Club Was Brothel, U.S. Alleges

HARTFORD – After 25 years, it was the credit card receipts from its thousands of customers that gave law enforcement the necessary evidence to shut down Alpha Leisure and Health Club, a multimillion-dollar brothel licensed as a massage parlor in one of the city’s most storied neighborhoods, officials said.

On Tuesday, a federal grand jury here returned a 38-count indictment, including charges of money laundering, against two women, a former owner and a manager of the club, which sat on Franklin Avenue, in an area long known for its Italian restaurants and bakeries. Earlier this month two other women, who also owned and managed the club, pleaded guilty to similar charges.

Between 1998 and 2003, the club collected $5.3 million before expenses, most of it charged by customers on credit cards. The names of 4,600 clients of the club were discovered in a recent raid, said the office of the United States attorney, which is working on the case with the local police. Profits were squirreled in Swiss banks and then smuggled back home in $10,000 increments stuffed in shipping containers, officials said. The club was shut down this month.

“This investigation turned out to be very far-reaching,” said Kevin J. O’Connor, the United States attorney for Connecticut, at a news conference at the Hartford Police Department.

Also on Tuesday, the Hartford police chief, Mark R. Pawlina, announced the first round of what is expected to be hundreds of arrests when five men from the suburbs were charged with patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

Neighbors said there was nothing mysterious about the activity inside the building. Several men who said they grew up around Franklin Avenue described a stream of jazzy cars driving around to its spotlighted rear entrance and sharply dressed men walking through its front door at all hours. Knots of women dressed in revealing clothing walked to the bodega next door for snacks.

Yet while Mr. O’Connor and police officials called the club a nuisance, others said it was quiet and something of a neighborhood fixture. “Nobody ever made trouble over here,” said a man in his twenties who grew up one house away.

Residents and Chief Pawlina said out-of-towners were common and many of the cars had out-of-state license plates.

He described the difficulty the police had in closing the club down. He said they made many arrests over the years for prostitution and the city Health Department found violations serious enough to shutter the club briefly. Yet once the code violations were corrected it would open again. “And once you arrest one person, another steps in to fill the void,” he said.



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