Former dancer, customer 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.

A former dancer at the now-shuttered Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret and a longtime customer of the business pleaded guilty Thursday to cocaine distribution charges in a federal probe of prostitution and drug dealing at the Carencro strip club.

Acquila “Sexy” Shanete Latigue, 27, the former dancer, and Gerald Cormier, 44, who was a regular customer, both admitted dealing cocaine to customers and employees at the club, where federal prosecutors have alleged open drug use and prostitution.

They each face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced.

The two guilty pleas Thursday bring the total number of pleas in the case to eight, including Desperado’s co-owner Dipak Vora, 70, a Baton Rouge businessman and chemical engineer who admitted in January to one count of aiding a racketeering operation.

All have agreed to cooperate in the case against the remaining two defendants, club owner James Panos, 55, and his wife, Jennifer “Nancy” Panos, 47, of Broussard.

Their trial is set for May 12 on drug and racketeering charges.

In prior court hearings, federal investigators have said Desperado’s was the subject of a two-year investigation that involved at least 30 undercover drug buys of painkillers, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine at the strip club.

Latigue admitted Thursday to selling cocaine to undercover agents at the club on five separate occasions in 2010.

Agents also have testified that customers routinely met dancers for sex in a “VIP” room, with the club taking a cut of the payment.

The indictment characterizes the environment at Desperado’s as “anything goes.”

James Panos’ attorney has disputed whether his client had direct knowledge of the ongoing illegal activity at the club.

A still unanswered question is the role of any law enforcement officers in turning a blind eye to illegal activity at Desperado’s.

The indictment in the case states that “members of the enterprise and their associates made special arrangements with some local police officers to minimize the risk of any meaningful law enforcement or investigation into the activities of the enterprise.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to elaborate on that statement, and no law enforcement officers have been charged in the case.

Carencro police officers worked off-duty security at the club, but Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout has adamantly denied any wrongdoing on their part. He has said he allowed his officers to work at Desperado’s with the understanding they were to stay in the parking lot unless there was a disturbance inside.