Authorities in Washington state have charged a former stripper with allegedly running a prostitution ring and multimillion-dollar money-laundering operation through a network of infamous bikini coffee stands, according to court documents obtained by Vocativ.
Prosecutors say that Carmela Panico, 52, acted as the madam of several drive-through brothels that allowed her to personally pocket more than $2 million in just three years. Meanwhile, the barely clad baristas who worked at her Java Juggs and Twin Peaks coffee huts banked as much as $30,000 a month by performing sex acts with customers.
One barista even told investigators that she earned more than a half-million dollars turning tricks at Panico’s bikini coffee stands. In charging papers, Snohomish County authorities were blunt. “Panico’s businesses were driven by prostitution and lewd behavior,” Deputy Prosecutor Bob Hendrix wrote.
In 2011, surveillance footage captured Panico and several of her baristas pole dancing at a Java Juggs while letting customers fondle their breasts. A later investigation revealed that a sheriff’s sergeant had been tipping off Panico and her employees to police activity in exchange for sexual favors.
According to court documents, Panico allegedly preferred to hire baristas who were former dancers or escorts. They were required to pay her a certain amount of money during each shift they worked and could then pocket whatever cash was left over. Baristas were allegedly fined if they did not wear high heels, have a tan or wear makeup. Wearing boots in the winter was a big no-no as well, according to court documents.
Panico, who police say was a former exotic dancer with ties to the Seattle-based Colacurcio crime family, claims she is now no longer in the coffee business, having sold off or leased her tainted stands. She’s scheduled to appear in Snohomish County Superior Court next week.