Two more to plead guilty in Desperado’s case

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Desperado's Cabaret Friday in Lafayette. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Desperado's Cabaret Friday in Lafayette.

Strip club owner, wife only defendants left to stand trial

The last two Desperado’s employees charged in the federal drug and prostitution case have indicated they’ll plead guilty, leaving only strip club owner James Panos and his wife, Jennifer, to stand trial in May on drug distribution and racketeering charges.

Acquila Shanete Latigue and Gerald Cormier said in U.S. District Court documents they’ll change the not guilty pleas they made last year. Cormier’s hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 20. The date of Latigue’s change of plea has not been determined.

The pair follow former Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret dancer Heike Slattery, who on Thursday pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a drug-involved premises.

Latigue, Cormier and Slattery joined four other former employees, who all pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a drug-involved premises. The seven defendants had faced additional charges handed down in a superseding indictment in 2013.

Another defendant, Dipak Vora, on Jan. 31 pleaded guilty to interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering enterprises. Vora, 70, a former chemical engineer in Baton Rouge, owned the property and building in which Desperado’s operated.

The eight defendants will be sentenced after the Panoses’ trial in May.

Federal prosecutors allege prolific prostitution and drug distribution was a daily and nightly occurrence at the club, where women danced nude or almost nude. Some of the defendants admitted at their plea hearings that they sold illegal drugs and engaged in prostitution in the club’s VIP room, where customers were issued condoms.

James Panos’ attorney, Kevin Stockstill, said he expected James and Jennifer Panos’ codefendants to plead guilty before the trial.

“It happens in federal cases where there the are a number of defendants,” Stockstill said.

“Based on some of the evidence we received from the government, some of the evidence they had against some of our codefendants was compelling,” he said.

Stockstill said most government plea deals compel defendants to testify against codefendants.

Federal, state and local agents raided Desperado’s in December 2012 after a monthslong undercover investigation, padlocking the doors after a daylight raid.

James Panos is charged with one count each of racketeering, conspiracy to distribute drugs, selling defaced firearms and possession of firearms by a prohibited person.

Jennifer Panos is charged with one count each of conspiracy to distribute drugs and racketeering.

The trial is scheduled for May 25.