A federal grand jury has indicted the owner of Chippendale's, the male stripper club, for allegedly orchestrating the 1987 murder of Nick De Noia, an award-winning television director who was once choreographer for the club's touring dance company, U.S. Atty. Terree A. Bowers announced Wednesday.
De Noia, the former husband of actress Jennifer O'Neill, was shot in the face at his Midtown Manhattan office and the case has remained unsolved.
The De Noia homicide is the latest charge to be brought against Somen (Steve) Banerjee of Playa del Rey in the government's expanding murder-for-hire case against him. Banerjee, 46, was first arrested early last month and was charged with hiring a man in 1990 to kill three of his former Chippendale's associates who were then affiliated with a rival male dance group called Adonis.
Those murders were never carried out, nor was a fourth attempted killing that Banerjee is accused in the new indictment of soliciting. Banerjee is being held without bail at Metropolitan Detention Center in Downtown Los Angeles. If convicted on all charges, he faces a life sentence and a fine of up to $1.75 million.
In the indictment unveiled Wednesday, Banerjee is accused of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) through a pattern of racketeering activity--including murder, murder for hire, solicitation to commit murder and arson.
"The basic theme of the new indictment is that anybody or anything that got in Banerjee's way, he would hire somebody to kill or burn the competitor," said Charlie Parsons, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office.
According to the indictment, prepared by Assistant U.S. Attys. David C. Scheper and Sally L. Meloch, each of the racketeering acts was committed to enhance Chippendale's business or to exact revenge against people or businesses that Banerjee felt had harmed Chippendale's.
Parsons said the latest charges were the result of a long-term investigation by the FBI's Los Angeles field office that extended worldwide. In particular, he said, FBI agents worked extensively with the New York Police Department on the De Noia slaying.
The new indictment alleges that in 1986, Banerjee asked Augustine Ralph Angel Colon to kill De Noia and that the two men offered a third, unidentified individual an undisclosed sum to carry out the murder.
De Noia was killed by the unidentified man the next day, according to the indictment.
The De Noia murder made headlines in New York at the time. Law enforcement officials said he was shot in the left side of the face with a large gun by a mysterious intruder at the Manhattan offices of Chippendale's International.
At the time, De Noia was producing a nationwide road show of "Chippendale's Revue," featuring muscular young men who performed dance routines and stripped to g-strings.
De Noia was a two-time Emmy Award winner for "Unicorn Tales," a musical series of updated fairy tales.
In addition to the De Noia slaying, Banerjee is accused of orchestrating attempted arsons at Moody's Disco in Santa Monica in 1979 and the Red Onion Restaurant & Bar in Marina del Rey in 1985. Neither arson was consummated, according to sources close to the investigation.
The indictment also repeats earlier allegations that Banerjee plotted in 1990 and 1991 to kill Mike Fullington, Read Scot and Steve White, his former associates who at the time were affiliated with Adonis, the rival dance group. At one time, Scot served as the emcee for shows at Chippendale's on the Westside. Two of the murders were supposed to be carried out while Adonis was performing in London.
But the plot was foiled by a cooperating witness, sources said.
Banerjee also is accused of attempting to orchestrate the murder of Dr. Jagjit Sehdeva of Marina del Rey in 1990. The indictment does not state why Sehdeva was targeted, but sources said Banerjee and the doctor were involved in a business dispute. The alleged plot was foiled but the indictment does not say how.
When Banerjee was indicted in September, his attorney at the time, Robert Isenberg of Malibu, said the first set of charges was preposterous and unfounded. On Wednesday, his two new attorneys did not return calls seeking comment.
A native of Bombay, India, Banerjee bought a failing Westside bar in 1975 and renamed it Chippendale's. Four years later, he launched the club's Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only, and soon was drawing overflow crowds. At the peak of his success, Banerjee also had clubs in New York, Dallas and Denver.