One of the victims of the real-life scheme that inspired the film “Hustlers” has spoken out about what it was like to be swindled.
The recently debuted film stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu as two strippers who turn the tables on their Wall Street customers by drugging them and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from their credit cards while they’re too incapacitated — and distracted by multiple women in a glitzy strip club — to even notice what’s happening, much less protest.
While the film bills itself as a Robin Hood-esque story of underdogs coming up in the world, Dr. Zyad Kivarkis Younan, a cardiologist from New Jersey who was victimized in real life by one of the women involved, may not describe the plot as empowering.
Speaking to ABC’s “20/20,” Younan described how he went on three dates with a woman, an alleged nursing student who also worked as a bartender at the strip club Scores, only to later realize that copious amounts of money was being taken from him, via his credit card.
“There was a message [on my phone] left by American Express,” he recalled. “They said there were excessive charges on your credit card. It was close to a hundred thousand dollars.”
Younan then confronted the woman, Karina Pascucci, about the charges, he explained.
“I said, ‘I can’t believe you did this to me. You spent all this money on my credit card,’” he said. “She turned immediately red, and I told her, ‘You’re nothing but a thief.’ I told her, ‘You’re nothing but a swindler. I don’t wanna see you. I don’t wanna talk to you ever again.’”
Younan suspects that he was drugged at least once and described the experience to “20/20,” telling the outlet that, once after downing the last of his glass of wine during a date with Pascucci, “I started feeling warm, flushy and [my] vision was a little blurry and cloudy.”
Still, despite feeling strange, he said that he never suspected that anything was amiss.
“I really didn’t think twice, and then I don’t remember much after that,” he said.
He woke up the next morning with no recollection of the night before, and was greeted by a note Pascucci had left thanking him for “the best night ever.”
What happened to Younan happened to many wealthy men, as described in the 2015 New York Magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores,” which inspired the film. Roslyn Keo, a stripper, and Samantha Barbash, a former stripper who had copious connections in the industry, worked together to perfect their scheme: lure men into spending booze-filled nights at strip clubs, and spike their drinks with a combination of MDMA and ketamine that would not only make them willing to give up important information like their social security numbers — information needed to verify expensive credit card purchases — but would also ensure that they wouldn’t remember the night before.
Pascucci and other girls recruited by Keo and Barbash were used to lure the men to the clubs and other venues where the so-called transactions would take place. And as Keo described to writer Jessica Pressler in 2015, the men, many of whom were married, would rarely risk hurting their reputations by fighting charges that were made at a strip club. If they did attempt to press the issue, Barbash would calm them down over the phone, reminding them that they’d had a good time the night before and were “tipping everyone,” Keo said.
Speaking to “20/20,” Younan said that he was “naïve and foolish,” and he “believed” and “trusted” Pascucci before the scheme became apparent.
“I mean, who hasn’t done a stupid thing or two for a beautiful girl in life?” he said.
Also speaking to “20/20,” Pascucci said that she “100 percent felt bad” for what happened with Younan, and told the outlet that she “didn’t even know his bill was that high until I had found out” from Barbash and the manager of Scores.
However, unlike other men who had been taken in by Barbash and Keo’s scheme, Younan refused to pay the charges, and eventually teamed up with the authorities, who had already begun investigating the women at that point. Barbash and Keo’s Robin Hood story came to an end when, with the help of Younan as a witness, and an anonymous informant — one of the women who was recruited by the duo, and whose identity has never been revealed — the New York Police Department and the DEA eventually gathered enough evidence to charge them.
Barbash was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty to conspiracy, assault, and grand larceny, while Keo received the same sentence for charges of grand larceny and attempted assault, according to the New York Post. Pascucci and Marsi Rosen, another woman recruited to take part in the plot, were sentenced to spending weekends in jail for four months before beginning their own five-year probationary periods, another Post report states.
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