Former Carencro officer pleads guilty to extortion in strip club probe _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Desperado's Cabaret in Lafayette.

A former Carencro police officer charged in the drug and prostitution investigation of Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret pleaded guilty Wednesday to extortion, the latest conviction in a federal probe that might implicate more Carencro officers.

Timothy Prejean, 42, who was a sergeant in the Carencro Police Department until he resigned in February, faces up to 20 years after pleading guilty to one count of extortion. The charge was one of several that a grand jury leveled at Prejean in February.

U.S. District Judge Richard Haik on Wednesday did not set a sentencing date.

A federal grand jury on Feb. 11 charged Prejean with one count each of interference with commerce by extortion and obtaining information from a government computer for an illegal purpose, and two counts of making false statements to investigators. Prejean pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 2, but told the court last week he would change his plea.

In pleading guilty Wednesday, Prejean admitted he knew about and helped further illegal drug sales and prostitution at Desperado’s by allowing the operation to flourish for years.

Judge Haik, reading from the agreed-upon account of Prejean’s guilt, repeatedly mentioned that other officers were involved, and that no one on the city’s police force did anything to stop obvious illegal activity. Prejean said little, answering “Yes, sir” to Haik’s questions. Haik said Prejean pocketed at least $10,000 in cash for his role in the operation.

One paragraph in the indictment unsealed in May 2013 alleges Desperado’s owner James Panos and his employees “made special arrangements with some local police officers” so illegal drug sales and prostitution activity could continue unfettered at the club, which featured nude dancers.

U.S. Assistant U.S. Attorney Myers Namie, the prosecutor in the Desperado’s case, declined to comment Wednesday on whether the investigation is now completed or if more Carencro police officers might be charged.

Namie referred questions about the status of the investigation to U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley, who declined through a spokesman to comment.

Prejean is the latest defendant to plead guilty to crimes that occurred at Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret, where dancers and members of the wait staff sold drugs to customers and provided sex for money in the club’s VIP room. Club owner James Panos was sentenced to seven years in prison, and his wife Jennifer Panos was sentenced to four years on racketeering conspiracy in the probe into drug trafficking and prostitution.

Baton Rouge businessman Dipak Vora, who owned the Desperado’s building, was ordered to spend 10 months in prison after he pleaded guilty. Club customer Gerald Cormier was sentenced to 29 months for distributing cocaine inside the club, and six former employees pleaded guilty to racketeering and drug charges. All six received suspended sentences.

Prejean was a regular at the club while on and off duty from 2007 until December 2012, when law enforcement agents raided Desperado’s after a months-long undercover investigation.

He was in charge of issuing permits for exotic dancers who entertained within Carencro city limits. Prejean also admitted to using a Carencro police computer to run a criminal background check for James Panos.

Prejean further acknowledged that he and other officers provided security at Desperado’s for after-hours private parties.

The first indication that federal prosecutors were investigating Carencro police came in a superseding indictment in May 2013 that charged the Panoses and other defendants. One paragraph in the indictment said James Panos “made special arrangements with some local police officers” so illegal drug sales and prostitution would continue unabated.

Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout, who has led the department for 12 years, has repeatedly denied knowledge of the club’s illegal operations, which ran unimpeded for years off Interstate 49, just about a mile away from the Carencro Police Department.

Stout, who accepted Prejean’s resignation in February, did not return a message left with his office Wednesday.

In February, after Prejean was indicted, Stout issued a statement: “While the conduct committed by this officer (Prejean) tarnishes the badge he once wore, I want to assure the public and the residents of Carencro that the 32 full-time and five part-time officers of the Carencro Police Department who currently serve this city with distinction and dedication are hardworking professionals.”

Editor’s note: This article was changed on Thursday, March 26, to reflect that the indictment was unsealed in May 2013.