EVERETT — Dancers may be doing a lot more than taking off their clothes at Honey’s.
Snohomish County’s only strip club is a haven for prostitution, with dancers blatantly offering sex for money and the club’s owners taking kickbacks from the illegal activities, federal investigators alleged in court documents Monday.
Honey’s in Everett and several other Puget Sound-area clubs owned by the Colacurcio family are the focus of a federal investigation into organized crime, officials said.
Federal agents and local police raided the clubs owned by Frank Colacurcio Sr. and his son, Frank Colacurcio Jr., Monday morning.
No charges have been filed. Instead, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order against the clubs’ owners prohibiting them from selling off the clubs or their assets. The freeze is part of a ongoing racketeering investigation that alleges the clubs were run by a criminal enterprise, according to court papers.
U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan said the government has a strong case against the Colacurcios.
“For far too long, the Colacurcio organization has made big money operating their clubs as fronts for prostitution,” Sullivan said. “The Colacurcios have designed the clubs, the payment methods, and the policies to encourage prostitution and to ensure they are the ones getting rich off these illegal sex acts.”
In a 99-page affidavit, investigators outlined how prostitution allegedly operated inside Honey’s and the other clubs, as well as suspected money laundering, mail fraud and other crimes. The investigation has been under way for five years.
“This is the most significant organized crime investigation we’ve ever undertaken,” Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said.
At Honey’s and the other clubs, dancers paid the owners $120 a night “rent” to work at the clubs. In order to pay off the rent, many dancers allegedly performed sex acts in a VIP area, court records said. Patrons would buy tokens that were exchanged for the sex, prosecutors allege.
At the end of the night, the dancers would exchange the tokens for payment. The owners withheld the rent, and also allegedly kept a percentage of the prostitution earnings.
Police used a number of confidential informants and undercover agents and surveillance during the investigation. A police officer also went undercover and reportedly infiltrated the organization as a club manager.
The investigation included the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Everett and Seattle police and others, Sullivan said.
Undercover detectives visited Honey’s about a dozen times since January 2006, court records show. The detectives said about 40 dancers offered to perform sex acts about 50 different times with prices ranging from $40 to $200, depending on the act.
The undercover officers described rooms littered with condoms and dancers openly engaged in sex with customers. They reported that managers ignored the illegal activity.
One undercover officer reported a conversation with a Honey’s manager in which she allegedly told him, “If prostitution were legal, the girls would have a place to take their customers for sex, and the strip club could just be a strip club, where dancers could just be dancers. Then the girls wouldn’t have to do it here,” according to court records.
That same Honey’s manager was arrested in April during an undercover operation. She has been charged with violating the county’s exotic dancing ordinance. Police that same night arrested two women, both 19, for investigation of prostitution.
At least one dancer told an undercover officer that Honey’s dancers needed to engage in prostitution to make enough money, according to court records released Monday.
Over the years, Honey’s has been the focus of police and public scrutiny.
More than a decade ago, the County Council imposed stricter rules for exotic dance clubs. Dancers were banned from touching customers, a rule that made lap dances illegal. The new regulations required a 4-foot buffer between the dancers and customers. The ordinance also demanded higher lighting levels to let police see what’s going on and licensing of managers. The law also calls for tips to be placed in dancers’ hands, not on their bodies or in their clothing.
Dancers and the clubs’ owners opposed the new rules, saying they rules were heavy-handed and violated their rights.
Former Sheriff Rick Bart said on Monday he wasn’t surprised to hear that club’s owners were being investigated for organized crime.
“Drugs, prostitution — Honey’s was a mecca for that stuff,” he said.
Deputies have conducted numerous raids and undercover stings at Honey’s, citing dancers for prostitution.
“We always seemed to get to the girls, but we could never quite get to the next level and follow the money,” Bart said.
At least one unsolved homicide also is linked to the strip club. Patti Berry, 26, was killed July 31, 1995, after she left the club, where she worked as a dancer. Berry is featured on the state’s first deck of cold-case playing cards.
Monday’s affidavit also details investigations of alleged prostitution at the Colacurcio-owned clubs Rick’s in Seattle and Sugar’s in Shoreline, plus the Talents West talent agency and Accurate Bookkeeping in Seattle.
The Colacurcios’ clubs have long been a subject of contention in the Seattle area.
In January, the Colacurcios pleaded guilty to felony criminal charges in Seattle’s “Strippergate” campaign-finance scandal. They each agreed to each pay $75,000 in criminal and civil penalties.
That scandal erupted at Seattle City Hall in 2003 after the Colacurcios secretly funneled thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions through friends, relatives and business partners to the re-election campaigns of three Seattle City Council members.
The contributions came shortly before the council approved a rezone allowing Rick’s to add parking spaces.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.