DA: Mobsters charged in strip club scheme

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Two organized-crime families were charged Wednesday with a racketeering scheme to illegally import women from Russia and Eastern Europe and put them to work as exotic dancers in Queens and Long Island strip clubs.

The indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan said the Gambino and Bonanno families controlled the clubs through threats and extortion, and used foreign strippers who got visas through fake job offers and fake marriages.

James Hayes, special agent in charge of the New York Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, said elements of the Russian mob helped recruit the women for the traditional Italian crime families -- placing ads overseas, and arranging for phony marriages upstate.

"The Russian organized crime syndicates were operating as suppliers," Hayes said. "They were even at JFK [airport], recruiting women who had come to work as au pairs or at summer camps. They would house the women, and had a shuttle service providing transportation to the clubs."

Fake offers for seasonal jobs and sham marriages were needed because seasonal work visas are not legally available for adult entertainment employment. Officials said none of women worked involuntarily at the strip clubs, but suggested that they were still exploited.

"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," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The charges were unsealed Wednesday following early morning arrests of seven alleged members or associates of the Gambino and Bonanno families -- with nicknames like "Old Man Willy" and "Perry Como" -- as well as 13 other individuals including five with ties to Russian organized crime, Hayes said.

Seven of the defendants are from Long Island: Anthony Frascone, 62, of East Meadow; Paul Casella, 45, of Franklin Square; Lawrence Zaino, 44, of Westbury; Thomas Devitt III, 43, of East Meadow; Gerald Monfort, 54, of West Babylon; Elena Turubanova, 24, of Dix Hills; and Oscar Zeledon, 39, of East Hampton.

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The highest-ranking alleged mobster accused in the case was Alphonse Trucchio, 34, of Howard Beach, identified as a captain in the Gambino family.

All of the defendants pleaded not guilty in court appearances Wednesday, and most were released on bail. They are due back in court on Dec. 9, and face charges ranging from racketeering for the Gambino and Bonanno defendants to extortion, visa fraud, marriage fraud and harboring illegal aliens.

The indictment didn't name any of the strip clubs involved in the ring, but officials said search warrants had been executed at The Scene in Commack, as well as well-known clubs in Queens and Manhattan. It said the Gambino and Bonanno mobsters resolved fights over which club got which women.

Organized-crime experts said mob control of strip clubs through threats and extortion is an old story, but the involvement with Eastern European groups in smuggling in immigrant strippers isn't.

"It's a novel approach you haven't seen before," said Phil Scala, former supervisor of the FBI's Gambino squad in New York, who speculated that the traditional mob may be seeking new allies that don't cooperate with law enforcement at a time when informants are running rampant in their organizations.

With Anthony M. DeStefano

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