Seattle's Crime Boss: Mafia Malarkey -- Or Was It?

Frank Colacurcio was never proven to belong to the Mafia.
Frank Colacurcio, Sr., ran a strip-club empire and was depicted as a sort of Godfather of the Pacific Northwest.

To his criminal credit, Colacurcio was cited as the first to bring nude dancing to Seattle. At one time, he operated strip clubs in 10 states.

He was even mentioned in the McClellan Committee by James "Big Jim" Elkins, a major crime figure in Portland, Oregon. And, Colacurcio was supposed to have met with the son of New York mob boss Joseph Bonanno.

But that's the extent of his "mob connections." He was never proven to be a made member of the Mafia and if he ever met with Bonanno, nothing further was ever proven.

For law enforcement, Colacurcio was an elusive character, in and out of their grasp for six decades. Despite convictions for racketeering and tax evasion, Frank Sr. shrugged off claims that he was involved in the Mafia.

"The mafia, all that talk, it's a farce," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2003. "The opinions of my family and me, let's look where all that started: Someone who had nothing invented something and made lies."

In his case, his denial of involvement with the Mafia was likely the truth.

Investigators even reopened old homicide cases, trying to link Colacurcio or his associates to the slayings of five people in the 1970s and 1980s: a rival strip-club operator and his fiancée, a bar owner in Central Washington, a mechanic in a murder-for-hire scheme, and a police informant.

Neither Colacurcio nor his associates were tied to those cases, and involvement in the Central Washington case has been ruled out. In an interview a years earlier, Colacurcio dismissed the notion that he was involved in old killings or illegal activities. "They have been investigating me since the time I was born," he said.

He more likely headed a homegrown organized-crime outfit, law-enforcement officials concluded.

Colacurcio died in mid-2010, a week after the final dismantling of his strip-club operations by federal prosecutors, at age 93, while under indictment on racketeering charges stemming from a major investigation into prostitution inside his clubs.

Frank certainly looked the part....
One week prior to his death, Colacurcio Sr.'s son pleaded guilty to charges related to a years-long prostitution and racketeering probe. Under a plea agreement involving one racketeering charge, Frank Jr. was sentenced to a year in prison. Colacurcio, Jr., joined four other men associated with his father who also pleaded guilty to federal charges related to allegations of prostitution at the Seattle-area strip club chain.

Frank Sr. had been the sole remaining defendant.

Early Years
Colacurcio, the eldest son of nine children, was born to immigrants from southern Italy and grew up working on his father's vegetable farm. During the Great Depression, he ditched school for good in eighth grade, striking out to support the family.

He worked as a butcher, on farms and as a truck driver. He then took a job at an Everett pulp mill, according to the story.

Colacurcio first ran into trouble with the law in 1943, when he was convicted of having sex with an underage girl. His attorney was Al Rosellini, who later became governor.

After he was released from prison, Colacurcio got involved in the vending business, installing cigarette machines, jukeboxes and pinball machines in local taverns and clubs. He wound up taking over several clubs to which he had loaned money.

One club, the Firelite Lounge located in the Moore Hotel nude dancing began in Seattle in 1958.

In 1968, he was found guilty of punching and kicking a former bartender at the club.

In 1981, he was convicted of filing false tax returns and skimming tens of thousands of dollars in nightly receipts from two King County topless bars.

In 1991, he and his son were convicted of filing false tax returns and skimming profits from topless clubs in Alaska.

A Closer Look...
In the late-1950s, when he sought to expand into Portland, a U.S. Senate committee investigating organized crime developed an interest in him.

Under questioning by Robert F. Kennedy, chief counsel for the committee, James "Big Jim" Elkins, a Portland crime figure, told the committee that Colacurcio had asked for Elkins' help in opening prostitution houses there.

"He wanted me to arrange so that he could take over three or four houses," Elkins testified. "I told him if he wanted the houses to go buy them."

Elkins described Colacurcio as a fellow racketeer and a "boy that had various things operating in Seattle."

In 1971, State Patrol investigators reported that Colacurcio had met in Yakima with Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno, the son of legendary New York Mafia boss Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, to discuss a business relationship. Mr. Colacurcio famously responded to a reporter that he and his family had gone to Yakima to pick hot peppers, "but I didn't pick no bananas."

Although he served prison stints for the 1971 conviction and a 1981 tax-fraud conviction, Colacurcio opened topless taverns and strip clubs — another cash business that allowed profit-skimming — throughout the Seattle area and beyond, eventually operating in at least 10 Western states.

Law-enforcement officials banded together in 1984, driving him out of many states.

For a period, Colacurcio almost faded into local lore. But then in 2003 the "Strippergate" scandal jolted Seattle City Hall.

For years, the Colacurcios had tried to expand parking at Rick's, a Lake City Way strip club, but were repeatedly rejected. When the parking plan came before the council again in 2003, Colacurcio associates contributed thousands of dollars to three City Council members, who helped form a majority that approved the plan.

Strippergate also cast a spotlight on the long friendship between Colacurcio and former Washington Gov. Albert Rosellini, who served as governor from 1957 to 1965 and played a role in pushing for the parking-lot rezone. Their ties had gone back for years, dogging Rosellini during his political career, although there was never proof of illegal dealings.

In the Strippergate case, prosecutors charged Colacurcio, his son and two others with skirting donation limits by secretly reimbursing contributors. In 2008, Mr. Colacurcio, his son and an associate pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid fines. The fourth defendant was dismissed from the case.

But even before that case was resolved, the Strippergate case prompted FBI and local law-enforcement officials to launch a broader investigation, looking for evidence of prostitution at Colacurcio clubs.

The four-year investigation culminated with racketeering charges brought against Colacurcio, his son and others, alleging they allowed rampant prostitution at Rick's and three other clubs in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties that generated million of dollars in business.

As part of plea deals, the Colacurcios' four strip clubs have been shuttered, and the government seized the buildings and other property valued at $4.5 million. The final piece of property, Talents West, was forfeited by Colacurcio Jr. under his plea.