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Published: Monday, December 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Investigation of county barista stands continues

EVERETT -- Everett police detectives continue to follow the money as part of a complicated investigation into a cluster of Snohomish County coffee stands that allegedly were used as drive-through brothels and netted more than a $1 million in profits for their owner, a former exotic dancer who once worked for a notorious Seattle crime family.
Carmela Panico's finances have been put under a microscope while detectives piece together how much money she was making off of her espressos stands. Panico was arrested in June for allegedly promoting prostitution and permitting sex to be sold out of her coffee huts. A former Snohomish County sheriff's sergeant also was caught up in the sting.
Darrell O'Neill, a 30-year veteran, was suspected of tipping off baristas to ongoing undercover police operations focused on Panico's businesses. Baristas told the cops that O'Neill received sexual favors for his intel. He resigned from the sheriff's office in July.
No charges have been filed against O'Neill or Panico.
Everett police officer Aaron Snell said detectives continue to review a large amount of evidence. They are getting closer to handing over their investigation to Snohomish County prosecutors.
Meanwhile Panico has suspended her legal efforts to recover the $250,000 in cash that the cops confiscated from her Snohomish-area home.
Panico sued Everett and the city's police chief in July, alleging that officers wrongfully seized a quarter of a million dollars and her 2012 Ford Expedition.
The lawsuit was filed after the city officials notified Panico that they planned to keep the cash, alleging that it was proceeds from criminal activity, including money laundering. Detectives allege that Panico is "living a lavish lifestyle" financed through "organized crime."
Panico's lawyer recently filed a motion putting the lawsuit on hold, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
"Panico wishes to preserve her privilege against self incrimination in light of possible criminal charges and both parties require additional time to prepare for trial in this forfeiture proceeding," Seattle attorney Gil Levy wrote in a motion to stay the lawsuit.
Ultimately it'll be up to a Superior Court judge to decide whether Panico gets the money back.
The former nude dancer has spent the past five years establishing her coffee stand empire. She bought seven stands since 2008. The coffee huts, Java Juggs and Twin Peaks, primarily were located along Highway 99.
Detectives allege that Panico knew that her employees were engaged in prostitution and lewd acts at the stands and off site. The baristas told investigators that they raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars for work that had nothing to do with coffee.
Panico, 51, also appeared to be making significant money from her business endeavors. Records show she bought a home in Snohomish and a vacation home. She invested more than $300,000 in recent years and appears to have expensive hobbies, including horses and boats, according to court papers. She also paid for several plastic surgeries, police said.
Panico was prosecuted in the past for lewd acts at her coffee stands. She and her baristas were accused of giving customers explicit shows from the Java Juggs in Edmonds. She never went to jail in connection with that case.
Her stands came under investigation again after Kent police detectives arrested several baristas at one of her coffee huts in their city.
That's when detectives heard about O'Neill's alleged involvement. Witnesses reported that Panico was connected to a "dirty cop," court papers said. O'Neill reportedly told baristas when was the best time to perform their illicit shows, and gave them information about police operations, including the description of undercover detectives and their vehicles.
Police documented numerous calls between the deputy and Panico.
As part of the investigation, FBI agents installed surveillance cameras to monitor at least three of the stands. Court papers say federal agents agreed to assist because of Panico's past.
She had ties to Talents West, a sex-oriented entertainment business that for years was operated by the Seattle-based Colacurcio crime family. The Colacurcios formerly owned Honey's north of Lynnwood, one of several nude nightclubs they operated before being forced to close in 2010 as part of a federal prosecution.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » EverettCrimeOrganized Crime

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