Lafayette strip club operator sues BR firm over loan

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Desperado's Cabaret near Carencro
Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Desperado's Cabaret near Carencro

James Panos, the man charged with running a years-long illegal drug operation out of his Carencro strip club, is suing the Baton Rouge man who signed a deed agreement with Panos in 1994 and loaned him $40,000 in startup capital needed to open Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Club.

The lawsuit, filed this week in state district court in Lafayette, seeks unspecified damages from Dipak Vora and his company, Diversified Assets Group of Baton Rouge.

Panos also wants a state judge to rule on who owns the building and land on which Desperado’s operated near the now-razed Evangeline Downs in Carencro off Interstate 49. The suit states that Vora and his business are claiming the property now that the business is shut down.

In the suit, filed late Monday, Panos claims he paid Diversified Assets Group and Vora $3,000 a week. Panos said that by November, he had paid Diversified Assets Group and Vora more than $900,000 in a bond for deed agreement.

“James Panos has repaid any loan made by Dipak Vora and Diversified Assets Group of Baton Rouge,” the suit states.

Vora’s attorney in Baton Rouge, Don Beard, declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.

Panos, through his attorney Scott Iles, claims that the bond for deed agreement is incomplete and void.

“He needed some startup money in 1994 and he simply agreed — I guess he thought in good faith — to take this deal from Diversified Asset Group of Baton Rouge without thinking of the long-term consequences,” Iles said Tuesday.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents and local law enforcement officials including the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested Panos, 54, and employees of the strip club Dec. 3 during a raid.

Agents later said they had conducted a two-year undercover investigation of Desperado’s.

A federal grand jury charged Panos on Dec. 19 with one count of conspiracy to operate a drug-involved premises.

Panos’ trial was scheduled for mid-March, but was delayed after prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote for more time, citing the volume and complexity of the evidence. The trial is set for July 29, and Foote has allotted three weeks to conduct the trial.

In the indictment, the federal government wrote that it intended to seize the Desperado’s property from Panos. And attorneys with the Justice Department in March buttressed the government’s intent to seize the property by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Lafayette.

Iles said at the time the government’s lawsuit was filed that his client was merely an employee at Desperado’s, not the owner. Iles said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he is trying to protect property that could be his client’s.

“Of course, it would all be made moot if Mr. Panos were eventually convicted because it’s subject to that forfeiture proceeding …” Iles said.

According to the lawsuit filed Monday, Panos in 1994 was operating a strip club known as “Club Vogue” in Lafayette. At the time, the suit states, the political climate within the city limits made it hard to operate a drinking establishment that employed scantily clad women.

Iles said in a telephone interview that in the mid-1990s, Lafayette Mayor Kenny Bowen and the Rev. Perry Sanders, of First Baptist Church, wanted strip clubs out of the city.

“It became very clear that the mayor and select pastors inside the corporate city limits of Lafayette were no longer going to have the strip clubs existing,” Iles said.

Panos moved his operations north “… because the political environment in 1994 created municipal ordinances which would have made operating a gentleman’s club unprofitable because of certain restrictions being placed on the sale of alcoholic beverages …” the suit states.