Businessman enters guilty plea in strip club case

One of the owners of a shuttered Carencro strip club pleaded guilty Friday to a reduced charge and agreed to testify against co-owner James Panos in a trial scheduled for May.

Dipak Vora, a 70-year-old Baton Rouge businessman and chemical engineer, pleaded guilty to one count of interstate aiding of a racketeering operation. He faces up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release once he’s out of prison. Vora will be sentenced this year.

Vora had faced up to 20 years in prison if he had been convicted of the charge he was indicted on, racketeering.

Vora admitted to U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote that he owned the property where Desperado’s operated for more than 10 years, located off Interstate 49 in Carencro.

Vora admitted to traveling once or twice a week from Baton Rouge to Carencro to collect money from his partner, Panos. Vora admitted he received $3,000 a week up until 2011, when his weekly take went down to $2,000.

Vora acknowledged that on many trips to Desperado’s, he would place the cash in his vehicle and return to the club to enjoy free drinks and the company of the dancers, who also got drinks for free when they visited Vora.

Foote referred to Vora receiving free drinks and giving them to semi-nude and fully nude dancers as a “unique privilege.”

Desperado’s was shut down and locked tight by raiding federal agents in December 2012 after months of an undercover investigation. Prosecutors said the results of the investigation pointed to open illegal drug usage and sales, and prostitution in the club’s VIP room where clients received condoms compliments of Desperado’s.

“Dipak Vora knew that Desperado’s profited from this prostitution,” Foote said while reading a facts-of-the-case document.

Vora, who retired as a chemical engineer in Baton Rouge in 1982, was originally only the Desperado’s landlord. He later paid Panos $40,000 and became a co-owner.

Vora is the fifth of 10 defendants to plead guilty. Of the defendants, Vora is the only one who didn’t have a daily job at the club.

In addition to Vora, those pleading guilty include former Desperado’s employees Tanja Clavier, Lydia Gauthreaux, Elias “E.J.” White and Crystal Sampy. Another employee, Gerald Cormier, was scheduled to plead guilty last year but backed out at the last minute.

The five made plea deals with prosecutor Myers Namie that require them to testify against Panos and the other defendants at a trial if their testimony is needed.

The five remaining defendants who remain scheduled for trial include Panos and his wife, Jennifer, who was charged with racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises.

James Panos faces charges of racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises, possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

The trial remains scheduled for May 12.