LAFAYETTE — A federal magistrate judge on Friday denied a request to keep the owner of Desperado’s Gentleman’s Cabaret in jail pending his trial on a federal charge that emerged from an investigation of drugs and prostitution at the Carencro strip club.
Desperado’s owner James “Jim” Panos, 54, was arrested Dec. 5 on a federal complaint charging him with “maintaining drug-involved premises.”
The ruling for his release pending trial came after a court hearing in which agents alleged that Panos oversaw a club where drug dealing was done in the open by employees and where customers routinely met dancers for sex in a “VIP” room, with the club taking a cut of the payment.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hill ruled that Panos will be released on a $50,000 unsecured bond, noting that the man has no history of violence or criminal activity and, because of his strong family and business ties to the community, is not deemed a flight risk.
Hill said he might reconsider his decision if Desperado’s reopens.
The state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control has suspended the club’s liquor license, but a hearing on that suspension is scheduled for Jan. 9.
“The chances of me allowing him to go back to Desperado’s are not high; in fact, they are nil,” Hill said.
The club has been the subject of a two-year joint federal, state and local investigation that culminated with a raid at the club on Dec. 5, according to testimony Friday from Karry Falcon, a Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office agent who works with a local U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force.
Falcon said undercover agents made at least 30 undercover drug buys from waitresses, dancers and other employees of the strip club.
Agents were able to easily purchase painkillers, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, Falcon said.
When asked by federal prosecutor Myers Namie how long it would take to arrange a deal in the club, Falcon replied, “Literally, it takes minutes.”
Falcon also testified that patrons could arrange to meet prostitutes in a “VIP” room for sex after paying the club a fee up front.
“It’s explained, anything you want you can have,” Falcon said.
Falcon also alleged that Panos himself had sold small amounts of the painkiller Lortab and that the man was addicted to the pills, consuming anywhere from 20 to 100 a day.
Under questioning from Panos’ attorney, Scott Iles, Falcon acknowledged that despite the allegations of a painkiller addiction, no Lortab was found in searches of Panos’ home in the upscale Le Triomphe subdivision or in his office at Desperado’s.
Iles also disputed whether Panos had direct knowledge of drug dealing or prostitution at the club.
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