Strip-Joint Jurisprudence

A former waitress, 23, takes on Frank Colacurcio Sr., Seattle's 87-year-old nudie-club magnate.

Stripper king Frank Colacurcio Sr. is appealing his latest conviction as a serial groper and, as he expected, is now being sued by his newest victim. Lauren Luttrell, 23, a former waitress at Rick's in Lake City, one of the Colacurcio family's four local nude-dancing clubs, has started a lawsuit in King County Superior Court against Frank Sr., his son, Frankie, who runs Rick's, and against Talents West, their employment agency. The lawsuit was filed in April, a month after Colacurcio was sentenced to home detention and banned from Rick's for groping Luttrell, and three weeks after Colacurcio filed a Superior Court appeal of that conviction.

In one sense, however, Colacurcio welcomes Luttrell's suit. The 87-year-old godfather of nude dancing maintained during his recent Seattle Municipal Court trial that the ex-waitress set him up, pursuing criminal and human-rights complaints last year so she could eventually lodge a civil lawsuit and seek damages. In part because that scenario was merely theoretical, the court excluded some evidence and testimony that might have helped Colacurcio defend himself at his February trial. Now that she has indeed filed a civil claim, Luttrell might have helped Colacurcio make his case for a new criminal trial.

It's just another typically weird twist in the bare-chested life of Colacurcio and Rick's, the club on Lake City Way where the combustible mix of money and full frontal nudity has drawn both notoriety and turn-away crowds over the past two years. Colacurcio, his son, and some of their friends and relatives remain subjects of an ongoing "Strippergate" review by King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, for allegedly making illegal campaign contributions to Seattle City Council candidates in 2003 in return for support of a zoning change to expand Rick's. (See "The Strip-Club Connection," Nov. 12, 2003.) "I'm not sure how much longer it's going to be," says Maleng spokesperson Dan Donohoe, "but we're still reviewing the [Strippergate] information."

In her lawsuit, Luttrell says she was pressured to dance in her underwear at Rick's and refused management demands to dance topless or nude, putting her waitressing job at risk. She was also sexually assaulted by a customer, she claims, but management took no corrective action. On Jan. 2, 2004, she says, she was sexually propositioned and assaulted by Frank Sr., who offered her money in exchange for sex. He also "grabbed her breast and rubbed her nipple" and had "on numerous occasions in the past sexually harassed female employees." She made similar charges at the criminal trial.

Claiming harassment and discrimination under federal law (the case is due to be removed to federal court in Seattle), Luttrell wants unspecified damages for lost wages, emotional distress, embarrassment, and mental-health expenses. Her attorney, Kathryn Goater, is unsure how the civil case might affect Colacurcio's criminal appeal or her own case. While the conviction is cited as evidence to support Luttrell's civil claim, that claim could be weakened if Colacurcio were to successfully use the civil filing to gain a new trial.

Colacurcio's attorney, Gil Levy, chose not to comment on the effects of the civil case. But in appeal papers, he points out, "The defense theory of the [criminal] case was that the complaining witness falsely accused Mr. Colacurcio of sexual assault in order to get money from him in a civil lawsuit." The trial court would not allow Colacurcio to introduce supporting evidence that questioned her credibility, such as his claim that Luttrell socialized with him and accepted monetary gifts and "never once" complained to managers about his conduct. Assistant Seattle City Attorney Derek Smith says that throughout the criminal case, "Gil did argue that she was just doing this for the money a civil case would bring, and it didn't seem to have any impact on the jury's verdict. I don't see how the fact that she did file a civil case now changes anything." It's a "smart" move on Luttrell's part, as well, says Smith, "since she isn't entitled to a dime of restitution from the criminal case."

In his appeal, the aging stripper king— who likely never thought he'd live long enough to see a sexual harassment claim filed by a strip-club worker—argues that the city court also failed to grant a mistrial when Luttrell declared on the stand that she filed a human-rights complaint against Colacurcio "in order to protect others from him." Her implication, says Levy, was that Colacurcio "had assaulted others or would assault others in the future," and that was prejudicial. The court had agreed there would be no mention of any prior bad acts by Colacurcio, which go back decades and include protection rackets. At Colacurcio's 1971 trial, for example, a Seattle nightclub owner testified that he paid Colacurcio, who operated nudie clubs throughout the West, $3,000 a month for police protection.

Luttrell was nonetheless correct—there were others like her. At age 25, Colacurcio was convicted in 1943 of carnal knowledge with a girl of 16. A half-century later, in 1995, after being paroled from his fourth trip to prison, Colacurcio, then 77, was revoked when he assaulted another teenager— an 18-year-old he was interviewing for a dancing job. The young woman said her prospective boss asked her to "go home and cuddle and be lovey," then kissed her and offered her $500. (See "The Stripper King," July 23, 2003.) No date has been set to hear oral arguments in Colacurcio's appeal, although his sentence is stayed until a ruling is issued. Convicted by a jury, he was given 90 days of home detention for the assault on Luttrell and—what is thought to pain Colacurcio the most—was banned from Rick's nudie club for two years. Levy said his client considered that penalty "draconian."

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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