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October 17, 2003

Karen Lucchesi - Her Side of the Story - Part 1- The Early Years
By Nelson Thibodeaux

Like many folks that read this, I knew of Karen Lucchesi primarily because of her famous last name. Her personal fame grew with the opening of an opulent salon and wellness center in Colleyville. Lucchesi made appearances at all the right charities and was known for her generosity in support of local groups. She built what appeared to be an edifice to those who professed to be Colleyville's elite amongst elitist. Lucchesi did appear to have the ability to navigate the rocky waters of Colleyville's materialistic crowd without being forced to profess loyalty to any one clique.  She appeared at ease with any group and always managed to be a gracious and caring host when events were held at her magnificent establishment.

The big limousines parked in front of the La Plaza Wellness Center seemed an appropriate visual exclamation point for Lucchesi.  Here was a statuesque Italian beauty that had it all.  Lucchesi seemed to be a dynamic lady, but obviously she had a head start on the rest of us being the daughter of a famous baseball manager. The European splendor of this palace was probably a gift from her famous father. Oh well, I should have been so lucky
Click on photos to enlarge.

Lucchesi built a center that resembled a Mediterranean Village with marble tiles, stately Grecian columns and colorful rooms in colors like sea green.  The operation included sculptures, cascading fountains and big plans.

If I would had ever refreshed my memory by doing a little research on Karen's dad, Frank Lucchesi, I probably would have had a different perspective.  Here was a guy that rose to incredible heights in his profession against great odds.  Frank Lucchesi was the youngest manager in the major leagues at 23 years old, managing a backwater low minor league operation.  It took him 19 years of perseverance to finally land a major league manager's job with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970. At the time, he had a little girl named Karen. She had been born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1965.  

The Lucchesi family 1970 after Frank had been named the Phillies manager.  (l to r) Fran, Karen in Frank's lap, Bryan and Kathy.

Frank was the first manager of the Phillies in their new Vet Stadium in 1970.

Karen at five years old

By the time Karen was 17 she had three jobs and, moved from home and supported herself.

At ten, Karen moved to Arlington with her family when Frank become the manager of the Texas Rangers. She went to public school in Arlington and began a collection of sports memorabilia. Problem was that Frank would not allow any of the children to ask for autographs from his own players.  Years later, when Karen paid hundreds of dollars for an autographed ball, she said that she could recall actually hanging out with some of the same players at an early age. 

Karen has always been an animal lover.  In fact, she moved onto property owned by a Fort Worth attorney, Anand Alloju and refurbished an old barn into a New York type loft to have a place for her dog. Alloju would later involve her in the money laundering sting fiasco.

During the earlier years, with Frank traveling so much, Kathy and the kids became a very self-sufficient group. By the time Karen was 18 years old, she had become a real entrepreneur buying condos at distressed sales and flipping them for a profit.

At 15 years old, Karen was already working in a day care. During her last year at high school she worked 1/2 day at modeling jobs everyday.  She had saved enough money to pursue her own businesses by the time she was in her early twenties.

Karen maintained a close and loving relationship with her dad. The Lucchesi family has maintained homes close to each other over the years.  Frank and his brother set up a line of credit for $20,000 to help Karen expand her spa business.  However her dad always recognized the entrepreneurial ability of Karen and knew a little seed was all it would take.  He was always frugal however, her first car was a hand me down through two other family members. 

At the risk of being accused of  stereotyping a particular ethnic group, if Italian families are supposed to be a very tight group, then this Lucchesi clan is the quintessential Italian family.   Of course, under the circumstances, Karen's problems are a heavy weight to bear for any family and seems especially so in this close family. Having a brief opportunity to meet with Karen's mom Kathy and brother Bryan, one can not help but feel their pain and concern.  Karen continues to provide comfort to her family by exhibiting an incredible level of self-confidence in her future and strength to get through the next few months.

Fran, Karen, Frank and Bryan Lucchesi during earlier more carefree times. While known as a firebrand manager, since his retirement, Frank Lucchesi has a reputation as a gentle, generous and kind man.  Watching a story about someone in need on the news, it was not unusual for Lucchesi to call the television station and find out how to get in contact with the family.  

Karen began her career in the spa business with a small 2,000 sq. ft. operation in La Colinas.  When she purchased the business it was only doing nails and she quickly expanded the operation to a full service facility.

By 1997, Lucchesi had expanded her operations to a facility near the Kroger store in Colleyville.  She refined her successful business and began the design on a facility that would be a blend of sophistication and glamour with a dedication to health, fitness and beauty.  

Just prior to opening the new vision known as La Plaza, Karen was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that prompts the body to attack its own tissues.  She experienced negative effects with steroids prescribed and began to look for alternative solutions.  During her time of research she began to develop an expanded vision of a total wellness center rather than just a salon/spa.  She envisioned a place that would have all the necessary ingredients for a healthy lifestyle at one location.

The concept for La Plaza Wellness Center was born.  Of European splendor resembling a Mediterranean Village with marble tile floors and stately Grecian columns the facility would feature colorful rooms with colors like sea green.  It would be decorated with sculptures and fountains offering an experience unlike anything around.

Lucchesi worked during the construction of the facility doing what was necessary to launch the next phase of her entrepreneurial career.  When the sheetrock wasn't ready on time, she floated and bedded the walls herself.

Patrons of La Plaza were often greeted by all the members of the Lucchesi family.  The facility provided an opportunity for the close knit family to work together. Above is Bryan, mom Kathy and Karen Lucchesi.

As the success of the La Plaza grew, Karen Lucchesi followed in the footsteps of her generous dad.  She was a major contributor to the fund raising activities of many local charities including the Women's club, shelters for women, the Christ Haven Shelter, the North Texas Cancer Center and the Bobby Bragan Foundation that provides scholarships to deserving kids for college.  

Karen launched her entrepreneurial ways out of high school.  She never obtained a college education, however her instincts and ability to understand the needs of her customers contributed to her business success.  She received numerous awards for her generosity and business leadership skills.

During a particular busy time in 1998, Lucchesi had a problem with a tenant that required the services of an attorney.  A mutual friend introduced her to a young attorney by the name of Anand Alloju.  Alloju discussed the issue with the tenant's attorney and quickly resolved the matter.  Since he would not accept any payment, Lucchesi provided him with gift certificates from La Plaza for his wife Lisa.

Over the subsequent years, Alloju and Lisa often visited La Plaza.  The couple befriended the entire Lucchesi family. They would often visited Karen's parents, Frank and Kathy and even went boating with Fran's family.

The friendships continued and a mutual trust seemed to be part of a bond between all the parties. In fact, Lucchesi and Alloju traded off when one or the other was out of town. A friend and neighbor helping each other as they would feed the pets and have total access to each other's homes. Then Alloju began to handle minor business issues for Lucchesi and at one time obtained a Power of Attorney to conduct business affairs for Karen when she was out of town.

Suddenly, last year Alloju was arrested in a money laundering sting and he had checks from Lucchesi's businesses on his person at the time.  Although Alloju continued to assure Karen Lucchesi that she had nothing to fear, he eventually agreed to a plea bargain in exchange to testify against her.

Next week we explore Alloju's role in the money laundering scheme, actual transcripts between Alloju and an undercover DEA agent, audio tapes and defendant's evidence that was not allowed to be introduced at the trial.

In a recent family photo is Karen far left, her niece, Frank, Kathy, Fran and Bryan.

Emails or letters in support of Lucchesi will be forwarded to her parole officer, who will make recommendations to Judge McBryde.  Anyone wishing to urge that Lucchesi be given an opportunity to remain free on bond during her appeal may send comments to LNO and have them forwarded to the appropriate party.  Local business leaders that would like to show support are encouraged to write on your letter head and send to LNO, PO Box 332, Colleyville, Texas 76034.  Anyone that wishes to assist Lucchesi in any other fashion may also contact LNO and the information will be forwarded.  CLICK HERE to Contact LNO on behalf of Karen Lucchesi. Readers are always welcomed to submit "emails to the editor" as well on any subject matter to LNO.

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