The men who ran Frank Colacurcio Sr.'s strip-club empire for decades pleaded guilty to prostitution-related crimes in federal court Wednesday and agreed to shutter the three remaining clubs next week, bringing to a sudden end what prosecutors described as a 50-year "scourge on the community."
The three men who ran Frank Colacurcio Sr.’s strip-club operation for decades pleaded guilty Wednesday to prostitution-related crimes in a deal that will shutter the three remaining clubs, bringing to a sudden end what federal prosecutors described as a 50-year “scourge on the community.”
The plea agreements ensure that none of the men — operators and owners of the clubs — will go to prison for their crimes, and the government is not requiring them to testify against the 92-year-old Colacurcio Sr. or his son, Frank Jr., 46, the only defendants left in the sweeping case.
But it will mean the end of the clubs that have long been targets of federal and local law-enforcement officials as alleged fronts for prostitution and money-laundering. All three will close by next Wednesday; one will be torn down.
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Leroy Christiansen, 68, Frank Sr.’s nephew and a longtime Colacurcio associate, pleaded guilty to the most serious charge, conspiracy to engage in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization, which could have sent him to prison for 20 years. Under the agreement with federal prosecutors, he will serve five years of probation.
David Carl Ebert, 62, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to use interstate facilities in aid of prostitution, a racketeering-related count that could carry a five-year term. Ebert also will get 5 years probation.
A third associate, Steven Fueston, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to permit prostitution near a military establishment, referring to his involvement in Fox’s, a club in Pierce County near Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Fueston will serve a 1-year probation.
All of the men are banned from the adult-entertainment business in Washington, according to the plea agreements.
The pleas hit all three men hard in the pocketbook: They agreed the government would seize the clubs and other property worth at least $4.5 million, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said at a news conference after a two-hour court hearing in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Since the pleas also involved criminal charges against two holding companies for the property the strip clubs sit on, the government can seize the property and shut the clubs down — a main goal in the investigation, the government has said.
“We have shut down a corrupt organization that made millions of dollars exploiting women,” Durkan said. “They have been a blight on this community for years.”
One club, Honey’s, near Everett, will be demolished and another, Sugar’s in Shoreline, has already closed its doors after a conspiracy plea last year by longtime Colacurcio friend and associate Gil Conte, 76. The other clubs are Rick’s in Lake City and Fox’s. All will be sold.
Attorneys for the three men declined to comment after the hearing.
The pleas culminate a decades-long game of cat and mouse between law enforcement and the Colacurcio organization that once prompted Frank Sr. to complain that police have been “investigating me since I was born.”
Colacurcio Sr., credited with introducing go-go dancing to Seattle in 1965, has been convicted multiple times for racketeering, conspiracy, assault and tax fraud.
At one point, the Colacurcio organization’s string of strip clubs spanned 10 Western states, and the U.S. Senate labeled Colacurcio a racketeer during organized-crime hearings in the 1950s. Over the years the clubs dwindled to four, but all remained targets of law-enforcement investigations.
The elder Colacurcio and his son are scheduled for trial in January on numerous conspiracy, racketeering and prostitution-related offenses. It is unclear how Wednesday’s pleas will affect their prosecution.
Christiansen oversaw the management of the four clubs and Talents West, the family’s business offices. He was responsible for hiring and firing dancers.
Ebert, 62, of Monroe, was also involved in the clubs’ operations and, according to the indictment, was responsible for purchasing properties used to promote prostitution.
Fueston, 62, of Tacoma, managed the operation of Fox’s.
The Colacurcios and their four associates were indicted last July on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to launder money and promote prostitution, which federal agents and police say has been a mainstay of the clubs’ business for years.
The FBI, with Seattle police and the Internal Revenue Service, opened an investigation in 2005 after the so-called “Strippergate” scandal, in which Colacurcio secretly funneled campaign contributions to former Seattle City Councilmembers Heidi Wills, Judy Nicastro and Jim Compton as the council was considering Colacurcio’s request to add parking spaces at Rick’s, a club on Lake City Way Northeast.
The elder Colacurcio and his son pleaded guilty in January 2008 to felony and misdemeanor charges, admitting they reimbursed others to skirt campaign-donation limits.
The 2009 indictments allege the club owners enriched themselves through a business structure that left the dancers no choice but to resort to prostitution to make a living at the clubs.
They allegedly have operated by charging the dancers exorbitant “rent” to work at the clubs and by charging customers admission fees and inflated prices for soft drinks — liquor is not allowed.
Federal prosecutors alleged the men “made millions of dollars exploiting these young women in the Seattle and Tacoma areas.”
The indictments allege the money was laundered by accepting credit cards and ATM transactions as payment. Customers were issued tokens that could be traded for dances or sex acts, the indictments allege.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com
Information from Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf and Times archives is included in this report