— A Houston woman has filed a lawsuit claiming a former New Jersey mobster who was reputedly the inspiration for the fictional Tony Soprano cheated her out of nearly $1.3 million after she sold him her interest in the Baby Dolls strip club.
Lisa Hansegard says she agreed to relinquish her interest in the club at 6340 Westheimer Road to James Cabella for $1.3 million in exchange for weekly payments of $2,500. She claims only two payments were made, according to court papers filed last week.
Hansegard says she would have never agreed to enter into a business relationship with Cabella had she known that he was actually Vincent Palermo, former boss in the DeCavalcante crime family in New Jersey.
Palermo was arrested by the FBI in 1999, testified for the government, was placed with his family in the witness protection program and relocated to Houston under the new name of Cabella.
The legal dispute stems back to 2005, when Hansegard became pregnant with the son of Baby Dolls owner Aris Mylonas, who died without a will. Hansegard's son became the heir to his estate.
A probate court ordered the sale of the business in mid-2006. The terms of the sale provided that Mylonas' brother would receive part of the proceeds and the rest would go to the estate.
At that time, Hansegard claims, Cabella approached her about "his taking over management of Baby Dolls and forming a corporation to accomplish this." Cabella was already operating the nearby Penthouse Club, technically owned by Cabella's wife, Debra.
That club had repeatedly come under scrutiny by Houston authorities for prostitution and drug arrests. The city succeeded in shutting down the business for a period of time in 2009.
Initially, Hansegard partnered with Cabella, letting him run Baby Dolls while she retained partial ownership. She later agreed to sell her interest in the business for $1.3 million, payable in weekly installments. The club has been closed now for several years.
According to the lawsuit, Hansegard later learned Cabella was "misappropriating revenues and expenses" from Baby Dolls for the benefit of The Penthouse Club. She seeks $1,297,500, or the unpaid amount on the original promissory note.
The lawsuit claims Cabella "failed to tell Hansegard of his criminal background and that he intended to use the Baby Dolls to benefit his other business, The Penthouse Club."
Hansegard's Houston attorney Brent Perry said he doesn't know why Cabella decided not to pay Hansegard, whom he said isn't worried about bringing a lawsuit against an ex-mobster.
"They've been in an ongoing legal dispute for several years," he said.
Perry said Cabella may have filed for bankruptcy three or four years ago, but he said he didn't have any information about Cabella's current financial circumstances.
The next step in the case is a hearing next week before District Judge Kyle Carter.
Cabella could not be reached for comment.