Stripper King Frank Colacurcio, having died three years ago this week, resides now in the great hereafter. Wherever that is, they likely do not have newspapers. Still, you could imagine applauding from above when the latest news broke about his protégé Carmela Panico.
She danced for him at Rick’s, his nudie strip club in Lake City, and went on to become one of the few female entrepreneurs in the strip-and-sex business. Panico followed Frank’s model, which was to create a small empire of joints and then battle the cops to stay alive.
With one obvious difference: Panico thought small.
Rather than dance halls, her clubs are the size of coffee shacks. In fact, they are espresso huts, six of them scattered around Snohomish County, and one in Kent. The cops call them sexpresso stands.
They bear such names as Java Juggs and Twin Peaks. If that doesn’t attract coffee drinkers, surely the bikini-clad employees do. From the serving window, they seem attired only in cleavage.
There’s no mystery here. The huts are equipped with dancer’s poles, like any good strip joint.
Besides a cuppa joe, a customer can get wiggled at and flash-danced. According to police and prosecutors, some of the grinding baristas also allowed the touching of body parts, occasionally letting it all hang out the window. Sometimes they allegedly offered sex for money.
Frank would have slapped himself at seeing Panico’s innovation: Mamma mia, a drive-in strip joint! It’s Dick’s the way he would have liked it.
Panico, like Frank, has been fighting with the cops for years. For example, in 2011, according to court records, a plainclothes officer said that when he drove up to a Java Juggs, the barista asked “Are you a naughty boy?”
He confessed he was. The barista told him to drive around the other side of the stand where, through the window, he could watch her on the stripper pole, exposing herself. A frothy cup of coffee like that cost $20.
With those prices, the think-small strip clubs were revenue-large: In the last three years, Panico deposited more than $850,000 cash into a BECU bank account, records show.
It was literally cool cash; but something smelled. A search warrant on file recounts how BECU employees noticed the money always seemed to have a “foul odor.” That’s because, Panico advised the employees, she kept the money “in her freezer at home with fish.”
Police spent tireless months on the case – pole dance after pole dance, oh the humanity. They also took vids of the bikini baristas serving up their lascivious lattes. Panico was subsequently charged with prostitution. She later pled guilty to lewd conduct and was fined $775.
Police then spent more months on the case. And the other day, a cop was accused of crossing the line. That used to happen a lot when Frank ran Seattle clubs, back in the 1950s and 60s police payoff days. A cop walked in and Frank had a sack lunch for him, a salad of cash. Frank could then stay open.
In this case, both Panico, 51, and longtime Snohomish County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell O’Neill, 58, were arrested for conspiring to promote prostitution. Everett Police claim O’Neill tipped off Panico and a manager/dancer about police investigations in return for sex with the women.
Investigators say O’Neill allegedly had sex inside the coffee stands while in uniform. There is video of him hugging and kissing the bikini baristas on duty. Police claimed the coffee huts “essentially operate as drive-through strip clubs or brothels.”
The investigation continues, with officials looking into possible money laundering and organized crime violations.
Charges like that would also be right out of the Frank Colacurcio racketeering playbook. Which brings up one final thing Frank, as a strip club mentor, could tell Panico about: going to jail. Seven felonies, one reversed. He was an expert.