The case was hard to prove because of the shame, Clark County prosecutors said.
Six people were convicted earlier this month of racketeering and other charges for enticing men into forking over large sums of money believing they were paying for sex.
Instead, they were duped, receiving massages and a more suggestive “up-sell” from female workers at Club Exclusive II, one of several “reflexology centers” authorities busted in 2010.
The clientele, mostly male tourists, would be escorted off the property by bouncers once they realized they had been duped, authorities said.
Prosecutor Jake Villani said businesses such as Club Exclusive II, which was on South Polaris Avenue, near Spring Mountain Road, were nothing more than clip joints that pilfered the wallets of naive and unsuspecting tourists.
“This business was set up solely to defraud people,” Villani said. “They suck as much money out of them and then kick them out.”
And they operated with impunity because most customers were ashamed to admit what happened or what they were seeking, because the underlying activity they were seeking was illegal, the prosecutor said.
On April 15, following a 10-day trial a jury convicted six people who worked at Club Exclusive II on varying counts, but all for felony racketeering. That charge alone carries a five- to 20-year prison term.
Following the verdict, District Judge David Barker turned over the six defendants into custody at the Clark County Detention Center pending a sentencing hearing June 20.
The six convicted are Gia Buford, 48, Brittani Lampkin, 27, Jamison Ahearn, 44, Nicole Seaton, 24, James Balgas, 46, and Jennifer Munoz, 26.
Six others took plea deals in the case, including Roberta Gutierrez, Leah Montes, Danielle Martin, Cynthia Barragan, Jamie Seaton and the owner of Club Exclusive II, James Buford.
Villani said all agreed to testify against their co-defendants in exchange for lesser charges, but only four had to, including James Buford.
One person remains at large in the case. There’s a warrant out for the arrest of Antoni Patalano.
James Buford testified that the business was receiving $130,000 a month in credit card sales and that he was depositing another $5,000 in cash on a daily basis.
The business operated for four years and during that time police were called with complaints 76 times, Villani said. The amount of calls to police was minuscule considering the thousands of customers that were defrauded, he said.
The difficult part of the case was finding anyone willing to testify in open court about what had happened to them.
Prosecutors eventually found four men to testify, three from Texas and one from Las Vegas, Villani said.
According to Las Vegas police, the scam went like this: Cabdrivers, in exchange for kickbacks, would take passengers seeking sex to Club Exclusive II. Once there, the patrons were greeted by signs that read prostitution is illegal in Clark County and a no-refund policy. The men would meet with women in private rooms for massages. The women would then continuously “up-sell” the customer into believing that if they paid more and more money they would receive more “services” — usually sexual.
Once someone realized he’d been duped and stopped paying, bouncers would toss him out.
“There’s no way that anyone who worked there didn’t know what was happening,” Villani said.
Two undercover police officers testified they infiltrated the business as customers to expose the scam.
The six defense lawyers argued their clients committed no crime and that it was a legitimate business. They said clients had recourse in civil court.
The big difference is the underlying illegal activity, Villani argued. These businesses wouldn’t exist if people felt comfortable reporting what happened, he said.
“It’s the underlying shame” that allows these operations to defraud, he said.
Nearly all of the six convicted defendants, including Gia Buford — James Buford’s now ex-wife — has motioned to have the verdict tossed in favor of an acquittal. A hearing is set for May 5 before Barker.
Villani said he hopes the convictions, along with the stiff prison sentences the defendants face, sends a strong message.
“This verdict has been a shot across the bow and hopefully will result in less of these types of establishments being opened,” he said.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at email@example.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @fjmccabe on Twitter.