NEW YORK (PIX11)—Twenty people have been arrested and charged in what prosecutors say was a mob scheme that smuggled immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe to work at area strip clubs.
The suspects, all described as members of both the Bonanno and Gambino crime families, face numerous charges including visa fraud, marriage fraud and the transportation of illegals and aliens.
The defendants are accused of fraudulently acquiring work and travel visas for the women who were then sent in the direction of various club owners.
James Hayes, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations for the department's New York office, said the Eastern European women were funneled to a number of different strip clubs and took part in sham weddings.
"We allege 150 marriages were arranged as part of this conspiracy," Hayes said, adding most of the women were "willing participants."
Hayes said the women had to earn at least $150 every night to cover their room and board, controlled by what was called the Strip Club Enterprise. The hope was they'd earn much more. "Per dancer, per night, it could have been hundreds of dollars made in profit," Hayes told PIX.
PIX 11 learned the locations of three strip clubs located in Queens: Gallagher's 2000, on 37th Street, off Queens Boulevard, in Woodside; Perfection, on 30th Avenue in Woodside; and Rouge, on 58th Street--in the industrial section of Maspeth.
PIX 11 cameras gained access into Gallagher's 2000 just before lunchtime Wednesday where the disco music was booming and a number of women were dancing on a bar in the center of a large, dimly lit room. A tall bouncer came from the rear, turning on a flashlight, demanding the crew leave the premises.
"Turn that off, turn that off!" he said, gesturing to the camera and opening the exit door at the same time. "I'm sorry, no cameras allowed here."
The bouncer revealed to PIX 11 that he was unaware federal agents had shown up with a search warrant earlier in the morning, before the place opened for business.
The Perfection club was locked when we stopped there, but an exotic dancer was pole dancing when we arrived at Rouge in Maspeth. She quickly scurried off the bar, when she noticed our camera. A manager came to the back and drew the curtains, when we tried to ask questions.
Cheetah's in Times Square is fighting back against the federal complaint. A publicist told PIX 11 the club's managers and attorneys will hold a press conference Thursday. They intend to play audio and video tapes of the women being interviewed, at the time they were hired, to show no coercion was involved.
One of the employees at a Queens strip club denied the charges, saying "There's no white slavery going on here. These girls are coming here willingly."
All of the defendants involved in the case made their first court appearances Wednesday afternoon.