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Seattle's Strippergate is the name of a 2003 government scandal and criminal conspiracy masterminded by Frank Colacurcio Sr., a strip-club magnate, and Frank Colacurcio Jr., his son. Former Washington state governor Al Rosellini assisted the Colacurcios by lobbying six members of the Seattle City Council and raising funds for three of the politicians. The scandal is unrelated to the 2000 scandal in San Diego sometimes called by the same name.
In June 2003, James Bush, a reporter for the North Seattle Sun, reported city council members Judy Nicastro, Jim Compton and Heidi Wills received large amounts of campaign donations from the Colacurcio family and their business associates. Eventually, investigators determined the campaign contributions totaled $36,000.
At the same time, the Colacurcios were seeking to expand parking at Rick's, their strip club in the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle. The parking expansion required zoning changes and had been rejected in previous years by the city council.
The parking expansion was controversial, in part, because of Colacurcio Sr.'s reputation. He was known as "Seattle's longest-running crime figure, [and] often was portrayed by law-enforcement officials and the news media as one of Seattle's most notorious racketeering figures."
On June 16, 2003, in a 5-4 vote, the council approved the zoning changes requested by the Colacurcios. Nicastro, Compton and Wills, who had received large donations from the Colacurcios and their associates, voted in favor of the parking-lot expansion.
As the scandal blew up in the press, Seattle P-I writer Lewis Kamb first reported that City Hall insiders were referring to it as "StripperGate" during a July 26, 2003 profile of the elder Colacurcio and his family's notorious past. In part, the story read:
Frank Colacurcio is 86 years old. A halo of white hair and tinted bifocals frame a round face and otherwise shiny pate. The brawn that once described his build in long-yellowed newspaper clippings has mostly vanished with age, much like his name from headlines in recent years. The name is back in newsprint again, enmeshed in what some city insiders call tongue-in-cheek 'StripperGate'—but what Colacurcio dismisses as nothing more than a trumped-up scandal not worth the two-bits that decades ago fed the jukeboxes and pinball machines that helped spawn an adult entertainment empire. Officially, it's Frank Jr.—Colacurcio's 41-year-old only child—who runs the family's nightclub operations now. And officially, it's political donations by Frank Jr. and his associates that are raising eyebrows these days: at least $31,000 split among City Council members Judy Nicastro, Heidi Wills and Jim Compton. More than half of that money went to Nicastro.
On August 11, 2003, the council overturned the zoning change that benefited the Colacurcios.
After investigations by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and the King County Prosecutor's Office, the Colarcurios' associates' donations were revealed to be "political money laundering" according to King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng. In order to circumvent campaign finance laws, the Colacurcios had given $36,000 to their associates with instructions to contribute the funds to Nicastro, Compton and Wills. The politicians eventually returned most, but not all, of the contributions.
In January 2008, the Colacurcios both pleaded guilty to felony charges and paid King County $20,000 in fines for criminal violations. In a civil suit brought by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, the Colacurcios paid $55,000 in fines for breaking city election laws.
Heidi Wills was defeated for re-election due to the scandal, but is seeking a return to the Seattle City Council in 2019. (Source: Seattle Times, August 6, 2019).
- Brunner, Jim (January 23, 2008). "The end of "Strippergate"?". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
- Howland, George (July 30, 2003). "Is Strippergate over?". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
- Dotinga, Randy (December 1, 2003). "San Diego now bathed in scandal as well as sunshine". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
- Kershaw, Sarah (August 27, 2003). "A Tale of Sex, Money and Politics, in 'Mayberry'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
- Miletich, Steve (July 2, 2010). "Frank Colacurcio Sr., Seattle's legendary organized-crime figure, dies at 93". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
- Kamb, Lewis (2003-11-17). "Colacurcio family no stranger to controversy". web.archive.org. Retrieved 2019-02-21.