SEATTLE – At 92, Frank Colacurcio Sr. shows little sign of slowing down in a life of crime that began back in the FDR administration with a statutory rape conviction.
Colacurcio hit his first jackpot with pinball machines in the 1950s, muscled his way into the jukebox and cigarette vending machine business and built a topless and strip club empire extending to 10 Western states. In 1984 the FBI hosted a two-day conference on him that was attended by investigators from 12 states.
An attempt to pass a parking ordinance benefiting his biggest strip club backfired in a campaign contribution scandal that cost two Seattle City Council members their seats in 2003. As recently as the fall of 2007, according to an FBI affidavit, the 90-something Colacurcio paid dancers from his clubs as much as $1,000 for sex.
Prosecutors now hope to send Colacurcio away for good. They charged him and five of his associates with money laundering, mail fraud and prostitution conspiracy in a racketeering indictment announced Tuesday. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The indictment includes racy snippets of secretly recorded conversations involving sex acts in the clubs. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan said the four-year investigation also included video surveillance, interviews with 200 witnesses, many of them dancers reluctant to talk, and scrutiny of reams of reports.
"I believe we have very solid evidence," Sullivan said. "We feel very confident that when it's done that Frank Colacurcio Sr. and the others will, in fact, be convicted."
Colacurcio told The Seattle Times he hadn't been feeling well and didn't know about the indictment. He was unfazed when informed of the charges. "At this age, nothing surprises me," he said. "That's a lot of malarkey."
Colacurcio, the oldest of nine children born to an Italian immigrant farm couple outside Seattle, was 25 when he first landed in prison -- a 16-month stint after being convicted of carnal knowledge with a 16-year-old girl in 1943. His lawyer, Albert D. Rosellini, went on to become a two-term governor in 1957-65 and the two have remained close.
By 1957, after rivals accused Colacurcio of strong-arm tactics to control the jukebox, cigarette and vending-machine business in Seattle, he was labeled a racketeer in hearings before a U.S. Senate committee investigating organized crime.
He brought go-go dancing to Seattle in 1965 at the Firelite Room, the city's first topless club and was convicted in 1969 of assaulting a former bartender working as a police informant.
In 1971 he was convicted of federal racketeering and conspiracy involving illegal bingo gambling, payoffs and extortion and spent two years and a month in prison.
His conviction for income tax evasion in 1974 was overturned on appeal, but in 1981 he was convicted of tax fraud involving Seattle-area strip club operations and served 2 1/2 years in prison.
Relatives were indicted on bribery and money laundering profit-skimming charges involving topless taverns in Arizona at 1987, and in 1991 Colacurcio pleaded guilty to tax fraud at strip clubs in Alaska and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years. His son also pleaded guilty and got about six months.
He was returned to prison for two years in 1995 after violating probation by fondling a woman when she applied for work and received six months of probation after pinching the breasts of a waitress who resisted his advances at one of his strip clubs in 2007.
Last year he was fined $75,000 after he and his son pleaded guilty to laundering $39,000 in campaign contributions to three incumbent City Council members seeking re-election in 2003, skirting contribution limits by having associates give some of the money. Two of the three were defeated. Rosellini helped deliver 11 checks totaling $7,000 but was not charged.
Despite Colacurcio's notoriety, police apparently had not made him a high-priority target over the years, perhaps partly for lack of resources. The feds spent three years on the initial investigation and another year examining evidence and conducting interviews following raids on the Colacurcios' homes and businesses on June 2, 2008, Sullivan said.
By contrast, he said, said local enforcement efforts consisted largely of undercover officers busting dancers who offered and agreed to perform sex acts for money.
"All of those cases were against the individual woman who was in fact offering her services, not the owners of the club," he said. "It takes time to put this kind of investigation together ... a lot of time."