LAFAYETTE — The married couple who owned Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret in Carencro were sentenced to prison terms Friday, almost two years after the December 2012 raid that netted multiple drug and prostitution arrests and shuttered the longtime Carencro strip club for good.
In sentencing James Panos, 58, to six years in federal prison and his wife, Jennifer, to four years, U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Foote noted that Jennifer Panos admitted bribing police to look the other way to the illegal activity taking place at the club.
The Panoses pleaded guilty this year to one count of conspiracy to maintain a drug involved premises. Both will report to prison Jan. 7 to begin serving their sentences.
The Panoses were the final two sentenced in a criminal case that snared 10 defendants. Earlier Friday, former dancers Aquila Shanete Latigue and Tanja Clavier were sentenced to five years probation for their roles in the drug and sex enterprise.
Foote said during the sentencing hearing that she used different factors in calculating Jennifer Panos’ sentence because the 48-year-old former dancer admitted she bribed police to look the other way.
Foote did not identify the police officer or officers, nor did she specify an agency.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Myers Namie declined to comment on the bribes after the hearing and said there are no current public documents containing details.
The Friday bribery revelation syncs with wording in a May 2013 superseding federal indictment that charged the Panoses and others with range of felonies. The indictment stated the Panoses and others “made special arrangements with some local police officers” that allowed prostitution and drug distribution to go on unimpeded for years at Desperado’s.
Local, state and federal agents raided Desperado’s on Dec. 5, 2012, after a nearly three-year undercover investigation of drug sales and usage in the club, and sex for hire in Desperado’s VIP room. Agents combing the club that day discovered a man engaged in a mid-afternoon sex act with a prostitute.
Detective interviews after the raid found that the dancers were forced to pay the Panoses $20 upon entering work each day, and they had to entice customers to buy them a minimum of eight drinks a night that cost $15 each. To get into the VIP room, the girls had to pay the house a fee, buy condoms from the house for $10 apiece and then clean up afterward.
And they couldn’t leave early. Some dancers told investigators that off-duty Carencro police officers stationed outside the club would make them return to finish their shift, Foote said.
The Panoses and their attorneys asked Foote for lenient sentences. The Panoses said drugs controlled their lives back then. Jennifer Panos’ problem was cocaine, while James was hooked on opiates. Both told Foote they’ve kicked the habits.
Their attorneys argued that the undercover agents’ drug buys inside the club did not directly involve the Panoses, an argument Foote said she didn’t accept.
“They controlled access to the business, and they allowed the distribution of narcotics to take place on the premises,” Foote said.
Cash flow at the club was good: the Panoses made $8,000 to $10,000 per night, an income that afforded them a comfortable life in an upscale Le Triomphe home.
Since the raid on Desperado’s two years ago, the Panoses’ finances have dwindled to nothing. Jennifer now cleans houses, the couple’s Le Triomphe home will soon be foreclosed by a bank, and their possessions are being forfeited to the government.
The government also will get the building that housed Desperado’s and the property on which it sits along Interstate 49 in Carencro.
The case also trapped a Baton Rouge businessman.
In August, Dipak Vora, a retired chemical engineer who owned the Desperado’s property, was sentenced to 10 months in prison. Vora pleaded guilty in February to one count of aiding in a racketeering conspiracy, a lesser crime than racketeering conspiracy, with which he was originally charged.
According to court documents, Dora drove in from Baton Rouge once a week to collect $3,000 rent — the cash delivered in a bag — and have free drinks with the girls.
At Vora’s sentencing, Judge Foote shook her head as she noted the immigrant from India’s struggle for success in the U.S. and his fall. In the back of the courtroom, Vora’s wife stared at the floor.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Saturday, Nov. 15, to reflect that former dancers Aquila Shanete Latigue and Tanja Clavier were sentenced to five years probation for their roles in the drug and sex enterprise.