Nightclub Owner Charged In Drug Ring

Posted: August 27, 1993

The owner of the Roxxi, the once-hot dance club off South Street, has been indicted on federal drug- trafficking charges, authorities said yesterday.

Robert Lascala, 28, of Media, was indicted along with nine others for allegedly smuggling five bales of marijuana from Mexico, Special Agent Sam Billbrough of the Drug Enforcement Administration said yesterday at a news conference. The 2,200 pounds had a street value of $3.5 million, he said.

Not indicted and claiming innocence in the alleged scheme was Lascala's former business partner, criminal defense attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr.

"I dreaded this day coming, that my name would somehow be linked to this . . . ," said Peruto, besieged by calls from the press. "My father told me not to get involved with the Roxxi. He told me: 'Nightclubs are a seedy business. Stay out of it.'

"I should have listened to my father."

Peruto and Lascala were 50-50 partners in Tango and Cash Corp. from the summer of 1992 until April 1993, said Peruto. After hearing rumors at the club that Lascala was involved in drug trafficking, he said he immediately tried to bail out of the club. He said he was so anxious to get out that he sold his share to Lascala at a $60,000 loss.

"I felt sick, literally sick," when he heard the rumors, said Peruto. ''The evidence will show that after I heard about this, I didn't go in the club. I didn't walk near it, around it or by it," he added.

Peruto confronted Lascala about the rumors, but Lascala swore that he was not involved in smuggling marijuana. Nonetheless, Peruto said that he called an agent he knew in the Federal Bureau of Investigation in late January or early February to tip off the agency to the rumors, and to deny any personal involvement.

U.S. Attorney Mike Rotko said there was no record of a call to the FBI from Peruto. The FBI was not involved in the investigation, he added.

Peruto swears he has never taken any drugs, including marijuana. He even runs a counseling service for lawyers and other professionals who are drug- addicted, he said. His own personal vice is drinking, he said.

"I never go near a drug," Peruto said. "I was always an idiot bookworm (in college). I didn't even experiment . . . I never even smoked a cigarette in my life."

The indictment alleges that Lascala and others used the phone at the Roxxi Bar & Grill, on 2nd Street near South, to arrange distribution of the marijuana once it arrived from Mexico, via Arizona.

The marijuana was stashed inside furniture that arrived here inside rental trucks, said Billbrough. The furniture was unloaded at several South Philadelphia warehouses, and sold from there to local drug dealers.

If indicted, the 10 defendants face life imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of the Roxxi - recently renamed Salsa - and the warehouses involved in the alleged drug trafficking.

In addition to Lascala, the defendants are: Timothy Conklin, 26, of Queen Street near Orianna; Scott Kavee, 31, of Dupont Street near Pechin; Andrew Levy, 33, of Arch Street near 3rd; Frank McBride, 24, of Ridge Avenue near Thomas Hill Road; Joseph Pugliese, 29, of Ellsworth Street near Passyunk Avenue.

Also, Elison Torres, 24, of Levick Street near Lawndale; Eugene Yanelli, 33, of Front Street near Ellsworth; Joseph Sini, 28, of Baily Street near Parrish; and Gerald Tuggle, 47, of Tuscon, Ariz.

The indictment was announced at a press conference held by a Who's Who in the law enforcement community: Billbrough, U.S. Attorney Rotko, District Attorney Lynne Abraham, Police Commissioner Richard A. Neal, Director J. Scott Blackman of the local Immigration and Naturalization Services, among others.

The agencies make up the Violent Traffickers Projects, a consortium of federal, state and local law-enforcement groups aimed at curbing the drug trade.

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