Federal judge sentences defendants in Desperado’s case

A Baton Rouge businessman and another defendant in a federal drug and prostitution case involving the now-closed Desperado’s Gentlemen’s Cabaret in Carencro were sentenced to prison terms Thursday, while four other defendants received probation.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote sentenced Dipak Vora to 10 months in federal prison. Vora is a 70-year-old Baton Rouge businessman and chemical engineer who owned the land and building that housed Desperado’s.

“I regret and am ashamed of myself,” Vora told Foote and others, including his wife and two daughters, who were seated in the courtroom.

“I left a black mark on my family,” he said. “I’m very sorry.”

Desperado’s was raided in December 2012 by local, state and federal agents. For months previous to the raid, agents ran undercover operations that turned up rampant drug sales and prostitution in the strip club’s VIP room.

Vora and nine others, including club owners James and Jennifer Panos, were charged in a 2013 multicount indictment. The Panoses are scheduled for sentencing Nov. 14.

Vora pleaded guilty in February to one count of aiding in a racketeering operation, an offense with a far lesser sentencing penalty than the original racketeering charge that was aimed at Vora in 2013.

Before sentencing Vora, Foote noted his struggles as an immigrant newly arrived in the U.S., who had worked hard and led a crime-free life until the enterprise he owned with James and Jennifer Panos veered into the drug and prostitution business.

In February, Vora admitted to traveling each week from Baton Rouge to Desperado’s to pick up $3,000 and socialize with the dancers who performed nude.

“You profited handsomely,” Foote told Vora. “Your involvement was over a period of years.”

Vora also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and serve one year of supervised release.

Also on Friday, Gerald Cormier, of Carencro, was sentenced to 29 months in federal prison for selling 500 to 1,999 grams of cocaine to Desperado’s customers and dancers over the years. Cormier pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises.

Cormier told Foote that he was sorry, and that he’d lost a good-paying job after the club was raided in 2012.

“How did you end up in this mess?” Foote asked Cormier. “How did you end up selling drugs at Desperado’s?”

“I was divorced. It started as a hangout,” Cormier said. “I didn’t really consider myself a drug dealer. I didn’t think it was as big as it really was.”

Foote was more lenient on Lydia Gautreaux, Elias White, Heike Slattery and Crystal Sampy, handing down probation sentences of varying lengths to the former Desperado’s employees. All four pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises.

Still to be sentenced are former Desperado’s employees Tanja Clavier and Acquila Shanete Latigue, and the husband-wife team of James and Jennifer Panos, who for more than 10 years owned and ran the club off Interstate 49 in Carencro.

All four are scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 14.