Ines Ferre

December 1, 2011

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.

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