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Feds charge 20 with luring illegal immigrants to work in NY-area strip clubs

By Ines Ferre, CNN
November 30, 2011 -- Updated 2110 GMT (0510 HKT)
Federal agents confiscated files at several clubs in pre-dawn raids
Federal agents confiscated files at several clubs in pre-dawn raids
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The women are from Russia and Eastern European countries
  • Prosecutor: defendants wanted the women to be "their personal profit centers"
  • Charges include extortion and visa and marriage fraud
  • Federal agents confiscated files at several clubs in pre-dawn raids

(CNN) -- Federal officials charged 20 people Wednesday in a scheme to recruit illegal immigrants from Russia and Eastern European countries to work as exotic dancers in New York strip clubs, according to Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Charges against the 20 individuals include racketeering, extortion, visa and marriage fraud, and transporting and harboring illegal immigrants. The accused are alleged to be members of the Gambino and Bonanno organized crime families, according to federal authorities.

"The defendants themselves had one thing in common -- the desire to turn the women they allegedly helped enter this country illegally into their personal profit centers,"Bharara said. "Today's arrests have brought an end to their illicit activities."

Several of the accused are alleged to have run the "Strip Club Enterprise," which controlled a series of strip clubs throughout Queens and Long Island. Through these clubs, the accused are alleged to have recruited Eastern European women to enter the United States on student J1 visas to perform as strippers in their enterprises. Prosecutors also charge the defendants threatened physical violence and economic harm if the owners and operators of New York strip clubs as part of a broad extortion scheme.

"The defendants controlled their business and protected their turf through intimidation and threats of physical and economic harm," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which led the investigation. "Today's arrests bring to an end a long-standing criminal enterprise operated by colluding organized crime entities that profited wildly through a combination of extortion and fraud."

Some of the exotic dancers brought illegally into the United States were also matched with U.S. citizens in fraudulent marriages to resolve their immigrations status, prosecutors said in the indictment.

Before dawn on Wednesday, federal agents arrived at Cheetah's Gentlemans Club and Restaurant off Times Square in Manhattan, Gallagher's 2000 in Queens, NY, and seven other New York-area strip clubs and confiscated files and documents.

Attorneys for those indicted were not immediately available for comment.

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