On June 11, 2014, four women and one man were charged with allegedly drugging men and charging thousands of dollars to their credit cards at clubs in New York City. Five years later, one of those women, Roselyn “Rosie” Keo, considered one of the two ringleaders of the scheme, posed for photographers at the Toronto International Film Festival.
keo, who was sentenced to five years probation in 2016, was in toronto to see her own story on screen in hustlers, a new film from writer-director lorene scafaria, which is being premiered at the festival on Sept. 7 and hits theaters nationwide on September 7. 13.
fraudsters is based on jessica pressler’s december 2015 article in a new york magazine “fraudsters in scores”, for which the journalist interviewed both keo and the other leader from the scheme, samantha foxx (née barbash; this story will refer to her as barbash as that is the name she used at the time and the name on court documents). the women recounted a deep friendship that grew into a sisterhood and then darkened.
when scafaria read pressler’s article, the filmmaker tells the time, “she found that, at bottom, it was a fascinating story of friendship.” She says that she knew that if she had to adapt this story for the screen, it had to come from Pressler’s article, rather than court documents and tabloids. in this way, a pressler-based character could serve as a stand-in for the viewer, allowing the audience to sympathize with the characters. “I thought Jessica and Rosie’s relationship was incredibly interesting: the relationship between a narrator and his subject,” says Scafaria.
Although some details of what the special narcotics prosecutor called a “disgusting scheme” were altered for the film, Scafaria made it a point to stay true to the story Pressler wrote, even cutting the sound of the film at one point when a tape recorder was used. by the movie reporter (who is based on pressler and played by julia stiles) is blown away. He changed the names of the female leads: Roselyn Keo Becomes Destiny, played by Constance Wu; Jennifer Lopez’s character, Ramona, is inspired by Barbash; and her business partners, karina pascucci and marsi rosen, loosely translate into annabelle (lili reinhart) and mercedes (keke palmer). Cardi B, Lizzo, and a male R&B star (whose identity is best left to viewers to learn by watching the film) also appear in the film.
“There is an accountability to the truth and what really happened,” says Scafaria, “and it’s not a black and white story, after all.”
Here’s the true story behind the movie’s hustlers.
the humble beginnings of roselyn keo and samantha barbash
According to the story she told Pressler, Keo discovered the world of New York City strip clubs after her Cambodian refugee parents left her and her brother with their grandparents. “My mom couldn’t help me,” Keo told New York in a new interview posted online on September 10. 10. “Who knows what kind of person she would have been if she was there to back me up. Would she have worked so hard, would she have rushed me as hard, as I did, knowing that she had something to fall back on?
That buzz started by stripping at a local club in Rockland County, where Keo grew up, an hour and a half drive from New York City, before moving on to bigger opportunities at Times Flash Dancers Club. square and the hustler by larry flynt. club. she met barbash in hustler. It was in 2007 that the two began working together to make money from “wall street guys mostly,” Barbash told Pressler. At the time, her work was legal, earning money in tips and gifts from her male clientele.
although it was hard work. “The men were mostly jerks,” Pressler wrote. and it wasn’t always glamorous or lucrative. “The girls were the main attraction; This was as bright as the neon lights outside every strip club in America. however, traditionally, rather than the clubs paying the dancers, the dancers pay the clubs for the privilege of working there.”
scafaria says that this aspect of the story, that the women “came up against a value system that’s kind of broken,” adds more nuance, and hopes con-viewers understand the forces at play behind it. your decisions. This story underscores the notion that in strip clubs and in the world, “women are valued for their beauty above all else, and men are valued for their money, success and power,” says Scafaria. “The rules of the club are like the rules of the world.”
how scammers went from stripping to stealing
keo took a break from the club scene to have a baby and upon her return found that the climate in her industry had changed. the financial crisis of 2008 had affected the clientele of the clubs, which meant a drop in women’s wages. Barbash stopped stripping and found “fishing” (or “trading” as she called it) much more lucrative. in this approach to her work, she and other women would find men willing to drink, dance, and maybe end up in a club, hopefully tipping women’s direction along the way. She ran “a team of dark-haired henchmen who picked up men and took them to clubs,” Pressler wrote. that crew included pascucci and rosen.
Fishing was lucrative because the women essentially had agendas from previous clients, usually wealthy men who would want to drink and party at strip clubs. As Barbash explained to Pressler, and as Scafaria scenarios in the film, one of the women would meet the customer for a drink before the others showed up. “drunk on alcohol and female attention,” Pressler wrote, “would drive him to one of the clubs where they had negotiated a lucrative percentage of his spending.” Those clubs included Scores on Manhattan’s West Side and the Roadhouse NYC Gentlemen’s Club in Flushing, Queens, according to the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Narcotics. once they arrived at one of the clubs, the women charged their credit card.
but the plan wasn’t perfect: some men said they were too tired to go to a club and refused to do drugs. so barbash invented a concoction. a combination of ketamine, methylone (or “molly”) and cocaine was used to make them relax, have fun and forget, according to the indictment. “In many cases, the drugs were secretly administered to the victim without her consent,” says the office’s press release.
“It sounds so bad to say we were drugging people,” Keo told Pressler, adding that the men were very rich. “But it was, like, normal.” in his eyes, all these customers were supposed to be guys who had been to strip clubs before. “They had history,” Keo said. “everyone came in ready to party.”
the fall of the scammers plan
The women’s scheme began to fail when the men began to realize what had happened to them. One victim, who went by the pseudonym Fred in Pressler’s account (and Doug in Hustlers), met Barbash and Keo at a time of total turmoil in his life: his house had been destroyed by a hurricane and he was becoming separated from his family. wife. he and keo bonded over their children. “He talked about how his wife left,” Keo told Pressler. “I don’t think she could handle it, because having an autistic child is a lot of work.”
Keo said they then went to the inn and “cleaned it up completely,” even as he begged them to return the $17,000 they took from his credit and debit cards. “Doug” he called the new york city police department and played them a recording of a conversation he had with another former stripper who had worked with the women. (the identity of the informant was never revealed by the new york police). on the tape, she admitted to drugging and robbing her.
Investigators struggled to find more victims who were willing to talk. “The number of people willing to talk to us was so small it was absurd,” an officer later told Pressler in an interview. “Men do not want to admit that they are victims of women.” Although authorities did not confirm this when Pressler wrote her original story, a representative from the New York Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed in time that investigators conducted a sting operation to catch the women.
Around the same time, in the spring of 2014, the new york post published a story about a cardiologist who “refused” to pay the $135,000 bill charged to his credit card at scores, another New York City club. new york in circulation for keo and barbarism. Zyad Kivarkis Younan claimed “he couldn’t have charged such a high bill without being drugged,” the publication wrote, after dozens sued the doctor to recover the funds.
The accusations came within two months of the publication of that article.
the charges against the women swindlers
after eight months of investigation, a joint effort by the new york city police department, the office of the special narcotics prosecutor and the drug enforcement administration (dea) led to the indictments of barbash, keo, rosen, pascucci and carmine vitolo, a manager at roadhouse. The group’s scheme “involved not only the theft of $200,000, but compromised the health and safety of the victims by covertly providing them with harmful substances,” said special narcotics prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said in a press release at the time.
Only four victims were identified in the indictments, and all of the crimes took place between September 1 and 2. 3, 2013 and Dec. On January 19, 2013, Barbash and Keo were charged with two counts of conspiracy, four counts of grand theft, two counts of assault, and three counts of forgery. Pascucci was charged with two counts of conspiracy, four counts of grand theft, and one count of forgery, while Rosen was charged with two counts of conspiracy, three counts of grand theft, one count of assault, and two counts of forgery.
The four women and Vitolo pleaded guilty to their crimes, and Keo accepted a plea deal that kept her out of jail altogether. “I thought about it and I’m, like, the only one of those girls who is normal, with a brain in her head, with a child and a future,” Keo told Pressler. She and Barbash were sentenced to five years probation, while Rosen and Pascucci were sentenced to four months of jail weekends and five years probation.
keo is now writing a book, which he told new york magazine will be called the sophisticated hustler.
correction, sept. 12
The original version of this story misstated who confirmed that there was a sting operation in the investigation. He was a representative of the New York Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, not the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Narcotics.
write to rachel e. greenspan to email@example.com.