from South Florida and want to brush up on a little of its past criminal strolls down memory lane, then this film is for you!