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Originally published Friday, June 25, 2010 at 11:56 AM

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Colacurcio Jr. pleads guilty to strip-club conspiracy

In a plea deal that demolishes what's left of the notorious Colacurcio strip-club empire, Frank Colacurcio Jr. pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge and faces a prison sentence of one year and a day.

Seattle Times staff reporter

In a deal that dismantles what's left of the notorious Colacurcio strip-club empire, Frank Colacurcio Jr. pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge that will cost him $1.3 million in cash and likely land him in prison for a year and a day.

In exchange for his admission of guilt in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Friday, prosecutors agreed to dismiss several other charges against him.

The plea leaves his father, ailing adult-entertainment patriarch Frank Colacurcio Sr., as the last defendant in the case. He is 93 and in failing health. His attorneys have asked that the indictment pending against him be dismissed.

Colacurcio Jr., 48, was the heir apparent to the family's adult-entertainment business, which was targeted repeatedly by city regulators and law enforcement over the years.

The indictments came after Seattle police and the FBI conducted a four-year probe that former Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said was the "most significant" organized-crime investigation ever undertaken by the Seattle Police Department.

Colacurcio Jr. will likely be the only one of the six defendants in the case to serve prison time. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 24 by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones.

The Colacurcios and four close associates were accused of being an organization that laundered money, promoted prostitution and committed mail fraud.

The others, including Colacurcio Sr.'s nephew, Leroy Richard Christiansen, 68, of Seattle, his longtime associate David Carl Ebert, 62, of Monroe, and club manager Steven Michael Fueston, 62, of Tacoma, all pleaded guilty in April to prostitution- and racketeering-related charges.

John Gilbert "Gil" Conte, Colacurcio Sr.'s driver and associate, pleaded guilty earlier to a racketeering charge.

All four were placed on probation, banned from working in the adult-entertainment industry in Washington for life, and hit hard financially: The Colacurcios' four strip clubs have been shuttered, and the government seized the buildings and other property valued at $4.5 million.

Part of his deal is that Colacurcio Jr. will forfeit $1.3 million in cash and his interest in the properties and offices of Talents West, the agency used to recruit dancers for the clubs.

His attorneys, John Wolfe and Steve Fogg, said their client was singled out by the government because of his father's notoriety and long-running skirmish with federal authorities.

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Wolfe said his client "accepts responsibility" for his role in operating the clubs, however, Wolfe said Colacurcio Jr. had "no greater involvement" than any of the other defendants.

What went on in clubs

During Friday's hearing, prosecutors said that Colacurcio Jr. once counseled a dancer, who admitted that she was having sex with customers, not to tell him about it.

"You have always been truthful, but don't be honest with me," he told the woman in a conversation caught on tape. "Let me ask you again. What happened?"

"Nothing," she replied.

The FBI said in court documents that dancers routinely performed sex acts on customers in the clubs' dimly lit "VIP" sections. The indictments alleged the clubs took a cut from these "private dances" and that the Colacurcios and their colleagues got rich. The four clubs were pulling in nearly $1 million a month, according to court documents.

Documents filed in the case related, in graphic detail, pervasive sex-related activities observed by confidential informants and undercover police officers working at the four clubs — Rick's in Seattle; Sugar's in Shoreline; Honey's in Everett; and Fox's in Parkland, Pierce County.

One officer infiltrated the organization and became a manager at Colacurcio's flagship strip club, Rick's in Lake City. Federal agents used extensive wiretaps and recorded conversations at Talents West through microphones planted by the FBI.

"50-year scourge"

The criminal charges were aimed at punishing the Colacurcios, who put together an empire that began with pinball and cigarette-vending machines and became what U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan described as a "50-year scourge on the community."

Colacurcio Sr.'s battle with federal authorities goes back to the 1950s when he was accused of using strong-arm tactics to control Seattle's pinball trade and was identified as a racketeer in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee.

"Senior," as he's often called, has served four federal prison terms, primarily for skimming cash to avoid taxes and violating the terms of his probation.

Colacurcio Jr. has served time for tax fraud.

According to the court documents, one confidential informant said there was an "open invitation" for dancers to earn from $150 to $1,000 by having sex with Colacurcio Sr.

Credited with introducing go-go dancing to Seattle in 1965, the organization's string of strip clubs at one point spanned 10 Western states before dwindling to the four Seattle-area clubs.

"Strippergate"

But it was the 2003 "Strippergate" scandal at Seattle City Hall that set the downfall in motion. The Colacurcios got caught secretly funneling thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions through friends, relatives and business partners to the re-election campaigns of former City Council members Judy Nicastro, Heidi Wills and Jim Compton.

The contributions came shortly before the council approved a rezone that allowed Rick's to add parking spaces as the club moved toward expanding and opening the VIP areas, where most of the sex was taking place.

The elder Colacurcio and his son pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges, admitting they reimbursed others to skirt campaign-donation limits. The Colacurcios agreed to each pay $75,000 in criminal and civil penalties.

The Strippergate case revived law-enforcement interest in the Colacurcios, prompting the FBI and the other agencies to form a task force in 2005.

Dancers were repeatedly cited by undercover police in recent years for engaging in prostitution and lewd conduct inside the clubs. Some floor managers were cited for permitting illegal conduct.

Investigators also have looked at Colacurcio Sr. or his associates in the slayings of five people in the 1970s and 1980s: a rival strip-club operator and his fiancée, a bar owner in Central Washington, a mechanic in a murder-for-hire scheme, and a police informant. But neither Colacurcio Sr. nor his associates have been tied to the killings, and involvement in the Central Washington case has been ruled out.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.co. Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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