NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A crew of New York City strippers scammed wealthy men by spiking their drinks with illegal synthetic drugs, then driving them to strip clubs that ran up tens of thousands of dollars on their credit cards while they were too wasted to stop it, authorities said Wednesday.
A banker and a real estate attorney were among four victims who lost at least $200,000. None was identified by name in court papers.
Drug Enforcement Administration and NYPD investigators arrested four women — all described as professional strippers — earlier this week on charges including grand larceny, assault, forgery and conspiracy, according to authorities.
WEB EXTRA: Read The Indictment
On Monday, agents and officers arrested four female adult entertainers identified by prosecutors as Samantha Barbash, Roselyn Keo, Karina Pascucci and Marsi Rosen. Carmine Vitolo, a manager at RoadHouse NYC Gentlemen’s Club, at 32-17 College Point Blvd. in Flushing, Queens was arrested Wednesday morning.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, Vitolo tried to avoid CBS 2’s camera Wednesday afternoon. But he had nowhere to go.
Vitolo and one of the women pleaded not guilty to the charges in state court in Manhattan on Wednesday. The other three, including Barbash, the suspected ringleader, appeared in court Tuesday.
“He was shocked at the charges, he has no criminal record,” Vitolo’s attorney, Brian Packett, told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria. “He looks forward to fighting.”
Barbash was wearing in leopard print pants and a T-shirt reading “love pink” as police hauled her away Tuesday night. Prosecutors alleged that she was the ringleader, and was arrested by local police officers and federal agents.
Her attorney, Stephen Murphy, said Wednesday that his client denies the charges. He declined to comment further.
Authorities said the roundup followed an undercover investigation that found that the women joined in a scheme to rip off the men by drugging them with methylone, commonly known as “molly,” or other drugs, including ketamine, after arranging to meet them at upscale bars in New York and in Nassau County, Long Island. The impaired victims were driven to Scores, at 536 W. 28th St. in Chelsea, and to the RoadHouse. The men where they were charged for private rooms, expensive meals, drinks and other services, they said.
The clubs paid the women for the visits, but the establishments were not facing criminal charges, authorities said.
“These individuals targeted and isolated victims in order to illegally obtain access to their credit cards and thousands of dollars of credit,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. “Thanks to the hard work of the investigators and prosecutors in this case, these individuals will no longer be in a position to profit from this type of fraudulent activity.”
“Traditionally, you warn women or young girls, be careful who you talk to in bars, and be careful if somebody puts something in your drink; slip you a mickey, so to speak,” added New York DEA Acting Special Agent-in-Charge James Hunt. “But in this case, it’s the opposite.”
Some of the men said after the alleged incidents, they woke up in cars, hotel rooms or their own beds not even remembering being at the strip clubs – which might have seemed like “a likely story” to wives and girlfriends but in this case is allegedly true, Young reported.
Victims were reluctant to come forward because they were afraid no one would believe them.
“I wouldn’t believe a man, no. If he said that he didn’t remember that he was in the strip club, no, I wouldn’t,” said Roselyn Acevido of the Lower East Side.
DEA special agent Hunt told 1010 WINS considering the drugs the men were dosed with, they’re lucky to be alive.
“It’s dangerous. It could kill you. I mean, either drug on its own could kill you, but mixing them together — for someone whose not a doctor or medical personnel — is very dangerous,” he said.
Those who tried to dispute the strip club bills received texts from the strippers threatening to go public with their transgressions, authorities said.
The victims were professionals — including, CBS 2 has learned – New Jersey cardiologist Dr. Zyad Younan.
Last month, Scores sued him and he owed the club $135,303 for unpaid services. The doctor disputed the charges, saying he had no memory of being in the club and claimed he must have been drugged, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.
According to the lawsuit, the doctor said “he was drugged by plaintiff’s employees and thus did not authorize the charges” — a claim the club says is contradicted by security video showing him freely showing up there on four separate occasions.
“Today’s indictment exposes a pattern of fraud that contributed to erroneous media reports,” said Michael Weinstein, attorney of one of the alleged victims. “We were always confident that law enforcement’s efforts would expose that my client was preyed upon by this ring and not responsible for charges to his credit card.”
“This repugnant scheme involved not only the theft of $200,000, but compromised the health, safety and security of victims by covertly giving them harmful substances,” said New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan. “The defendants were banking on the victims being too afraid to contact the police, but as the indictment and arrests show, they made a serious miscalculation.”
Police and federal agents are asking other victims to step forward.
“I don’t think these are the only victims, and I don’t think these are the only defendants,” Hunt said.
Officials said if it happened to you, the consensus is that now is the time to talk.
“I’d report it. I’dd have to report it,” said Don Almateen of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. “You know, you’d have to do it.”
Scams targeting clients of strippers and bar girls have been reported in New York and elsewhere over the years.
In 2003, a patron at Scores, Savvis Inc. CEO Robert McCormick, refused to pay a $241,000 American Express tab and was sued by American Express. McCormick resigned as CEO of the Clayton, Missouri-based company over the issue. A Scores spokesman said at the time that it fingerprints customers and verifies each transaction with the credit card company.
Also in Florida, bar girl Subhanna Beyah was charged in February with stealing $76,000 worth of jewelry from an oil tycoon. Beyah was accused last year of stealing nearly $500,000 worth of jewelry from New York Giants defensive lineman Shaun Rogers, a case that was eventually dropped. Beyah is now in a Miami-Dade jail awaiting trial on the most recent case as well as probation violation hearing stemming from a 2012 grand-theft conviction.
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