LAFAYETTE — A federal indictment alleges that a strip club owner and others “made special arrangements with some local police officers” to allow prostitution and drug distribution to occur unimpeded for at least seven years at Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret.
Desperado’s owner James Panos, 55, of Broussard faces one count each of racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute drugs and possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number. Panos also is charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person because, the indictment states, he is addicted to hydrocodone.
The indictment also charges Panos’ wife, Jennifer “Nancy” Panos, 47, with racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to distribute drugs.
The indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury May 8 and unsealed Wednesday.
“Mr. and Mrs. Panos intend to enter pleas of not guilty,” James Panos’ attorney, Scott Isles, said Thursday. “They will continue to maintain their innocence through the trial.”
James Panos was indicted Dec. 19 on one count of conspiracy to operate drug-involved premises following a raid by authorities on the now-closed club at 3730 N.E. Evangeline Thruway in Carencro in a drug and prostitution investigation.
The status of Panos’ drug-related conspiracy trial, which was scheduled for July 29, was unclear Thursday.
Arraignments on the racketeering conspiracy charges are scheduled for May 29 in U.S. District Court in Lafayette.
Also charged in the latest indictment was Baton Rouge resident Dipak Vora, 69, with racketeering conspiracy. According to a lawsuit filed in state district court in April, Vora, owner of Diversified Asset Group, loaned Panos $40,000 in 1994 to open the club.
Other co-defendants are Elias “E.J.” White, 52, of Lafayette; Heike Slattery, 41, of Carencro; Crystal Sampy, 51, of Lafayette; Acquila Shanete Latigue, 27, of Lafayette; Gerald Cormier, 43, of Carencro; Tanja Clavier, 28, of Lafayette; and Lydia Gauthreaux, 31, of Crowley. They were charged with one count each of conspiracy to maintain a drug involved premises and distribution of controlled substances.
The indictment also alleges corruption by local police. It does not identify the police officers allegedly involved with Panos or club employees.
“Members of the enterprise and their associates made special arrangements with some local police officers to minimize the risk of any meaningful law enforcement or investigation into the activities of the enterprise,” the indictment reads.
Asked for clarification Thursday, U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said in an email: “This investigation continues. We have no other comment.”
In a prepared statement, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout said his department “currently has no information to suggest that anyone associated with the department, either currently or in the past, has done anything improper or illegal in connection with the operations of Desperados of Lafayette.”
Stout said Thursday he had not read the 19-page indictment, and that what he knew of the document “is what I have been told by news reporters and what I have read on local media web sites.”
Desperado’s owners and employees offered sex and drugs, including marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, hydrocodone and Valium “on a daily basis throughout the operating hours of 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week,” from January 2006 until December 2012, the indictment says.
Finley said agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, along with Louisiana State Police and Lafayette Metro Narcotics, investigated Desperado’s.
Finley said federal sentencing guidelines in the case are as follows: up to 20 years for racketeering conspiracy; up to 20 or 30 years for conspiracy to maintain a drug involved premises; five years for possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number; and 10 years for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.