The Chicago Syndicate: Strippers From Russia and Eastern Europe Allegedly Lured by Mob to Work in Gentlemen's Clubs Via Immigration Fraud

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Strippers From Russia and Eastern Europe Allegedly Lured by Mob to Work in Gentlemen's Clubs Via Immigration Fraud

That New York’s strip clubs have been inhabited by entrepreneurial mobsters is nothing new. But the latest suspected criminal enterprise involving a band of Mafia members, soldiers and associates has expanded the business model to international levels, in a scheme the authorities say was designed to dominate an empire of strip clubs across Manhattan, Queens and Long Island.

At its core, the operation centered on men with nicknames like the Grandfather, Perry Como and Tommy D. pushing an enterprise to recruit women from Russia and other Eastern European countries to enter the United States illegally to work as exotic dancers.

In all, 20 people were arrested on Wednesday and accused of criminal activity that included racketeering, extortion and immigration and marriage fraud. The defendants included seven men said to be linked to the Gambino and Bonnano crime families, the authorities said.

The suspected enterprise helped the women fraudulently obtain non-immigrant visas, often provided housing and transportation, and then set them up to dance at the topless clubs in violation of those visas. The women — who worked at places including Cheetahs in Midtown Manhattan; Rouge in Maspeth, Queens; and the Scene in Commack, Suffolk County — became “personal profit centers” for the defendants, according to Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

An indictment outlined the accusations in four of the strip clubs, but did not name them. A federal law enforcement official said that nine strip clubs in the metropolitan area were involved, including Gallagher’s and Perfection, both in Queens.

At times, the enterprise drew money from the clubs by threatening violence, court papers said. At other times, they offered protection from others in the stripper industry or mob underworld, they said. Sometimes, the organized crime members, or others, were stationed at the clubs. The members of the enterprise also resolved disputes about which clubs the women would work in, the court papers said, and which members would control or receive payments from which clubs.

At times, “several of the defendants also arranged for many of the women to enter into sham marriages with U.S. citizens,” according to a statement from Mr. Bharara’s office.

The arrests were announced by Mr. Bharara and by the New York offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.

“Today’s arrests bring to an end a longstanding criminal enterprise operated by colluding organized crime entities that profited wildly through a combination of extortion and fraud,” said James T. Hayes Jr., the immigration agency’s special agent in charge. “As alleged, the defendants controlled their business and protected their turf through intimidation and threats of physical and economic harm. Today, that business model has been extinguished.”

It was not immediately clear how many women were entangled with the enterprise, or what would happen to them. The defendants appeared Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan, officials said. The case, they said, had been assigned to Federal District Judge Victor Marrero.

Thanks to Al Baker

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