Here’s a modern Robin Hood story for you: a few strippers who stole from (mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting, (in their minds) pathetic men and gave to, well, themselves.
NY MAG By JESSICA PRESSLER
Illustrations by Clay Rodery
In another life, Roselyn Keo might have liked to work on Wall Street. “I’m smart enough, I know,” she told me, sitting in the immaculate white kitchen of her suburban home. She’s organized, she pointed out, and good at math, and there is little doubt she has an entrepreneurial streak. As a kid, she said, she used to buy candy in bulk and sell it at school for a profit, which I later remembered is the same story hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson tells about himself. But John Paulson was born into his body and Roselyn Keo was born into hers, which happens to be a rather more overtly sexy shape, with the sort of waist-to-hip ratio scientists have concluded affects men like a drug. It’s the kind of body that, as they used to say, could get a girl in trouble, though getting into trouble was something Rosie was plenty capable of all by herself.
Growing up here in Rockland County, Rosie, as she likes to be called, was a wild child. She ran with a tough crowd, had bad boyfriends, got into fights at school. Now 31, she has since made some inquiries into the field of psychology and concluded that this behavior was likely the result of her parents’ having taken off to Atlantic City when she was young and leaving her and her brother behind with elderly grandparents.
According to Rosie, her parents were Cambodian refugees who came to America hoping for a better life and “got caught up with the, you know, material crap, and the nice cars, and the nightlife,” she said. “And just somewhere, they went wrong.”
(I say “according to Rosie” because her family did not respond to interview requests, and because Rosie is an admitted liar with multiple pending felony charges. Still, she is occasionally prone to offering up indisputable truths. “American culture is a little fucked up,” she mused. “You know?”)
Anyway, according to Rosie, this was what eventually led to her going wrong — to her dropping out of school and, at 17, taking a job at the New City Diner, a greasy spoon off the main drag in Nanuet, in order to supplement her grandparents’ meager income. Late at night and early in the morning, she poured coffee and took orders from customers, many of whom were employees from Lace, the nearby gentlemen’s club. One night, one of Lace’s managers dropped a $20 tip on a $20 check, gave her uniform a long up-and-down look, and suggested she come by if she was interested in making more money.
This was back in the early aughts, when the industry was enjoying a cultural moment. Improbably, the values of third-wave feminism had aligned with those of Howard Stern, ushering in an era in which taking off one’s clothes in front of an audience was no longer degrading but sexually liberating and financially empowering. New York City clubs like Scores, with their bright lights and bottle service, had successfully marketed themselves as a naughty-but-harmless night out for men and women, and celebrities and athletes were all too happy to be photographed with dancers who looked as wholesome as topless cheerleaders.
Rosie had seen the HBO show G String Divas and observed the huge wads of cash the dancers peeled off their ankles at the end of the night. She went to Lace the next day, lied about her age, and landed a job making, by her recollection, $500 to $1,000 a night. But the real money, she knew, was in Manhattan. Soon, she started driving her used Honda into the city, to Flash Dancers in Times Square and Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. Which is where she met Samantha Foxx.
Samantha, born Samantha Barbash, was one of Hustler’s top moneymakers. A single mother from the Bronx, she’d started dancing at 19, and, like an ornamental plant purposefully stunted to conform to a certain ideal, she’d been shaped by the industry in which she grew up. Her body was Jessica Rabbit curvy, her lips Angelina Jolie puffy; her hair, which concealed tattoos of a cascade of stars running down her neck, was Cleopatra black. Buried within this ultrafeminine package was a mercenary streak worthy of Gordon Gekko.
By the time Rosie met her, Samantha was in her 30s — ancient by stripper standards — but she’d maintained her supremacy in part by cultivating younger dancers. While evolutionary theory and The Bachelor would suggest that a room full of women hoping to attract the attention of a few men would be cutthroat-competitive, it’s actually better for strippers to work together, because while most men might be able keep their wits, and their wallets, around one scantily clad, sweet-smelling sylph, they tend to lose their grip around three or four. Which is why at Hustler, as elsewhere, the dancers worked in groups. “And everyone wanted to work with Samantha,” Rosie recalled. “Because she had a lot of clients and she knew how to work well.”
Samantha took Rosie under her wing, introducing her, in her throaty, Mae West voice, to some of her regular customers. “Mostly Wall Street guys,” Samantha told me, in a tone that suggested a more populist outlook than I had anticipated, “who want to have fun and get drunk and party with girls.”
At this point, it was 2007. Strip clubs weren’t as popular as they had been — a series of mob-related arrests at Scores had taken away some of the gloss — but they were as good a place as any to blow off steam after a day pushing around billions of millions. Better, really, since strip clubs were one of the few places outside Wall Street where large sums of money could be treated just as cavalierly. “It was like la-la land in there,” Rosie recalled of Hustler. “We had a guy who was — is — at Guggenheim Partners. He spent 300 grand in one week. He came in three times, 100 grand every time he walked in the room. Everyone made $10,000 every time he came in.”
“That’s nothing to them,” Samantha told me in a separate conversation. “Noth-ing.”
The men were mostly assholes. Even when they didn’t start out that way, they’d get drunk and say things like, “Did your father abuse you? Is that why you do this?,” which was unnerving even when it wasn’t true. The majority were married, though that didn’t stop them from asking for things like blow jobs or sex or to be penetrated with a Champagne bottle, a request that they were shocked came from a clean-cut family man.
In the beginning, after work, Rosie would pick fights with her boyfriend, accusing him of cheating. “It fucked me up in the head a little,” she said of the window her job gave her into the male psyche. “The girls develop a terrible contempt,” one former Scores manager told me. “They stop believing men are real. They think: They are there for me to manipulate and take money from.”
And when it came to that, they all preferred the assholes. There’s something extra-satisfying about persuading a man who thinks you’re trash to spend his time and money on you. Preferably so much that in the end, they hate themselves. It’s like, Who doesn’t have any self-respect now, motherfucker?
At least they were worthy opponents. Not like the sad-sack losers who came in just to talk. “Like,” Rosie said, “I want you to look at me like I’m not one of those scumbag perverts.” Those guys had their uses, since you could string them along forever and extract payments for “rent” or “school.” But their weakness was pathetic. “I had so many damsel-in-distress stories,” Rosie said with a sigh. “Don’t tell me you love me. That means I know I can milk you for everything, and then some.”
Rosie has an open face, with a wide-eyed innocence she enhances through eyelash extensions, and in time she attracted a lot of these types of men. One of them was — is — a white-collar professional we’ll call Brian, who would sit at the bar and watch Rosie study. “It was just unbelievable how organized she was,” he told me. “Her penmanship was perfect.”
A lot of girls claimed to be students, but Rosie really was taking classes, at Berkeley College in New Jersey. With the help of Introduction to Psychology, she’d studied the dynamics of the club and found its long-term prospects unappealing. “The reason why Wall Street guys party so hard is because they’re not happy with their jobs,” she explained to me. “You make money, but you’re not happy, so you go out and splurge on strip clubs and drinking and drugs, then the money depletes and you have to make it again. The dancers are the same way. You make money, but then you’re depressed, so you end up shopping or going on vacation, and the money depletes, so you go back …”
This was not a pattern Rosie intended to get stuck in. Not like Samantha, whom she’d come to view as a cautionary tale. She would talk about the classes she took at F.I.T. and the swimsuit line she was starting, but the idea of her getting a straight job seemed about as likely as a vampire becoming a lifeguard. Rosie had ambition. Despite everyone who had indicated to her otherwise — her parents, her boyfriends, the guys who kicked her out of the Champagne Room because they “weren’t feeling her” — Rosie knew she was special.
On this point, she and Brian were in agreement, which is why she tolerated him and why he thought they had, in his words, “a connection.” So much of one that when his fiancée’s visa ran out, he let her return to Kazakhstan because he thought Rosie was finally going to give him a chance. “I felt in my heart,” he said, “that she liked me.”
So he was surprised when, instead, Rosie disappeared. He didn’t hear from her until nearly two years later, when she called from Arizona. She’d moved out there with a friend, and she wanted to come back. Could he help her pay for a moving truck?
“I could hear a baby crying in the background,” Brian told me. “She was like, ‘It’s my friend’s, I’m watching it.’ ”
“I told him I was in Arizona,” Rosie said later.
In reality, she had never left New York. She’d gotten pregnant with and engaged to her on-again-off-again boyfriend. But the couple had hit a rough patch, and Rosie was looking to assert financial independence for herself and her newborn daughter. She had started by calling the names on what she called her “Get Money” list.
Sadly for her, the Kazakh had come back, and Brian was now married, and when none of her other leads panned out to her satisfaction, Rosie drove back into the city, to Hustler. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” she said, sighing.
In the time she’d been gone, things had drastically changed. The market collapse in 2008 had left half of Wall Street unemployed, and the mood was such that the other half was staying as far from the Champagne Room as possible. The dancers, too, were all new, she found when she got on the floor. “There were all these Russian girls and Colombian girls, and they were giving blow jobs for $300,” Rosie said. “And they were good-looking. I was like, I can’t compete with this shit!”
Then she saw a familiar face. Samantha Foxx wasn’t dancing anymore, but she was still at the clubs every night, running a crew of dark-haired minions who would pick men up and bring them into the clubs. Samantha called this, rather grandly, “marketing,” although it is generally known as “fishing” and not seen as something one could make a career out of. But Samantha seemed to be doing extraordinarily well, Rosie observed, as she watched them clicking in and out of the Champagne Room, red soles flashing. “I started noticing, these bitches make a lot of money, and they don’t even really work,” she said. “Samantha had found some kind of loophole, where ‘I can get paid and not have to actually have sex.’ ”
Whenever the door to the rooms opened, Rosie would peer in, trying to figure out what they were up to. It didn’t take her long to figure out what was going on. “Like I said, I’m smart,” she said. “I would see the guy laid out, chillin’, and I would be like, Hmmm.”
As long as Samantha had been in the business, it had been structured in a way that was disadvantageous to dancers. The girls were the main draw; this was as plain as the neon lights outside every strip club in America. Yet traditionally, instead of the clubs paying the dancers, the dancers pay the clubs for the privilege of working there. Not only that, they’re expected to tip out the bartender, the hosts, the DJ, and the house mom, as well as pay assorted other fees — like on the “funny money” Scores sells to customers in lieu of having an ATM, taking 20 percent on each side of the transaction.
Since the recession, however, Samantha had found that the tables had turned. The clubs needed customers, and she had the ability to bring them in. Rosie wasn’t the only one with a “Get Money” list.
At night, Samantha would go down the list of client phone numbers she’d accrued over the years. “You know, like a telemarketer would do,” she told me. Often, she couldn’t remember having met the guys, and sometimes the guys didn’t remember her either. But she’d send them a sexy text and a photograph and see if they were up for a night out.
Truth be told, Samantha didn’t always send her own picture. Recognizing that she may have crossed a plastic-surgery Rubicon and could scare off those unaccustomed to creatures of the night, she sometimes sent a picture of one of the girls in her crew. Like Karina Pascucci, the sister of one of her dancer friends. Dark-haired and sloe-eyed, Karina had had her lips injected — an asshole boyfriend had called her unadulterated ones “disgusting” — but she was still natural-looking, enough that people often pointed out that she looked like a younger Samantha. They also said that about Marsi Rosen, another beauty in Samantha’s stable. Marsi, who lived near Samantha in Bayside, had been an easy recruit: Her boyfriend, a convicted drug dealer everyone called the Pimp, was apparently all too happy to have her provide another revenue stream.
“It sounds so bad to say that we were, like, drugging people.”
If the client Samantha reached out to expressed interest, she’d have Marsi or Karina meet him out. They’d wine and dine him, then the others would show up, and then, when he was drunk on alcohol and feminine attention, they’d steer him toward one of the clubs from which they had negotiated a lucrative percentage of his spending. Then they would proceed to run up his credit card as far as they could push it.
Of course, it didn’t always work. Sometimes they’d go through the whole performance and the guy would be too tired to go out; they would offer him drugs for extra energy, but he would be too lame to take them. In the face of such situations, Samantha had come up with the innovation that was making her rich: a special drink spiked with MDMA and ketamine.
“Just a sprinkle,” Rosie recalled, as she maneuvered her SUV out of her driveway and toward her daughter’s preschool. “Like a pinch of salt.” This was the key to the scenes she had observed in the Champagne Room, with Samantha’s clients “laid out,” and once she realized what was going on, she told Samantha she wanted in. She had no qualms about their methods — working at a strip club, she’d already crossed a lot of lines. “It sounds so bad to say that we were, like, drugging people,” she said. “But it was, like, normal.”
The guys they were targeting were wealthy, she pointed out. “What’s an extra $20,000 to them?” And they weren’t exactly upstanding citizens. “It wasn’t like we pulled them off the street,” she said. “They had history. They’d been to Hustler, they’d been to Rick’s, they’d been to Scores. They all walked in ready to party. And yeah, we slipped an extra one that they didn’t know about. But all of it goes hand in hand — sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You know?”
The MDMA made the guys happy, the ketamine screwed with their memory, and they often ended up blacking out. When, in the days or weeks after the event, a guy would call and complain about the size of his bill, Samantha would remind him what a good time he had, according to Rosie, who would sometimes listen in. “You were so happy, don’t you remember?” she would say. “You were tipping everyone.”
Rosie had to hand it to Samantha: She was convincing. “She’s ruthless,” she said with admiration. “She belongs on Wall Street.” Even if the guy wasn’t buying it, once he had weighed the cost of filing a formal complaint, of telling his wife and the police what he actually had done, he’d conclude it was too steep. “That’s why this worked so well,” said Rosie, fluttering her hand out the window. “They would just let it go.”
Rosie, with her legendary organizational skills, streamlined the operation. She drew up a schedule and kept notes on each client, with their personal details and how much had been charged to each of their cards. “I treated it like a real business,” she told me.
She introduced the other girls to Carmine Vitolo, a former bartender from Lace who managed the Roadhouse, a strip club in Queens. And she urged them to cultivate a higher level of clientele. Before, whenever Samantha or Karina or Marsi had gone out fishing, they’d targeted bars like TGI Friday’s in the Financial District. Rosie preferred upscale places, the kind frequented by rich guys with everything to lose. “My big advantage over the other girls is I don’t look like a stripper,” she said, gesturing to the Lululemon sexy-suburban-mom ensemble she was wearing. “I look like any girl who could be getting off work, relaxing after a long day by having a glass of wine.”
Once situated, she’d look around for a worthy target — check out the shoes, check out the watch, look for the wedding ring — and pounce. “I used to send a group of guys shots from across the room, see which one would come to me,” she said. Sometimes, she’d tell them she worked at Guggenheim Partners. A few drinks in, she’d make her proposition: “I know! Let’s go to a strip club! Yeah!”
The nights fell into a pattern. At some point, the guys would want sex. Marsi and Karina would only go so far, and prostitution was what Rosie and Samantha had joined the business to avoid. “I have my dignity,” Samantha told me. At first, they tried cutting in dancers, the ones giving $300 blow jobs, but Rosie was annoyed by their lack of enthusiasm. “If you are going to spend 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars a night,” she told me, back at home, “I want to know that you had a good time, and even if the bill was a little high or whatever, that, you know, the bang was worth the buck.”
So they decided to outsource to prostitutes they found from Backpage and Craigslist. Rosie eased into her role as a modern-day Heidi Fleiss with enthusiasm. If the girls were a little scruffy, she’d take them shopping for new clothes and makeup. She trained them in etiquette and laid down the law: no drinking, no drugs. “I taught them fake drinking and fake sniffing,” she said, leaning over and blowing an imaginary line off her hand. “Once the signatures are done,” she would tell them, “you can party your head out.”
Then, while they took care of their business, she took care of hers. “I was on the phone with American Express half the time verifying his last four digits of Social, his mother’s maiden name, his last purchases, and their name, and their location, and how much was being charged,” she said. Getting this kind of information from a guy high off his face with a prostitute draped over his legs wasn’t very difficult. “I did it right in front of them,” she said. “I would ask them really quickly, ‘What’s your mother’s maiden name? What’s your Social Security number?’ ”
At the end of the night, she calculated the breakdown. “I could do all the math in my head. Like, if you told me the bill was $40,000, I knew exactly what cut went to what.”
According to Rosie, she and Samantha got the largest cut, with the minor players getting increasingly minor sums. It’s unclear how much the clubs profited (Scores declined to comment on any aspect of this story). No one employed by a club has been charged, other than Carmine Vitolo at the Roadhouse, who pleaded guilty this year to unlawfully charging the credit cards of two customers. And although Rosie maintains that the group would occasionally swipe credit cards through Scores’ funny-money machine, she rejects the suggestion, made by some, that anyone at Scores was the driving force behind the scheme. “Nobody put us up to anything!” she snapped at me when I suggested it. “We are strong women who don’t fucking take shit from nobody.”
Rosie believed the hosts and managers appreciated her work. “There were nights and weeks where I brought in the club 100 grand. Without me making the effort to go out and market and promote, they wouldn’t have business.” She was no longer just a disposable dancer; she was the CFO of her own corporation. “It was like I moved up on the totem pole,” she said.
With Rosie’s business savvy and Samantha’s people skills, business boomed. That first Christmas, they bought their favorite prostitute her first pair of Louboutins. “We were like Kobe and Shaq,” said Rosie. “That’s what I always said to Samantha. We were untouchable.”
“How much are we going to make tonight?”
Rosie looked over at Samantha, whose face was illuminated by the iPad she was using to look at a pair of shoes on Gucci.com. It was fall 2013, and they were sitting outside a hotel on the Upper East Side in Rosie’s Escalade, waiting for one of the girls to come downstairs with the client’s credit card so they could run it over to the Roadhouse to swipe.
This was a new innovation. Their success hadn’t gone unnoticed by other dancers, and the market had gotten crowded enough with copycats that they’d decided to switch things up. Guys wanted to be around strippers, Rosie had observed, but they didn’t always want to go to the clubs — especially in Queens. “I saw there was a market for in-between,” Rosie told me. “You bring the strippers to the guy. It was good, and we had a monopoly on it for a while.”
The gang was doing well, as evidenced by the several luxury vehicles Rosie had in rotation. All of their closets were lined with Gucci and Chanel, and ordinarily, Rosie wouldn’t have blinked at spending a thousand dollars on shoes. “That was like a night for me,” she said. “Or like an hour.”
Still, something about seeing Samantha shopping in the car had irritated Rosie. “I think I’m just going to buy these tonight,” her partner said, swiping a finger across the screen.
In retrospect, Rosie recognizes this was the moment when she felt things were getting out of control. Running a team of hookers, strippers, and thieves was complicated. The prostitutes were unreliable. “They wouldn’t show up for work, they would be intoxicated, they would get beat up by their boyfriends and had to be in the hospital or had asthma,” Rosie said. And her attempts at being a den mother had been met with indifference. “You have opportunities,” she’d told one girl in frustration. “You just don’t take advantage of them.”
The other girls weren’t much help. Marsi and Karina would sometimes get grossed out and disappear for weeks, and whenever that happened, tensions between Rosie and Samantha flared. “Samantha would get upset and start looking for other resources, for other girls,” Rosie said. Samantha had a soft spot for ex-strippers with problems — not the kind of girls Rosie trusted. “When I’m doing business with somebody, I want stand-up people, not junkies and criminals,” she told me. “People that have morals and principles.”
“If we’re a team and we’re making money and winning games, are you going to start trading players and bringing in new people?” she would argue with Samantha.
Samantha had zero business sense, was the problem. Look what happened with Rick, a banker they’d met. “He was good-looking, had money, was nice, and not a pervert,” Rosie said. Paraphrasing Warren Buffett’s long-term-greed philosophy, she’d suggested the gang would be better served by padding out Rick’s bills over time, rather than “banging him out” all at once. But after Samantha found out Rick had a credit limit of $50,000, that was that. Rick was predictably furious and never returned a text again. “That’s the problem with these girls,” Rosie told me of her cohort, shaking her head. “I see the forest. They just wanted a $50,000 tree.”
“That’s the problem with these girls. I see the forest. They just wanted a $50,000 tree.”
As a result of these kinds of practices, they’d burned through their base of regular clients and were now dealing mostly with strangers, whose behavior could be unpredictable. One hedge-fund manager had gotten so wasted he’d bumped his head in his pool and suffered a concussion. One of the girls had ended a night covered with bite marks. Often, Rosie didn’t get home until after 5 a.m., barely in time to get her daughter to school.
It was exhausting. “That’s why I think we got greedy,” Rosie said. “Because of the amount of stress we had to endure. We’re just like, You know what, these people are fucking pissing me off. Just for that, I’m going to max out his credit card, like a penalty. You’re going to be left with a zero balance. Zero credit line. Just for being annoying. We needed to make it worth it.”
Rosie kept telling herself that as soon as she had enough money in the bank, she was going to quit. “I would say to myself, Okay, I’m going to make 100 grand and leave,” she said. “Then I’d make 100 grand. Then, I’m going to make another hundred grand. I’m going to get to half a million and leave. No, now I want to make a million and leave. It was just never enough.”
So they kept going, becoming increasingly reckless and increasingly cruel. One night, she and Samantha drove out to an upscale Japanese restaurant in Manhasset to meet a finance guy in his early 40s we’ll call Fred, who had met Samantha one night at Hustler. He’d ended up there after a friend took him out to blow off some steam after a devastating series of events that included his house being leveled by a hurricane and separating from the mother of his autistic son.
Rosie got him a drink from the bar. “He talked about how his wife left; I don’t think she could handle it, because having an autistic child is a lot of work,” she said. She talked to him about her daughter. “We had like regular human conversations. Like a heart-to-heart.”
It was all very nice, at least up until they piled into Rosie’s car and took him to the Roadhouse. “I couldn’t tell you about what the place looked like or anything,” Fred told me. “The room was … square? There was a … table?” He does have a vague memory of overhearing the girls talking about a friend who’d been gang-raped. “It was horrible,” he recalled. “But I was so messed up, I couldn’t even make an angry face.”
“We cleaned him out completely,” said Rosie. “He pleaded, ‘Can you guys please credit back my debit card? My mortgage payment is on there.’ ” Rosie told me this was the first time in a long time she’d felt a pang about what they’d done. “But Samantha’s like, ‘You can’t feel bad!’ ” she said. “ ‘If we don’t do it, someone else is going to do it!’ ”
Rosie paused. “I can tell you exactly how much it was,” she said. Seventeen thousand dollars. “Five thousand on his Chase debit card, and then he had an airlines card. It wasn’t much. But to him it was a lot.”
If the guy at the precinct who answered the phone had a dollar for every time he’d heard a caller say he’d been drugged and his credit card run up at a strip club, he’d be retired already. Over the years, the New York City Police Department has received countless versions of those calls, and their unofficial position has always been that the callers are full of shit. So when this particular caller said he had evidence, they were skeptical.
Nonetheless, agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s tactical-diversion squad were dispatched to his house, where he played for them a recording of a conversation between himself and the perpetrator. “I just want to know what happened to me,” the guy begged, until the woman on the other end of the line finally gave in and told him what had happened: He’d been fleeced by a gang of ex-strippers who had spiked his drink with narcotics. Just a sprinkle.
“It was very weird,” said one of the cops later. “If it wasn’t for the tape,” said another, “I would have been like, ‘Dude, I think you are fucking full of shit.’ ”
But they had the tape. And soon they picked up the girl on the tape, who confessed immediately. Although the police won’t reveal the identity of their informant, the women are pretty certain that it was one of Samantha’s charity cases, an ex-stripper we’ll call Marjorie, who already had trouble with the law and as a result was easily pressed into helping with a sting operation one night. As Rosie and Karina tell it, as soon as they entered the room at the Gansevoort Hotel, where Samantha had summoned them to help Marjorie with a client, they knew something was off. Marjorie was acting weird — she kept urging them to give the guy drugs, which made them suspicious, and when they held back, she became frustrated, grabbed the bag, and threw the entire contents into the man’s drink herself. He passed out not long after, and almost immediately came a knock on the door from two men claiming to be hotel security, who asked to search their belongings. Fortunately, they were too polite or squeamish to fully inspect the bottle of Midol Rosie kept inside her purse — but speeding down the West Side Highway afterward, Rosie swore they were being followed.
“I told her she was being paranoid,” Samantha told me.
“She said I was going crazy,” Rosie said. “Right there and then, she should have said, ‘Rosie has instincts. She’s perceptive.’ If she had just listened to me, the investigation would have gone cold.”
The DEA did not confirm or deny having run a failed sting operation, but it’s true that at that point, they weren’t having a lot of luck getting the victims they found to press charges. “The amount of people willing to talk to us was so small it was absurd,” one of the cops said bluntly. “Men don’t want to admit to being victimized by women.”
This was understandable, given the way victims in these scenarios had been treated in the past, when reports from men claiming to have been swindled and drugged by strippers had made their way to the New York tabloids. The stock line for the stories of the news anchor, or the CEO, or the banker who alleged Hustler charged him $28,000 for “a night of pleasure he couldn’t even remember,” was usually some variation of “what a boob!”
There it was again, when the cops opened the Post in April 2014, applied to Zyad Younan, a New Jersey cardiologist who Scores alleged had failed to pay a $135,000 bill he’d racked up during four visits to the club. “If he was drugged the first time, I guess he liked it,” a Scores spokesman quipped.
The doctor became a laughingstock, but the cops recognized the M.O. right away. “When you look at it out of context, it seems like he’s making it up,” one of the detectives told me. “But the dates were so tight together he didn’t know about the charges until it was over. It was sad — he actually thought he was dating the girl.”
Younan told the cops he’d met Karina Pascucci at a restaurant on Park Avenue. She said she was a nursing student and introduced him to her relatives, Samantha and Marsi. Their dates had ended a little fuzzily, he said, but it wasn’t until he got a phone call from American Express alerting him to $135,000 in charges made at Scores that he realized something was seriously wrong. After the story broke, one of the cops who’d interviewed him ran into a colleague.
“That guy’s full of shit,” the guy said.
“No,” protested the cop. “It really happened.”
Young men themselves, the cop and his colleagues were getting kind of spooked. “I’m paranoid,” one told me. “I know this job. You come here, you say this happened to me. Who’s going to believe me? Your gun is missing, your badge is missing, you blacked out, they have video of you at a go-go bar …”
At first, according to Rosie, Samantha was happy about the attention the doctor was getting in the tabloids. “She was like, ‘Good, now he’ll pay his bill.’ ” But Rosie had a bad feeling about it. Like she said, she’s perceptive.
On June 9, 2014, the cops cornered Samantha at an ATM in her neighborhood. “They were like, ‘Get in the car! You’re under arrest!’ ” she recalled. “The neighbors were staring. I’m having like a panic attack.” Karina was picked up next, then Marsi.
Rosie was last. In the car on the way to central booking, she and the cop bantered. “He was basically like, ‘How did you get wrapped up in this?’ ” Rosie told me. “ ‘You’re smart, you’re pretty.’ ”
“Maybe when all this is said and done, I’ll take you out for a drink,” Rosie said offhandedly.
In the rearview mirror, his face changed. “I ain’t never taking a drink from you,” he said tersely.
Rosie laughed. “Don’t worry, hon,” she said. “You don’t have no money for me to take.”
In addition to Younan, the cops had persuaded three other victims to testify, all professionals petrified of their names getting out. In interrogation sessions, the cops laid out the charges filed against the women — forgery, conspiracy, grand larceny, and assault — and explained to them how each of the men had been affected by what they’d done. One was Fred, the father with the autistic son. As it turned out, one of the credit cards they’d maxed out was corporate. His company had launched an internal investigation, and Fred had been fired. Later, after starting a new job, he was informed his name had been reported to an agency that tracks white-collar crime, and he was fired again. Since then, he’s been fortunate enough to find a consulting job, but he lives in fear of being found out by his current employer. “I wake up in the morning thinking about it,” Fred told me. “Every day, once or twice a day, I feel the barrel of the gun against my head.”
The women were unmoved. As they saw it, they should be considered the aggrieved parties. The cops were going after them, four hardworking women from difficult backgrounds, all because a “prominent doctor,” as Samantha put it, had complained that he’d been taken advantage of. Which they all maintained was bunk: Samantha had met Younan back at Hustler, they said; he was a regular. (Younan’s lawyers deny this.) “He’s a scumbag like the rest of them,” Samantha told me. “These guys are all over these girls,” she said of her clientele. “They get fucked up, they know what the hell they’re doing.”
If they’d done anything wrong — and she didn’t think they had — it was nothing compared to the stuff men got away with on a regular basis. And yet they were looking at three years in jail? It was outrageous. “What about the things the guys did?” Samantha fumed. “What about Bill Cosby?”
To add insult to injury, the tabloids reporting on their arrest kept referring to them as “strippers,” a descriptor they’d worked hard to transcend. “None of us are strippers,” Samantha insisted. This was a distinction lost on the men who arrested them. “I liked the part when one girl I was interviewing had a derogatory comment about the prostitutes they called in,” one of the cops said to his colleague. “Like, ‘I don’t do that.’ ”
The other guy laughed. “You think that drugging people without their consent is okay, but a prostitute is derogatory? They’re warped.”
Afterward, they were trucked out to Rikers, where they were reunited in a cell the following day. Samantha attempted to rally the troops. “Samantha was like, ‘Let’s all hold hands and fight this together!’ ” said Rosie. “ ‘It’s us against them. We didn’t do anything! We’re innocent!’ ”
Rosie looked at Samantha, who resembled a deranged Rosie the Riveter in the leopard hair wrap she was arrested in. “I’m thinking in my head, This is dumb,” she told me. “I said, ‘Yeah, we’re innocent. We’re all fuckin’ angels. You are delusional. Like, come on! Everything has already unraveled! Put your big-girl panties on. Just be truthful for one thing in life.’ ”
“Rosie basically had a breakdown,” Samantha said.
The correction officers eyed them with amusement. Even without their hair and makeup, they were a sight to behold, four exotic birds chirping in a cage. “Which one of you is the ringleader?” one asked.
“Samantha pointed to me,” Rosie said. “I pointed to her.”
“Keo talked,” said Carmine Vitolo, brushing past Samantha Barbash outside Manhattan Criminal Court one morning in November 2014. Samantha, teetering on the steps in Gucci heels, paled visibly beneath her tan.
That afternoon, I drove to Nanuet to see Rosie. She opened the door looking wary. Samantha had already texted. We heard you took a deal. Good luck.
“At first I was like, ‘No. I don’t want to be a rat,’ ” Rosie told me, sitting on her couch, wrapped in a Gucci throw, while her daughter played with Barbies on the snow-white carpet. “But then I thought about it, and I’m, like, the only one of those girls that’s normal, with a brain on my head, with a child and a future.”
She wasn’t worried about her former colleagues, especially Samantha. “She’ll have a crew in jail,” she cracked. “I was watching Orange Is the New Black. She’ll be like Red. She’ll be like V.”
Over the next year, I talked to Rosie many times. At first they were proper interviews, but then she’d call at random and we would just talk. She’d want to complain about Samantha and how she’d “fucked up my aspirations.” Or she’d return to her goals for the future and her struggles with anger and depression. “I know why we did it,” she told me at one point. “Hurt people hurt people.” Despite her obvious flaws, it was easy to understand why clients found her charming. She was funny and strange and oddly philosophical, especially on the subjects of greed and materialism. “I need to decipher the difference between what I want and what I need,” she said at one point while telling me about paring down her handbag collection. “Because the want of wanting is what’s killing me.”
In February, we met for lunch before her appearance in criminal court. When we got there, the judge was still hearing the previous case, about a shooting incident, and the prosecutor was showing a video of the defendant giving an interview to police in which he thoroughly incriminated himself. It was painful.
“Idiot,” muttered a guy in the front row. It turned out to be Rosie’s lawyer, who had not been returning my calls.
I began to feel nervous for Rosie, who’d been evasive about the terms of the deal she was expecting to get. But she hadn’t seemed at all concerned. “I mean, it’s white-collar crime,” she’d said at one point. As the defendant in front of us hung his head in regret, she nudged me and held up her phone, which displayed an array of caviar dishes on Yelp. “Do you like foie gras?” she whispered. “I love foie gras.”
All the women were desperate to avoid jail time, and their plea negotiations dragged the case into November, when Karina and Marsi pleaded guilty to conspiracy, assault, and grand larceny. A few weeks later, Samantha Barbash pleaded to the same charges. Their sentencings are scheduled for early in the New Year. In the meantime, Karina has a new retail job; Samantha is still working on her swimsuit line.
Rosie’s court date is scheduled for February. Throughout the ordeal, she has appeared mostly upbeat about the idea of sharing her story; she told me she was thinking of becoming a motivational speaker like Jordan Belfort, the banker made famous by The Wolf of Wall Street. But then later, when a fact-checker at this magazine called to confirm details, she declared she had made everything up. When she and I spoke, I told her this was impossible — her story is corroborated by multiple indictments and many interviews — and she seemed to acknowledge this. “Right now, I am telling you everything is fictional,” she said after I asked her about her Jordan Belfort plan and she paused for a long while. “If you want to write the fictional story I told you, you can.” Then she said something we both knew was true: “I am saving myself,” she said. “I am out for myself.”
Still, I like her. We’ve stayed in touch. Not long ago, when we spoke, she said she was living in California. I have no idea if this was true, but if it was, I will say she seemed happy. She and her fiancé were on the rocks again, but she’d been making new friends, she said. There was a man who was helping her get a job in pharmaceutical sales, and she was learning how to trade stocks. “Guys out here all want to bang me. They’re all like, ‘I’ll take you on my private jet. We’ll go to Tampa, we’ll go to Vegas.’ ” She hadn’t said yes to anyone, but she was thinking about it. “I mean, I have all their numbers.”
*This article appears in the December 28, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.