South Florida blogger provided insurrection play-by-play

Emilee Geist

The screenshot of a live-streamed video posted by South Florida private investigator Steve Doudnik shows him on Jan. 6, 2021, outside the U.S. Capitol shortly before the ensuing turmoil. He appeared online and on numerous pro-government news channels in Russia in the weeks that followed, claiming Antifa and Democrats were […]

The screenshot of a live-streamed video posted by South Florida private investigator Steve Doudnik shows him on Jan. 6, 2021, outside the U.S. Capitol shortly before the ensuing turmoil. He appeared online and on numerous pro-government news channels in Russia in the weeks that followed, claiming Antifa and Democrats were behind the Capitol melee. More recently he alleged that his bank account has been closed because of his presence outside the Capitol.

The screenshot of a live-streamed video posted by South Florida private investigator Steve Doudnik shows him on Jan. 6, 2021, outside the U.S. Capitol shortly before the ensuing turmoil. He appeared online and on numerous pro-government news channels in Russia in the weeks that followed, claiming Antifa and Democrats were behind the Capitol melee. More recently he alleged that his bank account has been closed because of his presence outside the Capitol.

The Russian-speaking video blogger from South Florida walked alongside the throngs wearing MAGA hats and carrying Trump flags as the crowd descended on the Capitol, heeding the call to disrupt the certification of electoral college results.

His broadcast reached Russian speakers across the United States and in the mother country, pushing the Stop the Steal narrative and other debunked election-fraud allegations.

In the digital version of a tip jar, his YouTube and Instagram accounts included electronic payment links to PayPal and Zelle for those who might want to thank him for his broadcasts.

His name is Stanislav Doudnik. He’s a Hallandale Beach-based private detective/blogger, part of the growing, insular community of expatriates from the former Soviet Union that has put down roots in South Florida. Members have have bought real estate, run businesses and forged connections.

The rumored presence of Russian speakers in the crowd of insurrectionists on Jan. 6 has intrigued federal investigators, although initial estimates of the the size of that contingent were apparently exaggerated. In the case of Doudnik, there is no evidence that he was more than an observer, broadcasting pro-Donald Trump screeds in Russian. Still, he claims his bank account was just closed in retribution.

His politics aside, Doudnik has a controversial past, a curious present and seems a contradiction.

This screenshot shows Yelena Nikitskaya being interviewed by Steve Doudnik on his YouTube channel. The two Russian-language bloggers were at the Jan. 6 Capitol protests together, spreading in Russian the Stop the Steal message and alleging the violence was caused by Democrats and Antifa.

He made headlines in 2018 when the Miami Herald reported that his firm, General Investigations Services in Broward County, planted tracking devices on the cars of two Hallandale Beach city commissioners and a candidate for office to find alleged mischief. A one-time employee fessed up and Doudnik denied any knowledge.

In his day job as private detective, staying in the background and under the radar is paramount. Yet on Jan. 6 and over the weeks that followed, the Florida detective made himself a very public figure, appearing across the globe on that most public of forums, the internet, and on Russian TV. He warned that America was bowing to radicals like antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement and was on the verge of embracing socialism.

Life in the 954

Public records show Doudnik, 45, came to the United States in 1995 at the age of 19 and has lived in South Florida since then, mostly in Broward County. He was an émigré from Tashkent, the capital of what today is Uzbekistan but had been long under rule of the Soviet Union until its dissolution at the end of 1991. He’s a member of an international group of detectives that includes Russians who openly boast of their work for the FSB, Russia’s feared spy agency.

In South Florida, he’s operated a number of companies, including those that do fingerprinting and conduct background checks. In a period of less than a year in 2013 and 2014, Doudnik divorced twice and legally changed his name to Steve Cohen, for reasons he has declined to discuss. But he broadcasts under his birth surname, going by Steve Doudnik on YouTube and Instagram. He uses Steve Cohen on his company website for his current company, General PI, in South Florida, and on the website of General PI Latam, his pairing in Costa Rica with another Soviet émigré.

“A former law enforcement officer and FBI agent, Steve is a Florida Licensed Private Investigator and our partner in the USA,” read the bio for Steve Cohen on the Costa Rican site.

Records don’t show him having been employed by any police agency.

Friends down south

The Costa Rica partner, Arthur Mitiniani Tkebuchava, is a self-described former Soviet fighter in Afghanistan who runs a number of security businesses. One calls him The Fixer. The business operates under the name AM Solution Security Consulting Services.

“I can FIX most of your problems in Central America. Call me and lets (sic) discuss,” says a graphic on its Facebook page.

Mitiniani, who hails from Soviet Georgia, opened a company in Costa Rica in 2011 called Triton Group A&A with a Ukrainian named Arthur Budovsky.

That same year Budovsky opened Liberty Reserve, a crypto currency company that instantly hit success by offering to change dollars and euros for Bitcoin and vice versa.

Two years later Budovsky, was arrested in Spain, indicted in the United States for money laundering. Even after Costa Rican authorities halted his company’s operation, prosecutors alleged Budovsky continued to run it through shell companies. One of them mentioned in the Costa Rican media at the time was Triton Group. In 2016, Budovsky was sentenced in the Southern District of New York to 20 years in prison.

There’s no evidence Doudnik knew of Liberty Reserve or did business with the company. But his Costa Rican associate Mitiniani is intimately linked in corporate documents to Budovsky.

Mitiniani confirmed in a phone interview that he is a private investigator who opened the business with Budovsky and said the now-jailed partner provided start-up money for his detective business.

In exchange, Mitiniani said, he provided research for Budovsky as needed about prospective clients for Liberty Reserve.

“He was a capital-providing member, nothing more,” Mitiniani said in fluent Spanish during a phone interview from Costa Rica.

This screenshot show the corporate registration date in Costa Rica in 2011 for Triton Group A&A S.A, a private investigator. The company was opened with capital from Arthur Budovsky, who that same year opened Liberty Reserve, a crypto currency firm shut down two years later when Budovsky was arrested in Spain and extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of money laundering.

Nobody from the U.S. or Costa Rican governments ever questioned him about Triton Group, he said, adding he shut it down about a year after Budovsky’s arrest.

Both Doudnik and Mitiniani appear in an online photo with a plaque in the background from Alpha Group, the feared Russian elite strike force for counter-terrorism and intelligence. It migrated over from the KGB to the FSB after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It’s just decoration,” said Mitiniani, who said he never worked for Alpha but was wounded in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, where he spent 18 months before relocating to Costa Rica after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mitiniani and Doudnik describe their alliance as sort of a joint venture. They’re both members of the International Association of Private Detectives. Doudnik’s social-media page on VK, sort of a Russian Facebook, shows among his friends detective counterparts whose own websites and social-media postings tout connections to Russia’s Federal Security Service, the full name of the FSB.

Doudnik appeared as a speaker via Skype at an association conference in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. The group’s vice president at the time was Andrey Igorevich Masalovich. He developed an online surveillance system called Avalanche Pulse that is now widely used by the FSB and Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, according to Kommersant, a Russian national newspaper with a business focus.

The head of the Russian chapter of the detectives’ association is Andrey Nikolevich Matushkin, who touts the connections of the Omega-5 detective agency in St. Petersburg.

“We are former law enforcement officers who have accumulated a lot of operational and life experience during their service for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB,” reads Russian-language Omega-5 website.

Both Mitiniani and Matushkin list Doudnik’s Hallandale Beach address as their U.S. office on their websites.

Truth or Marketing?

What to make of Matushkin’s self-described ties to Russia’s security apparatus? His website even carries photos of some employees and offers a number instead of their name, playing up the intrigue.

“They’re full of bulls—t. They’re just regular ex-cops,” said Doudnik, who called unprompted a few minutes after the Herald’s interview with Mitiniani in late March.

The screenshot from the website of Costa Rica’s General PI Latam describes its U.S. partner Steve Cohen, born Stanislav Doudnik, as a former cop and FBI agent. The South Florida private detective was neither.

And what about his partner’s website photo of Steve Cohen and description of him as an ex-FBI agent.

“Nah, that’s bulls—t,” Doudnik said, suggesting it was a poor attempt at marketing. “People make legends to maybe bring in the clients. I never worked for the FBI.”

After both men were questioned about the misrepresentation by the Herald, the Costa Rican website later removed the FBI reference.

Asked about being a private detective and a high-profile public blogger, Doudnik said the two were congruent.

“I got people who work for me. I’m more really like a boss, so I don’t do any more surveillance,” he said. “It’s a past in my life. I’m like a brand right now. So I got people who don’t show their faces that work for me.”

When mentioning his online audience of more than 30,000, Doudnik was quick to note that “it’s more than 30,000 but it’s okay,” adding he’s tapped into a niche audience made up about 80% Russians in the United States and another 20% abroad.

Kremlin foe or fan?

Doudnik’s following seems to have caught the attention of Russia’s state controlled television networks. He and fellow Russian-speaking blogger Yelena Nikitskaya — both fervent supporters of former President Donald Trump — appeared on Russia 1 and other channels multiple times after the Jan. 6 events.

“With us is Yelena Nikitina, journalist, eyewitness, and participant in the meeting [protest] for Trump and of storming of the Capitol,” said Evgeniy Popov, the Russia 1 host, flubbing Nikitskaya’s name when introducing her. She posted a video of the broadcast on YouTube on Jan. 11.

A 33-year-old emigre from now-Russian occupied Crimea, the stay-at-home mother of twins and social-media manager seems to have evolved in the past year to prominent journalist on Russian television.

Popov summed up her reporting by repeating that she believes that the rioters were faux Trump supporters and that Democrats were actually behind the violence in an effort to embarrass Trump.

“If I didn’t see this with my own eyes I could have thought it was a conspiracy theory,” Nikitskaya told the host.

In the days after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, Doudnik and Nikitskaya appeared in multiple videos together on Russian media. They appeared together on a Jan. 10 broadcast on Katehon, the Russian channel and website that represents right-wing nationalist views.

Doudnik and Nikitskaya first came to the Herald’s attention in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 riots, when there were unconfirmed reports of 16 Russian speakers arrested or detained.

Asked by the Herald in January about a Russian presence, federal prosecutors handling the Capitol riots referred calls to the FBI, which has subsequently declined comment about its ongoing investigation into the Jan. 6 events. It had concluded earlier that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

The only known Russian-speaker to be arrested was Kristina Malimon, 28, a Portland, Oregon, GOP activist born in the former Soviet republic of Moldova. She and her mother Evgenia, 54, were charged with illegal entry.

There’s no sign that Doudnik or Nikitskaya were actually inside the Capitol. Doudnik insisted his group of Russian speakers knew better than to cross into lawlessness and stayed in the grassy area outside the Capitol.

“It was on the other side, and I didn’t let anybody go there, because you cannot break the law. Period,” he said, insisting that antifa members dressed as Trump supporters were mostly to blame.

However, videos he posted online show the group actually closer to the unrest, and one touted “exclusive footage from Steve’s team” that appears to show at least, one of the breached Capitol entrances amid the chaos, apparently at close range. In a follow-up interview he said this footage was given to him by someone at his hotel who had attended the event.

In a video posted on YouTube on April 12, Doudnik told his followers that TD Bank had recently frozen, then closed his bank accounts after asking questions about his presence during the uprising. His followers quickly likened the action to Nazi Germany, while his handful of detractors celebrated.

“Ahaha, talking head, did you think it was all jokes when you went to DC to storm in January? write a complaint to Trump now, only he doesn’t care,” someone with the handle TV Media wrote in Russian.

Doudnik appeared in an earlier video from January walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with Nikitskaya, a longtime Sacramento resident who appears to have left California last year and now has three addresses and a new name in rural South Carolina.

Repeated calls and emails to Nikitskaya and her husband went unanswered. Her former employer, Russian American Media in Sacramento, asked for questions in writing, didn’t answer them and then scrubbed her photo and bio from the company website.

The screenshot of a live streamed video posted by South Florida private investigator Steve Doudnik shows him on Jan. 6, 2021, walking towards the U.S. Capitol with fellow Russian-language blogger Yelena Nikitskaya shortly before the ensuing turmoil. Both appeared separate and together on numerous pro-government news channels in Russia in the weeks that followed, claiming Antifa and Democrats were behind the Capitol melee.

South Carolina property records show she and her husband Eduard have purchased properties in Inman, Lyman and Belton, all in the northwestern corner that meets with North Carolina.

Corporate and property records also show she now uses the name Olena Nikitska. Last December she registered a company in Belton called Dezaro Marketing. The address listed is for a small commercial building right on the city square of the tiny town of about 4,000. Property records show she bought the building, and two locals described it as a cash purchase, which is not illegal.

Public records show Dezaro earlier licensed in Sacramento County in California, and its Facebook page features Yelena Nikitskaya. She also served an executive producer of a Russian-language evangelical film company in Sacramento.

This screenshot from the website of Dezaro Marketing shows Yelena Nikitskaya, who live-streamed from the Jan. 6 Capitol protests and appeared repeatedly on Russian television in the weeks that followed.

The website for Dezaro Marketing is registered as a U.S. domain but it is hosted by a Moscow-based company called Variti LLC.

During some Nikitskaya and Doudnik interviews on Russia 1 — one described to viewers as coming to them from Greenville, South Carolina —the camera flashed to in-studio shots of Maria Butina. She’s the Russian woman who infamously befriended NRA leaders and Republican politicians in the United States.

This screenshot shows a pro-government Russia 1 broadcast, with a split screen between U.S. blogger Yelena Nikitskaya and Maria Butina on the right in the Moscow studio. Butina was jailed in 2018 by United States as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. Behind Nikitskaya’s right shoulder during the Jan. 6 protests is Steve Doudnik, a Russian-language blogger from South Florida.

Butina’s jailing and conviction in 2018 as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia drew Kremlin accusations that she was a political prisoner. Butina now appears on Russian media as a commentator, and recently garnered international headlines when she arrived with a film crew at the prison holding Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to show him his prison conditions weren’t so bad.

“When I saw her in the studio, it [came] to my head that I see the face somewhere,” Doudnik recalled of Butina.

Kremlin messaging

Doudnik scoffs at any suggestion his actions benefit the Kremlin’s efforts to sow discord in the United States.

“You think [Vladimir] Putin called me and said, ‘Steve, go to Washington?’” he asked, adding that “I’m a pure American … I will fight for this country. I will die for this country. “

Doudnik and Nikitskaya’s pro-Trump broadcasts often echo the line carried on Kremlin-linked global media outlets.

As to why he he doesn’t discuss Russia’s treatment of political opponents and high-profile poisonings in recent years, Doudnik said it’s not his business.

“Because I live in this country, and I worry about this country. I don’t worry about Russia at all,” he said, offering that if Russians were unhappy with Putin they’d force him out.

His videos have warned of race wars in America and push conspiracy theories. And Russian-language commentators tuned into his live streams gladly chime in.

Asked about that high-speed highway chase mentioned in his video blog, Doudnik offered that a target of one of his investigations “might have been pissed off.” He added he later found a GPS tracking device under his car but did not report it to police.

McClatchy and the Miami Herald obtained the March 6 report from the Palm Beach Gardens police after hearing his harrowing tale of being pursued for about 40 miles down I-95 from Port St. Lucie. The report described the arrest of a 41-year-old from St. Augustine.

The man’s story “was not making any sense and he stated he was drugged by someone at some point,” the police report said, adding his description was “consistently changing when speaking with the officers on scene.”

A public defender assigned to the man, who does not have a rap sheet and seems an unlikely hit man, declined to discuss the case ahead of a disposition hearing late this month.

Monika Leal in Miami contributed to this report.

Investigative reporter Kevin G. Hall shared the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers. He was a 2010 Pulitzer finalist for reporting on the U.S. financial crisis and won the 2004 Sigma Delta Chi for best foreign correspondence for his series on modern-day slavery in Brazil. He is past president of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing.
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