HOUSTON, TX -- A former New Jersey mob boss who came to Houston in the Federal Witness Protection Program - and who allegedly was an inspiration for the fictional Tony Soprano - defaulted on payments on a $1.3 million promissory note issued to buy out a partner's share in a strip club, the partner claims.
Lisa Hansegard sued James Cabella, his wife Debra Cabella and son James Jr., and Hereweareagain Inc., in Harris County Court.
Hansegard says she had no idea that James Cabella, owner of the strip club across the street from a strip club she acquired from the estate of her child's late father, was actually Vincent Palermo, a former acting boss of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family, when he approached her about becoming her business partner and taking over management of her club in 2006.
Hansegard's club was called Baby Dolls. Cabella/Palermo's was called The Penthouse Club, according to the complaint.
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Hansegard says she bought Baby Dolls from the estate of her child's father, the late Anargyros Mylonas, and his brother, in 2006. Hansegard says she was pregnant with Anargyros Mylonas' child when he died in July 2005.
"Hansegard reached an agreement with Tag Entertainment Inc. to manage Baby Dolls provided that they acquired the business from the estate," the complaint states.
Cabella, who ran The Penthouse Club across the street from Baby Dolls, approached her about his taking over management of Baby Dolls, and persuaded her to drop her deal with Tag and join him, Hansegard says.
The Penthouse Club was a dba for Hereweareagain, a Texas corporation owned by Cabella's wife, Debra, Hansegard says.
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Hansegard says at the direction of James Cabella, she formed 6430 Westheimer Inc. with Debra Cabella; each woman received 1,000 shares in the company.
Westheimer is a major thoroughfare in Houston.
Hansegard says 6430 Westheimer Inc. then signed a management agreement with James Cabella.
"Hansegard funded the acquisition of Baby Dolls for $835,000 in a sale approved by the Probate Court" on Dec. 29, 2006, according to the complaint.
"Through mid-2007, the parties had an increasingly contentious relationship. Hansegard was denied access to the business and its records and did not receive any funds from the business. James Cabella approached Hansegard about buying her interests in 6340 Westheimer. They reached an agreement in June 2007 for Hansegard to sell her interests to Debra Cabella. Debra Cabella signed a promissory note agreeing to pay Lisa Hansegard $1,300,000 in weekly payments of $2,500," according to the complaint, which cites exhibits 4 and 5, the Bill of Sale and Promissory Note.
Debra Cabella made two payments on the note, Hansegard says, citing another exhibit.
"During the negotiation process for the sale, Hansegard learned that James Cabella's former name was Vincent Palermo and that he was a former member of the DeCavalcante organized crime family in New Jersey," the complaint states. "James Cabella had moved to Houston under the Federal Witness Protection Program. He did not tell Hansegard that he was putting the business in Debra Cabella's name because of his background and that Debra Cabella would have no role in the business. She also learned during the process that James Cabella was misappropriating revenues and expenses for Baby Dolls to the benefit of The Penthouse Club. Hansegard would not have entered the business relationship had James Cabella disclosed his past or his intentions to benefit his family's other business."
The complaint continues: "In 2008, Debra Cabella transferred of 6340 Westheimer and, later, Hereweareagain Inc. and other assets to Vincent Cabella Jr., who continued to operate the business for the family's benefit without compensating Hansegard. According to Debra Cabella, she transferred her interests in both 6340 Westheimer Inc. and Hereweareagain Inc. to her son without any compensation. Vincent Cabella Jr. now holds the collateral for the promissory note, as well as significant assets formerly belonging to Debra Cabella. The Cabellas forfeited the corporate existence of 6340 Westheimer Inc after shutting the business formerly known as Baby Dolls." [Citations to a deposition and a corporate amendment omitted.]
"Hansegard and the Cabellas initiated this dispute in the Probate Court in 2007 after Debra Cabella failed to make payments on the promissory note," the complaint states, citing the origin of some of the documents referred to above.
In June this year, Hansegard learned that the Probate Court would lose jurisdiction after the imminent closing of Anargyros Mylonas' estate. She sued the Cabellas in Harris County Court, which has continuing jurisdiction over the dispute, according to the complaint.
Hansegard seeks punitive damages for fraudulent inducement, breach of contract and for violating the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.
She sued James Cabella for spousal liability, claiming Cabella served as his wife's agent in negotiating purchase of her share, and the promissory note, and he is liable with Debra for the promissory note.
She also seeks a restraining order to stop the Cabellas from "further transfer of any assets or property that can be used to satisfy the debt in this action," and a restraining order against Vincent Cabella Jr. to stop transfer of stock or assets of Herewerareagain.
Hansegard also seeks appointment of a receiver to take charge of the transferred assets that serve as collateral for the note.
She says she is still owed $1,297,500 on the note.
According to reports in Houston and New York media, Vincent Palermo became a government informant in the late 1990s after he was indicted on several federal charges, and admitted murdering a suspected informant.
His testimony allegedly helped take down the DeCavalcante family, and after Palermo spent more than 2 years in prison Uncle Sam gave him a new identity and moved him to Houston in the witness protection program.
In 2009 authorities learned that Vincent Cabella aka James Cabella was actually Vincent Palermo aka Vinnie Ocean, when he and other owners of the Penthouse Club sued the City of Houston, claiming the Penthouse Club was wrongfully being treated as a sexually oriented business.
Houston then filed a successful lawsuit to shut down the Penthouse Club after police cited at least 10 cases of prostitution and several drug offenses at the club, according to Houston news reports.
"Before becoming a government witness and moving to Houston, Palermo owned Wiggles strip club in Queens. The club was eventually shut down by the city of New York because of numerous drug and prostitution cases that were made on the property," according to a report by Click2Houston.com, a website affiliated with KPRC Channel 2. The New York Daily News published a similar report in September 2009.
Houston shut down the Penthouse Club for a year, but it reopened in September 2009, and is still in operation. Its website this morning advertised the appearance of a "Penthouse Pet."
The website gives no indication of who owns the place now.
Fictional mob boss Tony Soprano is said to be based loosely on Palermo, according to the Wikipedia entry on Palermo, which cites the documentary, "The Sopranos: A Dramatic History."