Behind Chippendales’ glamor was a founder who orchestrated murder-for-hire plots

Former Chippendales performer Read Scot was having a great night in England at his new gig with male exotic dance troupe ‘Adonis’ when suddenly one of the band’s founders came over and asked him to come down scene, he said.

Scot said they headed to a small office in the theater where Adonis was performing – a huge show in the Atlantic City resort of Blackpool, England – and that’s when he learned that his life was in danger.

“There are two gentlemen in suits, and they’re posing as FBI,” Scot said. “[They] said, ‘We think someone’s out to get you.'”

Scot said that FBI agents explained during this July 1991 conversation that they had intercepted a call and believed that he and two other Adonis members had been hit to be killed by injection of cyanide.

“I couldn’t believe it was real. I just couldn’t believe someone would do this to me. But once it sinks in, [I thought] It is serious. Someone is trying to kill me,” Scot said. “And I said, ‘Banerjee. It must be Banerjee.’

Steve Banerjee was the founder of Chippendales. Behind the glitz and glamor of one of entertainment’s sexiest shows, an FBI investigation eventually revealed that Banerjee was the mastermind of several murder-for-hire plots, including one against Scot.

Watch the full story on “20/20” FRIDAY at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. The intimate details of this case are also featured in a new Discovery+ series, “Curse of the Chippendales”.

Read Scot, pictured, was a former Chippendales performer.

ABC

Banerjee, who owned a nightclub in West Los Angeles called Chippendales, launched his first show featuring male strippers in 1979. The idea proved to be an overnight success, and Banerjee, an immigrant from Mumbai, India, had lines of women gathered outside his club. almost every night.

“It was the first time that something was entirely aimed at women,” said Candace Mayeron, former Chippendales associate producer. “We built an environment for women to let it all out.”

In the early 1980s, Banerjee wanted to improve performance and possibly expand, so he hired former television producer and Emmy Award-winning choreographer Nick DeNoia to help with the expansion. They eventually opened a new Chippendales show at a New York club.

According to Scot, the relationship between Banerjee and DeNoia began to deteriorate, and they often argued over the creative direction of the show. Eventually, Banerjee and DeNoia made a deal taped on the back of a napkin, where DeNoia would get fifty percent of the profits from a touring version of the Chippendales.

But when it became apparent that touring had become a lucrative part of the business, Banerjee grew frustrated with DeNoia’s success, suspicious that DeNoia was paying Banerjee his fair share of tour profits, and hired a man named Ray Colon to help lead an attack. on his business partner, according to FBI Special Agent Scott Garriola.

PHOTO: In this April 7, 1975 file photo, Nicholas DeNoia and Jennifer O'Neill are shown during the 47th annual Academy Awards rehearsal at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

In this April 7, 1975 file photo, Nicholas DeNoia and Jennifer O’Neill are shown during the 47th annual Academy Awards rehearsal at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images, FILE

Colon recruited an accomplice named Gilberto Rivera Lopez.

On April 7, 1987, Colon and Rivera Lopez traveled from Los Angeles to the Chippendales office in New York, according to Garriola. Rivera Lopez shot DeNoia in his office and the shooter fled before police arrived.

PHOTO: In this February 28, 2013 file photo, FBI agent Scott Garriola speaks to the media about an investigation in Los Angeles.

In this February 28, 2013, file photo, FBI agent Scott Garriola speaks to the media about an investigation in Los Angeles.

Gene Blevins/Reuters, FILE

At the time, nothing linked Banerjee to the murder. Business continued as usual and the case remained unsolved for years. Banerjee bought the touring rights from the DeNoia family, Scot said.

In the early 1990s, other male strip clubs and shows emerged, including Adonis in London, which was started by a group of former Chippendales performers who hired Scot as emcee.

“They were now in direct competition with Chippendales. So what would you expect from Banerjee when he has competition? He wanted those people killed,” Garriola said.

In 1991, an FBI agent in Las Vegas received a call from an informant known as “Strawberry”, who reported that Colon had attempted to hire him to hit Adonis employees.

“[Colon] gave her a dropper bottle filled with cyanide,” Garriola said.[Strawberry] took it all, he flew there [to England]I have cold feet.”

Based on the informant’s information, authorities searched Colon’s home and found 46 grams of cyanide, enough to kill 230 people, according to the FBI. Colon was arrested and charged with conspiracy and murder for hire.

After spending seven months in prison, Colon decided to cooperate with the FBI. Garriola said Colon told authorities that Banerjee was behind DeNoia’s murder and the plot against the Adonis dancers. Garriola said they decided to set up an undercover operation to secretly record Banerjee admitting his role in the crimes, using Colon as an undercover informant. The FBI arranged for Colon to be released from prison on the pretext that Colon needed special treatment for a terminal problem with his kidneys, according to Garriola.

Meanwhile, Rivera Lopez, the man behind DeNoia’s murder, was already in jail for an unrelated crime.

On June 23, 1992, under FBI surveillance, Colon asked Banerjee to meet him at an I-HOP in Santa Monica, California while carrying a recording device. Garriola had taken Colon’s underpants to an Italian tailor he knew to create a flap in the underwear where they hid the micro-cassette recorder. But the meeting was a failure, Garriola said.

PHOTO: Scott Garriola is a former FBI agent and the lead investigator in the Chippendales case.

Scott Garriola is a former FBI agent and the lead investigator in the Chippendales case.

ABC

When Colon arrived, Banerjee ordered Colon to meet in the bathroom and put his finger to his lips. Whenever Colon asked a question, a paranoid Banerjee would write his answer on a post-it note, then tear it up and flush it down the toilet, according to Garriola.

The modified boxer shorts came in handy when Garriola said Banerjee made Colon strip down to his shorts in the bathroom, but couldn’t find the device.

“We don’t capture anything on a recording device,” Garriola said. “There’s a lot of rustling and you could hear whispers, you could hear the scratching of a pencil. You just can’t hear anything of value.

The FBI had a “major problem,” Garriola said, because Banerjee knew Colon had been arrested and may have doubts as to why Colon had been released.

“It’s going to be hard to convince that person on the outside that that person who’s in custody isn’t cooperating with the government,” he said. “That was a major hurdle.”

Garriola said he devised a new plan for Colon to pretend he was a fugitive on the run abroad and for Banerjee to meet him in Europe. When Banerjee found out Colon was in Europe, he agreed to fly there to meet him. The two men met in a hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, to discuss business. What Banerjee didn’t know, Garriola said, was that the FBI was secretly listening in and recording their conversation from the next room.

The conversation lasted three or four hours, Garriola said. Banerjee, still unsure if he could trust Colon, even said at one point that he thought the walls were thin and was nervous that the FBI was listening on the sidelines. But ultimately, Garriola said, their patience paid off.

“[Banerjee asked] if the FBI had mentioned anything to Colon “about the D.” That’s the code word they used…for DeNoia’s name,” Garriola said. “And then Banerjee asked Colon, ‘Do they know I gave you the money to buy the guns?'”

Garriola said the FBI knew at that time that Banerjee had given Colon $500 to buy guns used in DeNoia’s murder.

“We hear Banerjee confessing to his complicity in hiring Ray Colon for DeNoia’s murder. They talk about the attempted murders of Read Scot and other dancers,” Garriola said. “We were able to get the evidence we needed.”

After Banerjee’s arrest in September 1993, he pleaded guilty to racketeering and murder for hire. However, in 1994, a day before Banerjee was to be sentenced, he committed suicide.

“He didn’t get the punishment he deserved. He didn’t serve time for Nick DeNoia, for destroying lives, for trying to kill people,” Scot said. “He got away with it easily. He was a coward.”

Gilberto Rivera Lopez, the man who actually killed DeNoia, was eventually convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Colon pleaded guilty to conspiracy and murder for hire and received a reduced sentence for his cooperation with the FBI in bringing down Banerjee. After Banerjee’s death, Colon served an additional two years in federal prison and house arrest, and was released in 1996.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 24, 2020, file photo, MTV's Joss Mooney and Rogan O'Connor perform at Chippendales at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

In this Jan. 24, 2020, file photo, MTV’s Joss Mooney and Rogan O’Connor perform at Chippendales at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Denise Truscello/WireImage via Getty Images, FILE

Chippendales, with new owners, remains iconic – a staple of the Las Vegas Strip. A film on Banerjee is in preparation.

“I think the Chippendales story is always important to tell…in terms of how apparent commercial success can go wrong,” said Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, host of the “Welcome to your Fantasy” podcast. “It’s kind of an instructive morality tale about human nature and the perils of power and success.”

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