Search for a Strip Club
Two strip clubs raided; drug dealing chargedRichard A. Snowden never has been ashamed that he made his money owning and operating strip clubs.
Since moving to Buffalo from Las Vegas in 2004, Snowden has tried to become a pillar of the community.
He bought one of the city's most stately mansions — on Nottingham Terrace — ran many charity events and even considered running for public office. But Snowden's polished image took a hit Tuesday.
Members of the FBI-led Safe Streets Task Force conducted a predawn raid at Rick's Tally-Ho, the club Snowden owns in Cheektowaga. Another raid targeted 24KT Solid Gold, a club in Hamburg he does not own.
Both locations were centers of activity for a ring of heroin and cocaine dealers, according to court papers. Twenty-seven people were charged, including Jay Vellon, who is accused of leading the drug ring, possessing firearms and supplying narcotics to employees of Rick's Tally-Ho.
At least seven dancers and a manager at Rick's Tally-Ho were involved in drug trafficking, the U.S. attorney's office alleged.
Snowden was not charged. His name never appears in a 183-page criminal complaint filed at federal court.
Could drug trafficking have been conducted at Rick's Tally-Ho without Snowden's knowledge? "At this point, we have no evidence linking the club owners to this criminal activity," said James H. Robertson, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office.
Snowden was guarded in his comments when a Buffalo News reporter spoke to him Tuesday in the Tally-Ho parking lot.
"I'm sick about it," Snowden said. "I've done nothing wrong. I have professional attorneys around me, and they tell me I should have no further comment."
Inside on the walls of Snowden's club is evidence of his involvement in the community. On one wall is a poster proclaiming: "We support [Flight] 3407 families' fight for aviation safety," referring to the deadly plane crash a year ago in Clarence Center.
Green paper shamrocks, purchased for $1 apiece, hang along another wall. They are sold in support of finding a cure for multiple sclerosis.
Law enforcement officials, however, said the investigation turned up some sad information — not only about drug trafficking, but also about "gentlemen's club" dancers who became hooked on drugs and, at times, traded sex for drugs.
Some members of the group are believed to have sold a brand of heroin called "Fear This," which caused several deaths among heroin addicts in Western New York in 2005, said U.S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter.
Several of the women are so severely addicted to drugs that it might be best to keep them in jail for their own safety, prosecutor Michael L. McCabe told a judge during arraignment proceedings in federal court.
While strip clubs try to project an image of glamour and glitz, there was nothing flashy about the exhausted and distraught young women who appeared before Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott on Tuesday.
Several of the women told Scott that they make so little money at Rick's Tally-Ho that they need attorneys to be appointed for them at taxpayer expense.
"How much do you make at the club?" Scott asked one of the dancers who was arrested, Alyson Tremblay, 23, of Cheektowaga.
"Some nights, I make nothing. Some nights, I make a lot," she answered.
Other dancers estimated that they make between $1,800 to $2,400 a month, before taxes. "We work only on tips," said Amber Makelke, 22, of Kenmore. She said she has no assets, except a 15-year-old car that doesn't run, and supports two children, ages 2 and 3.
"There's nothing glamorous about their lives," said FBI Special Agent James A. Jancewicz, who supervises the Safe Streets Task Force. "You had people working at a strip club, dancing to support a drug habit. That's sad, not glamorous."
Vellon, 37, of Seventh Street, Buffalo, also asked for a court-appointed attorney. He said he does "odd jobs" and has no income, except for his wife's public support payments.
Robert Oliver, 35, of Buffalo, said he makes $1,300 a month as a disc jockey at 24 KT Gold. Family members hired an attorney to represent him.
In addition to Vellon, Tremblay, Makelke and Oliver, others arrested on felony drug conspiracy charges are: Dayane Velaquez, 26; Luis J. Vellon, 25; Javier Leon, 27; Luis Rodriguez, 23; Maria Moreno, 31; Angelo Dixon, 36; Javier Vellon, 31; Pedro Garcia, 28; Matthew Farrell, 31; Roberto Roman, 47; Brenda Pirela, 32; Alex Centano, 36; and Jose Sierra; all of Buffalo.
Also, Jay Luis, 28; Luis Vellon, 63; and Anthony Garcia, 31, all of San Juan, Puerto Rico; Kelly Kirk, 22; Gloria Milan, 33; Crysta Benning, 27; and Amanda Kachinas, 26, all of Cheektowaga; and Lindsay Poliseno, 21, of Lake View.
One defendant, Cynthia Sims, 25, of Batavia, is missing and is being sought as a fugitive.
Court papers on the case were submitted by McCabe and George C. Burgasser of the U.S. attorney's office.
In a sworn statement, State Police Investigator Shales Caicedo alleged that both strip clubs have "private rooms" where Jay Vellon would go to have sex with strippers, sometimes exchanging drugs for sexual favors.
"The private rooms have no cameras. [An informant] stated that Vellon pays anywhere from $150 to $200 to use the rooms in the club for sex," Caicedo said.
Employees at both clubs said they will continue to remain open for business.
State Liquor Authority officials said Rick's Tally-Ho was fined a total of $12,500 in the years 2003 and 2004. That included $4,500 in 2003 after an incident involving "lewd and indecent conduct" by a dancer, according to the SLA. The other $8,000 in fines stemmed for incidents involving liquor sales, it said.
In a News interview in July 2006, Snowden referred to dancers at his club as "angels" and said he and his managers "work hard to police things" with regard to the conduct of dancers. "Our dancers [are] young people, and they sometimes aren't thinking about what is right," he said at the time. "They try to stretch the boundaries."
In addition to FBI agents and state police, the Safe Streets Task Force is made up of state parole officers, Erie County probation officers, Amherst police, Cheektowaga police and agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives.
Efforts to reach Christina Whipple, who club workers said was the owner of 24KT Solid Gold, were unsuccessful. A club manager declined to comment, except to say he had no idea of what was going on at the club regarding the allegations.
A club dancer, who declined to give her name, said she never observed drug dealing but added that the allegations are not a complete surprise, explaining that these types of establishments can draw a certain crowd. "You do get some people with addictions," she said. As for the dancers, she said, they work for tips from customers. "You can make anything from nothing to $200. It depends on the day," she said.
A neighbor who lives next to the Lake Shore Road business said he never observed any illegal activities in the rear parking lot.
The Hamburg club was in news reports last month when town officials confirmed that two Hamburg police officers were suspended because they were seen in the club's parking lot, while in uniform and on duty, early one morning in January.
The two officers, whose names were not released, were not there on any official police business, town officials said. Town Supervisor Steven J. Walters called the incident "a lapse in judgment."
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