Desperado’s strip club owners admit to federal charges Thursday

The married couple who owned a Carencro strip club each pleaded guilty to federal charges Thursday, almost 16 months after a December 2012 raid shuttered the business where undercover law enforcement agents said illegal drugs and prostitution ran rampant.

James Panos, 55, and Jennifer Panos, 48, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. In return, the government agreed to drop the additional charges that had been leveled at the Panoses.

They each face up to 20 years in federal prison for their roles at Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret, though their sentences are unlikely to be that severe.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Pat Hanna set sentencing for Aug. 7.

Though the Panoses were the last of 10 charged to admit guilt, their pleas Thursday might not mark the end of the Desperado’s story.

In the May multicount indictment charging the 10 Desperado’s defendants, there is a sentence that implicates “local police officers” but it doesn’t identify the officers or specify which department.

“Members of the enterprise and their associates made special arrangements with local police officers to minimize the risk of any meaningful law enforcement or investigation into the activities of the enterprise,” the indictment says.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Myers Namie, who prosecuted the Desperado’s case, said Thursday he had no comment on the police corruption that was alleged in one sentence in the 17-page indictment.

Namie said U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley will issue a news release sometime later addressing the sentence.

A message left at Finley’s office Thursday was not returned.

Carencro police Chief Carlos Stout said Thursday his department is not a target in a federal investigation.

Stout, who took over as chief of police in 2003, said federal investigators could be looking at Carencro police administrations prior to 2003.

“I was told that no employees of the department or myself are a target of an investigation,” Stout said.

Spokesmen for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and Lafayette Police Department also have denied their agencies are a target.

The Panoses made their guilty pleas Thursday standing side by side before Magistrate Judge Hanna.

James Panos, well over 6 feet tall and sporting a shaved head, answered Hanna in “yes, sir, your honor” replies while Jennifer Panos answered with “yes, sir.”

Some of the deeds they admitted to Thursday included putting cash from prostitution proceeds in an envelope by the cash register each night for James Panos to pick up the next morning.

The Panoses also admitted they made employees pick up used condoms in the club’s VIP room following a busy night.

The Panoses agreed to forfeit to the government thousands of dollars in cash, and James Panos also agreed to relinquish 10 guns that federal agents seized from the couple’s Le Triomphe home.

Since the mid-1990s, the pair and Baton Rouge businessman Dipak Vora owned Desperado’s. Vora, according to court documents, usually dropped by the club once a week for free drinks with the girls and to grab a bag of cash, rent for his partial ownership of the Desperado’s building and the land next to Interstate 49. Vora on Jan. 31 pleaded guilty to one count of aiding a racketeering operation.

When the Panoses, Vora and the others were arraigned in 2013, they and their attorneys stood side-by-side in a long line in front of Hanna to claim they were not guilty of the charges leveled against them.