With a touch of defiance, Seattle strip-club owner Frank Colacurcio Jr. and a longtime associate pleaded guilty today to criminal charges...
With a touch of defiance, Seattle strip-club owner Frank Colacurcio Jr. and a longtime associate pleaded guilty today to criminal charges related to the so-called “Strippergate” campaign-finance scandal of 2003.
His father, Frank Colacurcio Sr., was also expected to plead guilty to the same charges, but the longtime strip-club magnate, who is 90, did not appear in court due to health problems. His attorney said Colacurcio Sr. will enter a plea by Monday.
In a plea bargain that avoided jail time, Colacurcio Jr. agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and one year of probation. His father is expected to accept an identical deal.
Those penalties are in addition to a $55,000 civil settlement approved Wednesday by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
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Although Colacurcio Jr. accepted the plea deal in King County Superior Court, he “does not believe his conduct constituted a crime,” his attorney, John Wolfe, said in a written statement.
Colacurcio Jr. refused to comment after the court proceeding.
Gil Conte, a former lounge singer and longtime Colacurcio associate, also pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor conspiracy charge and agreed to pay a $1,000 fine.
After the sentencing, Conte did a quick soft-shoe dance step for a throng of reporters, and said, “I didn’t do nothing.”
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said the protracted case — which was thrown out by a lower-court judge and reinstated by the state Supreme Court — was “a victory for the integrity of our campaign-finance laws.”
“At the time we filed this case, there was significant doubt as to whether such conduct was a crime. Today there is no question,” he said.
Satterberg said the case was never about sending anyone to jail, but was intended to prove that schemes to hide the source of political contributions “are criminal acts.”
In their Wednesday settlement with the city ethics board, the Colacurcios admitted they illegally flouted campaign-contribution limits by reimbursing at least 15 donors for contributions made to the re-election campaigns of Seattle City Council members in 2003.
The Colacurcios’ $55,000 fine is the second highest ever imposed by the ethics commission, which enforces Seattle’s campaign-finance laws. In 1996, businessman Thomas Stewart and an associate paid a $62,000 fine for secretly funneling campaign contributions in support of a city ballot measure to elect the City Council by geographic districts.
Charges against another Colacurcio associate, Marsha Furfaro, were expected to be dropped in the case. Furfaro, 68, had been accused of funneling contributions through two daughters.
Criminal charges against the Colacurcios, Furfaro and Conte were filed in 2005 by then-King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng, who accused the four of “political money-laundering.”
The four were charged under a broad law making it a crime to cause the filing of false documents with a government agency.
The law doesn’t specifically mention campaign contributions, but prosecutors alleged the defendants caused phony campaign-finance reports to be filed with the state and city. Each defendant faced up to a year in jail.
The “Strippergate” controversy erupted after at least $39,000 in Colacurcio-connected contributions flowed to the campaigns of three City Council members as the council was reviewing a Colacurcio request to expand the parking lot at Rick’s, their Lake City strip club. The council granted the request on a 5-4 vote, reversing two previous denials.
The council members whose campaigns received the money, Judy Nicastro, Heidi Wills and Jim Compton, sided with the club. Only contributions to Nicastro and Wills were mentioned in the settlement agreement Wednesday.
Prosecutors found no evidence the council members were aware of the scheme, and none was charged. But the political fallout contributed to the defeat of Wills and Nicastro in the 2003 election. Compton was re-elected but has since left the council.