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Friday, July 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Public hearings sought regarding "Strippergate"

Seattle Times staff reporter

Five former members of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission yesterday called for public hearings into the "Strippergate" scandal, saying questions remain unanswered despite two years of investigations and the recent filing of criminal charges in the case.

At a news conference on the steps of City Hall, Tim Burgess, a former commission chairman, said the public deserves additional answers about why members of the Seattle City Council failed to spot clues that something fishy was going on in late 2002 and early 2003.

That's when people associated with strip-club magnates Frank Colacurcio Sr. and his son Frank Colacurcio Jr. allegedly poured more than $39,000 into the campaigns of three council incumbents just before the council's 5-4 vote to approve rezoning favorable to the family's Lake City strip club.

"The so-called Strippergate affair is not a trivial matter. ... What troubles us most about this whole affair is that our City Council didn't see the danger. They didn't recognize the warning signs that were present from the very beginning," Burgess said.

The current chairman of the ethics commission, Bruce Heller, said the commission has no plans to hold public hearings but could consider it.

The commission, a seven-member citizen panel appointed by the mayor and City Council, enforces city laws on campaign finances and ethics rules for city employees.

Burgess, joined by former commissioners Mary Brucker, Daniel Ichinaga, Marc Boman and Catherine Walker, cited the behavior of council members who were lobbied by the Colacurcios and allies on the rezone in violation of city ethics rules while accepting the large influx of campaign cash.

"Why did the council rush to approve the rezone application even when there was such strong evidence of impropriety?" Burgess asked.

He said the commission should use its subpoena power to compel testimony from everyone involved.

Two of the council members, Judy Nicastro and Heidi Wills, were defeated in the 2003 elections. Jim Compton was re-elected. All three paid fines to the ethics commission.

None of the council members was charged and King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng said there was no evidence they were aware of illegal activities.

The Colacurcios and two close associates, Gil Conte and Marsha Furfaro, were charged this week by Maleng with conspiring to cause false campaign reports to be filed with the city and the state as a result of the alleged funneling scheme.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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