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Seattle judge: No witness names Yet for indicted strip club mogul, now in Its 4th Year of Investigation

America is a much safer place to live now that four years have been invested in a strip club indictment.

from – Seattle strip club mogul Frank Colacurcio Sr. and his business partners will have to wait until the fall before learning what witnesses the government plans to call in support of the racketeering charges against them, a federal judge has ruled.

Attorneys for the defendants had demanded that prosecutors release the identities of more than 300 witnesses interviewed in the federal racketeering case brought against Colacurcio, his son and four other men associated with the Talents West group of strip clubs.

Prosecutors say they have already turned over 120,000 pages of documentation regarding the investigation, now in its fourth year. Turning over the witnesses’ names, prosecutors argue, would put Talents West employees at risk for harassment or intimidation.

The move follows on an earlier claim by the defense that the investigation has turned the FBI into “a vice squad”. An attorney representing one defendant claimed that investigatory reports show one undercover officer involved in the effort spent at least $16,835 buying more than 130 lap dances without making a single arrest.

Issuing a written ruling earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones found that the government had already been more accommodating than required by the law by agreeing to release the witnesses names and statements eight weeks before the start of trial, currently scheduled for January 2011. In an indictment filed in June, federal prosecutors accused the Colacurcios and their associates of racketeering, using interstate commerce to facilitate prostitution, money laundering and mail fraud. At issue are allegations that the strip clubs — Rick’s in Lake City, Sugar’s in Shoreline, Honey’s in Everett and Fox’s in Parkland — were used as fronts for prostitution that allegedly garnered the men $25 million in the preceding four years.

The indictment followed a years-long investigation that culminated in June 2008 with raids by Seattle police and federal agents on the clubs and Talents West, a Colacurcio-owned agency that hires dancers for the clubs. Federal prosecutors interviewed more than 200 witnesses, reviewed hours of recorded phone calls, surveillance video and intercepts from listening devices, and went so far as to place an undercover police officer in the club as a waitress.

Addressing Jones in March, Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg asserted that the names of dancers and other witnesses need to be protected until a court-imposed deadline two months before trial.

Failing to do so, Greenberg said, would create an opportunity for harassment or witness intimidation.

Noting that no such claims have yet been publically made against the defendants, attorneys for the men told Jones they need the information now for use in plea bargaining and trial preparation.

Irwin Schwartz, attorney for Frank Colacurcio Sr., said the purported delay is contrary to federal law. He called the protections suggested by the prosecution “a very dangerous and misguided approach.”

“At this juncture in this case, we feel we should have any information favorable to the defense, and … we should have it now,” Schwartz said.

“The government tells us there are at least 300 witnesses, nearly all of whom have made statements at least in part favorable to the defense,” the attorney continues. “If it’s favorable, give it up.”

Greenberg countered that federal law allows for the protection of witnesses’ names until trial. That law, he argued, exists specifically to protect would-be witnesses from intimidation.

In his ruling, Jones noted that the term “favorable” may be too generous for the type of information held by the prosecution’s witnesses.

“Witnesses who have information truly favorable to the defense are not government witnesses or even potential government witnesses,” Jones wrote in the order. “Prosecutors will not call a witness whose testimony is ‘favorable’ to the defense … nor could a prosecutor ethically delay the production of truly favorable information.”

Jones is expected to take up the case again Friday during a hearing related to prosecutors’ claims that prostitution is continuing at the Talents West clubs.

Prosecutors have asked Jones to restrict two defendants — Steven Michael Fueston and David Carl Ebert — from being involved in day-to-day club operations.

Restrictions similar to those requested are now imposed on Colacurcio, his son, Frank Colacurcio Jr., and others under indictment. Jones previously ruled Fueston and Ebert could continue working in the clubs so long as they did not speak with employees about the criminal case or allow prostitution in the clubs.

The defendants remain free pending the case’s resolution.


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