Z Bone Zone

Z Bone's Media Bites For 2003

When the traditional media wants to jack-up their ratings, where can they go for some good titillation? They go straight to the strip clubs! What LA strip club or dancer is showing up on TV or in print? Find out right here. Who knows, you just might find some interesting news here too.

The Talk of Las Vegas Is Operation G-String
December 21, 2003

By John Johnson
LA Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — FBI agents burst into Jaguars — an upscale "gentleman's club" a couple of blocks off the Strip — just as the shift was changing in the early afternoon and the strippers were in their dressing room getting ready for the next performance.

Hearing the commotion outside his office and fearing a fight had broken out in the lounge, the club manager jumped to his feet, threw open the door — and found two agents pointing guns at him.

"They had this battering ram and started battering the liquor room door," said the manager, who identified himself only as Joe C. "Initially, I was in shock."

The dramatic raid in mid-May was the first public confirmation of a sweeping corruption investigation, dubbed Operation G-String, that has roiled the nation's gambling capital and shined a spotlight on the city's booming, fast-growing strip-club industry.

A 42-page federal indictment unveiled last month accuses four current and former Clark County elected officials of accepting up to a total of $400,000 in bribes from Michael Galardi, a high-profile strip-club owner.

Galardi, 42, who along with his father owns a string of strip clubs across the country, has pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and is cooperating with the government. His attorney declined to make Galardi available for comment.

The purpose of the bribes, according to the indictment, was to crush Galardi's rivals in the competitive strip-club industry that has proliferated just out of sight of the Strip's world-famous hotels. Galardi also wanted to defeat new rules designed to crack down on illicit sexual activities in the clubs, prosecutors say in court papers.

Much of the evidence against Galardi and the others comes from phone conversations the government was listening in on, records show.

Copies of phone excerpts released by U.S. Atty. Daniel G. Bogden show that the Clark County commissioners were asking the strip-club owners to fund everything from upcoming election campaigns to tuition for an Olympic ski school.

One former commissioner (a commissioner is like a county supervisor in California) was overheard boasting to a Galardi associate that he was doing "my duty to God and country" by helping out the strip-club owner, the indictment said.

The same commissioner, Erin Kenny, told the Galardi associate just before the 2002 November election that she was desperate for money, court papers show. "Tell me what I've got to do, but I've got to have money from him," Kenny said. "… I'm on my knees begging."

The prosecutions resulted from a joint investigation by the FBI, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Internal Revenue Service. Bogden's office, along with attorneys from the Department of Justice's organized crime and racketeering section, is prosecuting the case.

Some of the government's tactics are being criticized as going too far. One target is the alleged use of the Patriot Act — passed in the wake of Sept. 11 to combat terrorism — to quickly obtain financial records of investigation targets.

"I didn't vote for the Patriot Act to allow the FBI to go after strip-club owners," Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) said in an interview.

The scandal, with its bizarre twists and turns, has replaced the tiger-mauling of Roy Horn as the hot topic of gossip around the craps tables on the Strip. Longtime Vegas watchers say Operation G-String is probably the biggest scandal to hit the city since the early 1980s.

"The last time we had anything approaching this was Operation Yobo in 1982," said Guy Rocha, Nevada's state archivist. Several state legislators went to prison for accepting bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a land developer.

Those accused in the latest scandal — Kenny; former commissioners Dario Herrera and Lance Malone; and current Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey — don't have the same political wattage attached to their names as those caught in Operation Yobo, Rocha said. But they had a bright future.

"These were some of the fair-haired boys and girls of the Democratic Party," Rocha said.

Kenny, 42, ran for lieutenant governor in 2002. Herrera, 30, had made a run at Congress and was considered an articulate leader-in-waiting of the fast-growing Latino community in Nevada. Kincaid-Chauncey is a 65-year-old grandmother respected for her work with foster children.

Herrera, Malone and Kincaid-Chauncey have pleaded innocent. Kenny pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud and conspiracy. Like Galardi, she is cooperating with the government. Also like Galardi, she faces a 20-year prison sentence on the most serious charge.

Lawyers for those indicted declined to make their clients available for comment.

As part of his guilty plea to racketeering, Galardi has agreed to forfeit $3.85 million and give up his interest in the clubs. He also awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to attempting to bribe three San Diego city councilmen in connection with his club in that city.

A spokesman for the FBI, Todd Palmer, confirmed the inquiry was continuing. However, he refused to comment on reports in the local media that future targets include developers fueling the city's fast-growing housing market. In recent years, massive tracts of stucco homes have marched almost to the foot of the Spring Mountains west of the city.

The attempted crackdown on the strip clubs began after police paid a visit to Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson-Gates, the wife of a judge.

She was astonished, she said, to hear about the blatant sexual acts taking place in some of the clubs under the guise of lap dancing. A lap dance is a private performance by a stripper, usually starting at $20 a dance. Police said the activities went way beyond dancing.

"It was really, really bad," Atkinson-Gates said in an interview. She introduced a resolution last year to prevent any touching between the dancer and the customer. She wasn't prepared for the response. "I took so much abuse," she said. "The industry came after me."

There are an estimated 20 strip clubs in Clark County, a threefold increase in the last five years. Their rapid proliferation is another indicator that Las Vegas is returning to its "Sin City" roots after its public relations attempt in the 1990s to make the gambling mecca more family-friendly.

They range from the small and humble, with tiny stages and bad sound systems, to the extravagantly cushy, with valet parking, big-screen televisions and VIP skyboxes for lap dancers and well-heeled clients. One new club covers 75,000 square feet and is packed every night.

Pete Eliades, who has an interest in two clubs, the Olympic Garden and Sapphire, said a club could bring in anywhere from $5,000 to more than $50,000 a night.

Eliades said Galardi "was doing good" with his clubs. He just got greedy, Eliades said. "He was trying to corner the market," Eliades said.

The indictment says that, beginning as early as 1999 and continuing until March of this year, Galardi gave tens of thousands of dollars to the commissioners.

Defeating the no-touch rule was just part of his agenda, according to the documents. He also asked the commissioners to grant favors to his clubs and to harass his competitors and delay their permits, the documents say.

The indictment portrays Galardi, a husky man of average height who slicks back his dark hair, as a hard-nosed businessman at times, fuming about how little he was getting for his alleged payoffs. At other times, he appears more like a doting rich uncle, ministering to the needs of those close to him.

Besides giving Kincaid-Chauncey $4,000 for her grandson's ski school tuition, Galardi helped fund Kenny's failed run for lieutenant governor, according to the indictment.

If Kenny came through for him on an upcoming vote, he would "take her to a local automobile dealership and buy her a Denali" pickup, he said, according to court records.

Malone, a former policeman who went to work for Galardi after losing his seat on the commission, is quoted telling the strip-club owner last year: "You've had Dario from the very beginning…. I mean, dude … that's your person. Erin's your person…. Mary's your person."

The FBI and U.S. attorney's office refused to comment, but news reports, comments from defense attorneys and local legal experts indicate some of the conversations were picked up by agents listening in on a suspect vehicle's emergency roadside communication system.

Realizing the navigation and communications system could be turned into a remote listening device, the FBI asked the federal district court in Nevada to require the company that markets the On Star-type system to help them intercept conversations in the vehicle.

This was done by putting the car into stolen vehicle recovery mode, which opens up a communication line to the car so that anyone monitoring the system can hear what's going on in the car without occupants knowing it. After first complying, the company resisted.

The court overruled the company's objections, and the company appealed. Last month, the firm won a ruling from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the lower court judge who allowed the eavesdropping was wrong.

"[T]he FBI, however well-intentioned, is not in the business of providing emergency road services," the court said.

Dominic Gentile, Malone's attorney, said, "I'm sure we will" try to have the eavesdropped conversations thrown out.

Rep. Berkley has also written a letter to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft protesting the misuse, in her eyes, of the Patriot Act. "In my opinion the use of the Patriot Act in this context violates both the spirit and intent of this important legislation," Berkley wrote.

A spokesman for the Justice Department refused to confirm that Patriot Act provisions were used in the Las Vegas case. However, the spokesman, Mark Corallo, said the money-laundering provisions in the Patriot Act could be used in criminal cases.

Those provisions were proposed by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.). "He never meant it to be used solely for terrorism," Corallo said.

The FBI's Palmer refused to comment on the tactics — including springtime raids on several strip clubs — the government has used in the Las Vegas case.

However, the public has greeted the federal raids without resentment or anger — another indicator of how much Las Vegas has changed in recent years, some say.

"I moved here in 1991," said Charles Kelly, a former federal prosecutor who is in private practice. "When I came, the feds were ill-regarded in this town."

Local juries acquitted more than one high-profile defendant despite strong evidence, he said. This time, there has been little of the old resentment toward the feds, according to Kelly.

The huge influx of people from other parts of the country in the last 15 years has changed the character of the town. "Las Vegas is turning into California," Kelly said.


December 13, 2003

By Maria Elena Fernandez
LA Times Staff Writer

Minutes before VIP guests are scheduled to start arriving at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club in Beverly Hills for Thursday night's opening party, the red carpet is still rolled and out of sight. General manager Daniel Charbonnier is outside, pacing and talking with Beverly Hills Fire Department officials. When Flynt, the unabashed king of hard-core print pornography, appears in his gold-plated wheelchair, he is told that the gentleman's club he has been trying to open for two years will not open on time.

"It's hard to make the city fathers happy, especially when the name is Hustler," says Flynt, who is intent on building an empire of Hustler clubs around the country. "It's really not very nice for a city like Beverly Hills to be conducting itself in this manner. They just want to disrupt the grand opening. They're just playing petty politics."

As it turned out, the party was delayed 90 minutes, a long time considering the cold gusts blowing on Beverly Drive and the fact that VIPs are not supposed to wait in line — ever. There were a few reasons for the holdup, but the main one, explained Charbonnier, was a difference in opinion on whether the venue's permit is for an adult cabaret or a nightclub. Nightclubs are not allowed to open in Beverly Hills before 8:30 p.m., and the opening party was slated to begin at 6.

If there is someone who is well acquainted with obstacles, it's Flynt, who made the best of his permit woes by sampling the hors d'oeuvres in the club's plush private room.

Decorated with paintings of Hustler models and furnished in burgundy velvet or leopard-print couches and chairs, iron coffee tables in the form of female sculptures and hand-carved cocktail tables, the Hustler Club feels more like a modern Las Vegas cabaret than the Roaring '20s gentleman's club Flynt describes.

Ceilings and walls are mirrored, and the Plexiglas fiber-optic mirror behind the bar changes colors, giving the illusion of a work of art on the other side. Portraits of Flynt himself abound, with the largest hanging over the restaurant area. Smaller ones spanning his life greet customers as they walk down the stairs into the club.

"One thing is to come in here and cite us for a serious violation and another is to pick on things so that we can't have our opening," said Flynt, who blamed city officials for sending the Fire Department at the late hour to cite him for details like fireproofing paintings.

"Let's walk into any gallery in Beverly Hills and see if the paintings are fireproofed. They're not. I get treated harshly because I'm Larry Flynt and because the name of my business is Hustler."

Fire Department officials on the scene declined to explain why they were not allowing Flynt to let his guests in on time. Fire Marshall Ed LaFouge deferred questions to Charbonnier, saying, "It's the club's issues, not ours. We're here because there is an event tonight, and we're helping out with that." Calls to Beverly Hills City Hall for comments were not returned on Friday by press time.

One of the most controversial figures in the country, Flynt has been demonized for his "smut peddling" and sometimes idolized for his free speech advocacy. He spent two years wrangling with the city over zoning and building codes — which almost all new businesses must do — before he could open the 280-person-capacity club, which he refurbished for $2.5 million.

Marketing the brand
A businessman who owned a string of go-go clubs in Ohio before he became a porn publisher, Flynt has expanded that side of his business with a casino in Gardena and 10 Hustler clubs in the United States and Paris. A new club will open in New York City later this month.

"I've always had an affinity for the nightclub business, and when we started to diversify into video, the Internet and the casino business, the club business seemed a natural extension of that," Flynt said. "When we felt that Hustler had a brand name that could be exploited, it seemed an ideal opportunity to do it."

The Beverly Hills club, located between Burton Way and Brighton Way, expects to build its core business on traveling businessmen staying in the city's upscale hotels and other local high rollers who want to be served by beautiful women against the backdrop of a traditional burlesque show and a gourmet dinner, Flynt said. Most of the guests on Thursday fill the latter bill, despite publicity claims that the night would be as star-studded as a Hollywood club opening.

Not that it mattered to Flynt, who, when Bill Maher thanked a television crew for not including him in the shot of Flynt's table, quipped, "This is precisely the problem. This is not the kind of place he'd want to be associated with."

Arica, a 26-year-old aspiring actress, declined to give her last name out of that same concern.

"I don't think my manager would be very pleased to read about me hanging out at the Hustler Club," she said. "I like the concept of this very much. I think it's very funny that it's in Beverly Hills. The crowd is too old for me. But I'd come back to see the show with my girlfriends. It's not the kind of place I'd come meet a man. A guy who hangs out at the Hustler Club is not a guy I'd give my number to."

The night featured jazzy bump-and-grind music and a va-va-voom burlesque show that titillates without nudity.

"This is a sexy, romantic atmosphere," said 46-year-old Tom Diamantidis, who didn't mind waiting in line for 30 minutes before getting in. "In a traditional gentleman's club, the women are more scantily dressed and you get lap dances and that sort of thing.

"This goes back to the clubs of the old days, the kind of place you could even bring a date for an excellent dinner and a little dancing."

Flynt wishes more people in his new neighborhood felt like that: "It's still aggravating every time you go through something like this. The city of Beverly Hills should be happy we are bringing fun into the neighborhood," he said, smiling mischievously. "What is there to do in Beverly Hills?"


Strip Club Tied to Bribery Probe Loses Its Permit
November 25, 2003

LA Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The Police Department's vice squad has revoked the operating permit for a nude entertainment club at the center of a City Hall bribery scandal.

Lt. Robert Hurt said Monday that the renewal permit for Cheetahs Totally Nude Club was rejected because of the criminal case involving the club's owner, Michael Galardi.

Galardi, 41, of Las Vegas, has pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe three City Council members and an undercover police officer to get the city to loosen its restrictions on nude dancing. Galardi and his father run a string of strip clubs across the country.

Charges also are pending against Galardi in Las Vegas, accusing him of trying to bribe officials there. Las Vegas officials also are seeking to revoke Galardi's license to run a strip club in the gambling mecca.

In San Diego, Galardi has until Dec. 8 to appeal Hurt's decision to reject his license renewal. The appeal would be decided by the Police Department and City Atty. Casey Gwinn.

Hurt said that an attempt to pass the license to a Cheetahs employee or someone associated with Cheetahs would be scrutinized. "Given the history of the place itself, that would be taken into account," he said.

A manager at Cheetahs declined to comment.

Councilmen Ralph Inzunza, Charles Lewis and Michael Zucchet have pleaded innocent to charges of receiving bribes.

Lance Malone, a lobbyist for Galardi, also has pleaded innocent to charges that he acted as go-between.

But a night manager for Cheetahs, John D'Intino, has pleaded guilty to delivering payments of approximately $40,000 to an undercover officer. Galardi and D'Intino have agreed to assist federal prosecutors; neither has been sentenced.

Cheetahs, located on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard — one of the city's busiest commercial thoroughfares — is one of 18 nude entertainment clubs in San Diego.

Under city licenses, nude dancers must keep at least 6 feet away from patrons. To seek gratuities, dancers must wear at least pasties and a G-string, which club owners and dancers insist reduces the willingness of patrons to provide tips.

The indictments, unveiled Aug. 28, came after a three-year FBI investigation involving wiretaps, informants and a raid on City Hall offices.

The council members say that contributions they received from Galardi and his associates were legitimate political donations, and that no favors were promised.


L.A. Council Retreating on Lap-Dance Ban
November 19, 2003

LA Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Council members backed down Tuesday from a showdown with strip club owners and said they would allow near-naked women to keep gyrating in men's laps, a lucrative form of adult entertainment known as lap dancing that the council had voted this fall to ban.

The hasty retreat by the council comes after a well-choreographed campaign by club owners, who threatened to put lap dancing on the March 2005 ballot — which, if approved by voters, would put regulation beyond the council's reach.

In forcing the council to reverse its position, strip club owners demonstrated both the volatility of the sex industry as a political issue and the effectiveness of the referendum process when wielded by a well-financed interest group.

Days after the council voted in September to ban lap dancing and impose a host of new regulations, the industry raised $400,000 to collect enough signatures to force a referendum on the new law. Council members said Tuesday that a citywide vote on lap dancing would be a political distraction, with seven of the 15 council members facing reelection on the same ballot.

"The stakes are real high," said City Councilman Ed Reyes, who cites the adult clubs in his East Los Angeles district as a threat to children and families. "If we go to the ballot and lose, we are not going to be able to regulate. We don't have millions of dollars to spend on a campaign, and these folks have millions to spare."

Council members said they hoped a compromise plan would better regulate the city's 40 strip clubs, which have drawn complaints of public sex and prostitution in surrounding neighborhoods.

"I don't see it as caving," Reyes said. "I see it as what we can work with."

Not everyone agrees.

"The message this council is sending to every well-heeled special interest group is that, if they don't like a law … all they have to do is spend a few hundred thousand and the council will be intimidated and they'll back off and gut the law," said Thomas Donovan, a member of the Westside Residents Assn. and a supporter of the lap-dance ban.

Lap dancing has wrought six months of colorful debate at City Hall, including testimony by an exotic dancer that she merely cuddled on a bed with customers such as an 85-year-old widower, and descriptions by outraged residents of used condoms littering their neighborhoods.

As approved in September and set to take effect Jan. 1, the new city law would have required strippers to stay at least six feet away from customers in the city's adult businesses, effectively outlawing lap dancing. It also would have banned direct tipping of dancers, prohibited private "VIP" rooms and required clubs to renew their permits every year and to hire state-licensed security guards.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who spearheaded the effort to rein in strip clubs, said her office had been working with community groups and club owners on a compromise ordinance.

Though details are still to be worked out, the compromise would eliminate the six-foot rule, meaning lap dances again would be legal, as would tipping.

Miscikowski said the compromise ordinance would keep some of its teeth: Private VIP rooms, where some feared that prostitution was occurring, would disappear; touching of breasts and genitals would be prohibited; and annual license renewal would make it easier for the city to crack down on operators that break the law. Now it is difficult now for the city to yank a permit, she said, even when violations have been committed. The security-guard requirement also would remain in place.

"When the dust has settled," Miscikowski said, "we will have moved the ball forward."

Miscikowski asked the city attorney on Tuesday to prepare a new ordinance reflecting the compromises, with a council vote Friday. Under city law, council members have until Friday either repeal the law or place it on the 2005 ballot.

Jay Handal, president of the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, said the compromise was "a political reality" that would do "some good" in curbing problems around strip clubs.

He said his side might have trouble raising money to wage an election campaign against strip club owners if council members put the referendum on the ballot.

"I think trying to raise millions for an issue that many don't believe is an issue is counterproductive," Handal said.

Los Angeles is only the latest city to face a political storm in dealings with the adult entertainment industry — and the issue has so far been mild here in comparison.

Earlier this month in Las Vegas' Clark County, one county commissioner and two former commissioners were indicted on charges that included accepting bribes from a strip club owner in exchange for scuttling an attempt to enact a no-touch rule for dancers and customers. And earlier this year in San Diego, three city council members were accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions in exchange for a promise to help persuade the rest of the council to rescind its lap dancing ban.

There have been no such allegations of misconduct in Los Angeles.

A council committee took up the issue in June, with backers saying the new rules were necessary to curb prostitution and improve the quality of life in some neighborhoods. Proponents also said the laws were necessary because surrounding cities have enacted strict laws, leading to an increase of lap dancing in Los Angeles.

After months of debate, the council unanimously approved the law on Sept. 16. Along the way, several council committees voted in favor of the ordinance.

But strip club owners were incensed, saying it violated their 1st Amendment rights and would drive them out of business, in the process taking jobs away from scores of women, some of them single mothers.

They dispatched professional signature gatherers to supermarket parking lots and bars and quickly collected more than 100,000 signatures, forcing the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot.

Alan Weinstein, a law professor at Cleveland State University who has studied attempts to regulate adult businesses across the country, said city officials could face an uphill battle if they tried to persuade voters to ban lap dancing.

"The problem for the city is convincing people that, while cabarets have a right to exist," patrons who enter "don't have a right to the entertainment of their choice," he said. "That's a difficult argument to make."

Steven Afriat, the strip club owners' lobbyist, said in an interview that his polling data showed that most Los Angeles voters did not think the City Council should be wasting energy on a lap-dancing ordinance. And at a time when officials are considering asking voters to approve a tax to hire more police officers, Afriat said, lap dancing has the potential to "permeate the city's agenda, and the city ought to take this off the table."

"If this referendum goes on to the ballot, the election becomes a joke, and anyone associated with it is part of the circus," Afriat said. "I think it is preferable that we negotiate a compromise."


Lap Dancing Referendum Qualifies for City Ballot
November 4, 2003

LA Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles voters soon may get to decide for themselves whether they want lap dancing in their city.

The city clerk on Monday certified that a coalition of adult business owners had gathered enough signatures to force the Los Angeles City Council to put a referendum on the up-close form of entertainment on the ballot.

The signature-gathering drive began less than two weeks after the City Council voted in September to make patrons and dancers stay 6 feet away from each other in the city's nude and topless clubs.

Council members also voted to outlaw direct tipping of dancers, prohibited VIP rooms and partitions of any kind in public areas except restrooms, and said the clubs must hire state-licensed security guards. Violators could face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

Council members said the new regulations, which have not yet gone into effect, were needed because adult clubs were causing problems, including public sex and prostitution, in residential neighborhoods.

But club owners immediately decried the new rules, saying that they infringed upon 1st Amendment rights, and would force many of them out of business. They spent $400,000 to dispatch signature gatherers to bars, college campuses and other locations to collect more than 100,000 signatures for an initiative that would overturn the ordinance. The new law cannot go into effect until voters have their say.

Council members now have three options: repeal the new law, vote to put the matter on the next regularly scheduled city election in 2005 or add it to the Democratic presidential primary in March. The final option would cost the cash-strapped city $2.8 million. Council members have 20 days to make their decision.

But Councilman Tony Cardenas, an advocate of the ban on lap dancing, said he does not think it is a good use of city money to spend $2.8 million to put a lap dancing question on the March ballot. "I support the 6-foot ordinance, and I think if we went to voters, they would support it too," he said.

Cardenas said the city should postpone putting the new law into effect until 2005, when officials can put it on a city ballot at minimal cost.

Steven Afriat, a lobbyist for the adult businesses, said he would like to see the council back down and repeal the ban.


L.A. Gets Petitions On Strip Club Issue
October 26, 2003

Daily Breeze

With little fanfare, boxes of signed petitions that could overturn the ban on lap dancing at Los Angeles strip clubs were delivered to the city’s election division office Saturday morning.

In hopes of qualifying a measure to repeal the no-touch law that imposes a 6-foot distance between dancer and patron, representatives of the adult entertainment industry gathered more than 100,000 signatures in a drive that began immediately after the law made the books.

Piled in boxes outside the downtown warehouse, the petitions awaited counting by about 50 temporary workers hired specifically to verify the 57,000 signatures needed for the ballot.

John Weston, an attorney representing adult businesses, said the goal is to put the no-touch rule on the ballot so that voters can decide on the ordinance that bars lap dancing and prevents customers from inserting tips into G-strings.

The ordinance was unanimously approved Sept. 16 by the City Council.

“The primary issue is, do we want police on the street or patrolling in the adult entertainment businesses?” Weston said. Throughout the petition drive, people kept saying that Los Angeles is an incredibly diverse place with real problems to face, such as schools, traffic and crime, he said.

“The response from citizens was just remarkable and it wasn’t just a male issue,” he added. “The feeling was that what the city was trying to do . . . was ridiculous.”

Weston said that if the number of signatures was any indication — gathered at public places such as shopping malls and grocery stores — more people oppose the ban than support it.

“It was fascinating to hear the voters of Los Angeles express the thing I felt intuitively,” he said. “People were really mad.”

If the signatures are verified, the council can either repeal its ordinance or order a special election within 140 days. For the measure to make the March primary election, the council will have to make a decision by Nov. 12.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who backed the regulations, said that if the measure qualifies for the ballot, the council could adopt portions of the ordinance not mentioned in the petition, such as the ban on private VIP rooms, where strippers typically perform for a single patron.

“It would be very surprising to me that this would be overturned, that the voters of the city would say they would like to allow this type of adult entertainment in this city,” Miscikowski said.

In the weeks leading up to the council’s vote, it heard explicit testimony about prostitution acts occurring at strip clubs, as well as evidence of how other nearby communities have successfully put the kibosh on lap dancing — allowing strippers to gyrate on a customer’s lap.

A Los Angeles deputy police chief also told the body that the city was considered “the mecca for lap dances.”

“We’ve heard that our city is the capital of this type of thing, and this could open the flood gates to other activities,” Miscikowski said. “Were this to be overturned . . . (problems) would just increase.”


Activists Seek to Reverse Lap Dancing Ban in L.A.
October 1, 2003

LA Times Staff Writers

Less than two weeks after the Los Angeles City Council banned lap dancing, advocates of the up-close form of entertainment are appealing to voters to overturn the law.

In papers filed with the city clerk, those advocates seek to put a referendum on the ballot. To do that, they must gather nearly 57,000 signatures by Oct. 25.

If they succeed, the council must either repeal the ban or schedule an election, possibly in March at the same time as the Democratic presidential primary.

City Hall lobbyist Steven Afriat, campaign manager for the referendum, said adult businesses believe they can prevail and cited a poll they conducted which found that most respondents had little interest in regulating adult business.

"We think the only people who care about this is a dozen homeowners perpetrating their moral agenda on the rest of the city," Afriat said.

The campaign is prepared to spend more than $100,000 to get the referendum on the ballot, he said. But he also said customers at adult clubs have been lining up to sign the petition in recent days.

Several council members expressed outrage at the effort.

"This city has serious issues, and lap dances are not one of them," Councilman Martin Ludlow said.

Councilman Tony Cardenas said he plans a campaign to make sure his constituents understand what they are asked to sign.

"I can just imagine what they're going to be telling people in front of supermarkets," he said.

The petition asks voters to sign a statement asking "that ordinance number 175471 be entirely repealed by the City Council or otherwise be submitted to a vote of the people." It makes no mention of lap dancing.

After months of debate, council members voted unanimously Sept. 16 to require that dancers and patrons stay 6 feet from each other in strip clubs and other adult businesses.

The law, which has not yet taken effect, also bans direct tipping and VIP rooms and requires clubs to hire state-licensed security guards.

Council members said the new rules were necessary because the clubs were causing problems in residential neighborhoods, including prostitution and public sex.

Officials also argued that because several surrounding cities already had banned lap dancing, Los Angeles was becoming a hot spot for it.

Afriat said the ban's opponents' "message to the voters is that the Los Angeles City Council has for some reason chosen to go down a path toward regulating the private activity of consenting adults, and that is a dangerous direction."

The opponents of the lap-dance ban hope that the City Council will rescind the ordinance if the referendum qualifies to avoid the large expense of holding a special election, Afriat said. But, if the measure goes on the ballot, opponents of the ban said, they think they have a convincing argument.

The campaign also will argue that during times of city budget problems, it is inappropriate to divert scarce police resources to enforcing a ban on lap dancing, Afriat said.

If it comes to a vote, City Councilman Greig Smith said, he will campaign against it.

"They are going to be blown away by the voters," Smith predicted. "I can't imagine a majority of the voters [deciding] to repeal this ordinance."


New Curbs on Strip Clubs OKd
September 17, 2003

LA Times Staff Writer

After months of debate, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban lap dancing and impose a host of new regulations on strip clubs and other adult businesses across the city.

Representatives of adult businesses, who argued that the new regulations would hurt them financially, vowed to fight the city in court and complained that the council was giving in to the "morality agenda."

Residents living near the adult clubs, however, were ecstatic.

"We couldn't be happier," said West Los Angeles resident Cristi Walden, who said she saw six adult businesses move into her neighborhood in the last 10 years, and complained that prostitution and public sex were destroying her quality of life.

The new ordinance also bans direct tipping of dancers and says entertainers and patrons must stay six feet away from one another. It prohibits VIP rooms and partitions of any kind in public areas except restrooms and says the clubs must hire state-licensed security guards. Violators could face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

"I'm very pleased," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who pushed for the ordinance.

Mayor James K. Hahn said he would sign the ordinance, which could take effect within the next two months.

Proponents of the law argued that several surrounding cities have enacted strict laws for the clubs, which has led to an influx of the establishments into Los Angeles. Officials and industry representatives say there are about 45 adult clubs in the city.

"Los Angeles is the mecca for lap dances," said Deputy Police Chief James McMurray. To help persuade council members of the need for action, police officials forwarded reports over the last 18 months of incidents at adult clubs across the city. They included numerous accounts of dancers trying to sell sex to undercover officers, along with reports of fistfights and a stabbing.

"This ordinance is needed to eliminate prostitution activity," Police Capt. Vance Proctor testified to the council.

LAPD officials also said the strict new laws will make it easier for them to police strip clubs, which will free up officers to concentrate on other matters. And because adult businesses will be forced to renew their permits every year, the city now has "real teeth" when it comes to shutting down bad operators, Miscikowski said.

Throughout the months of debate, adult business owners maintained that the ordinance was unconstitutional, and that it would have a devastating effect on owners and the dancers who work in the clubs.

Several dancers testified before the council earlier this summer, insisting that lap dances do not lead to prostitution, but that the tips they receive for performing them are necessary to make ends meet.

"There was no need for this," said attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who represents many of the clubs. "This affects a woman's right to choose her profession. A lot of these dancers are single women supporting their children, putting themselves through school. I think this is overkill."

In 1999, a state appeals court overturned an Anaheim ordinance banning lap dancing, ruling that the law was preempted by the state penal code, which already outlaws prostitution and lewd conduct.

"We're going to sue the city," said Steve Afriat, a lobbyist who represents many of the Los Angeles club owners. "Basically, the council is bowing to the morality agenda of certain homeowners."

But city officials noted that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law passed by a city in Washington state requiring dancers to stay 10 feet from patrons.

"I expect we will be challenged in court," said Councilman Tony Cardenas. But he added that, as a father trying to teach his sons to be gentlemen, he believes the city is doing the right thing.


Strip Club Law Stalls
June 19, 2003

LA Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles City Council balked Wednesday at passing a proposal to ban lap dancing at strip clubs, instead sending the proposed ordinance back to committee for further study to ensure that the law would be constitutional and enforceable.

The council's action was applauded by strippers and club owners who have argued that the new policy would put them out of business. The ordinance would require dancers to stay at least six feet from customers. It also would prohibit direct tipping and the use of private "VIP" rooms in clubs with full nudity, an activity described as the most lucrative aspect of stripping.

"It was the right thing to do," said Joan Urrutia, a San Fernando Valley resident who owns two strip clubs. She told the council that her 360 employees and their 82 children would "all be negatively impacted by this crippling ordinance."

Residents who live near strip clubs expressed disappointment, saying the additional measures are necessary to crack down on prostitution and other behavior that they say is eroding the quality of life in their neighborhoods. But they held out hope that the ordinance would eventually pass.

"We are in the right," said Cristi Walden, a West Los Angeles resident who counts 10 adult businesses near her home.

The council's 9-5 vote to study the ordinance further came after more than an hour of colorful debate that featured pleading strippers and frequent invocation of the 1st Amendment. Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who proposed the measure, told her colleagues that the new law was necessary because the city has been unable to control adult businesses through zoning laws that restrict where the clubs can operate. The proposed ordinance would tighten the requirements for strip clubs to receive permits.

"This was a way that it could be done, and I think we ought not to balk at it," she said.

Under the law, club owners would have to renew police permits annually to ensure that they had not violated any regulations. A violator of the measure, which includes civil and criminal provisions, would face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

But Councilwoman Jan Perry questioned whether officials would be able to implement requirements like a 6-foot space between dancers and customers.

"I don't want to go forward with something that is unenforceable," said Perry, who voted for the ordinance when it was before the Public Safety Committee last week. On Wednesday, she proposed sending it back to committee.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former police chief, said law enforcement officials need the additional rules to crack down on behavior inside the clubs. He said that simply regulating where the clubs can be located would not help.

"I think the last thing we want to do is create a red-light district," said Parks, who voted against further study of the law.

Residents urged the council to pass the ordinance, complaining that they frequently witness public sex and other lewd behavior near the clubs.

Silvia Nickel, president of the Westside Residents Assn., said she and others are not trying to be "moral custodians."

"We are simply ordinary citizens fighting for our neighborhoods," she said.

But strip club representatives said the law would be unconstitutional and would put thousands of people out of work. Brad Barnes, head of Xposed and the Wet Spot, two clubs in Canoga Park, said club owners are planning a publicity campaign to fight the law. More than $200,000 has been spent on banners that would soon be posted at clubs, hotels and restaurants throughout the city.

"This ordinance will be devastating to our industry," said Michael Criddle, who owns two clubs in North Hollywood.

Lorraine Godinez, the manager of one of those clubs, said many strippers are single women who rely on the large tips from lap dances and VIP rooms to support their children.

"I don't think you understand what kind of effect this will have on these women and their families," she told the council. "This is the only way they put food on their table."

That comment alarmed Councilman Ed Reyes, who said that it was disturbing that some women think that they have to strip to support themselves.

"The real sad statement here is that we, as the city, as government, have failed the people — that they have to resort to this kind of business to make a living," Reyes said.


New Limits on Strip Clubs Go to Council
June 10, 2003

LA Times Staff Writer

Lap dancing and entertaining in private "VIP rooms" would be banned at Los Angeles strip clubs under an ordinance approved Monday by a City Council's committee.

If approved by the City Council and mayor, the ordinance also would prohibit direct tipping and any physical contact between strippers and customers. It would require them to remain at least six feet apart.

"This will clean up the industry," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, chairwoman of the council's Public Safety Committee, who proposed the measure aimed at curbing prostitution and other crime associated with the clubs.

But the ordinance was immediately criticized by representatives of adult businesses as unconstitutional.

"Do we want a society where we're so controlled that we cannot do anything at all, that we can't move in one direction or another?" asked Roger Jon Diamond, a Santa Monica attorney who represents about 25 adult clubs in Los Angeles and who compared the law with prohibitions enacted by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"What is the city next going to do, say you can't go to a teacher to be taught ballroom dancing?" Diamond asked.

Under the new law, club owners would have to renew their police permits annually to ensure that they had not violated any regulations. A violator of the measure, which includes civil and criminal provisions, would face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

Local ordinances outlawing so-called lap dancing have fared poorly in state courts. In 1999, the state's 4th Appellate District overturned an Anaheim ordinance on the basis that the law was preempted by the state penal code, which outlaws prostitution and lewd conduct.

Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Asha Greenberg said that although the city expects adult businesses to fight the measure, she is confident that the new law will not be overturned. She said that, in 1998, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a local ordinance in Washington state that requires dancers to stay 10 feet from patrons.

"We have tried to research the law and support everything we put in it," she said.

The proposed ordinance was cheered by residents who have complained that the activity inside strip clubs spills into their neighborhoods.

A West Los Angeles resident, Cristi Walden, said six adult businesses have opened in her neighborhood in the last 10 years, including two clubs with total nudity, all within a radius of three-quarters of a mile. In the last few months, police have made six prostitution arrests in the area, she said. Neighbors regularly find used condoms near the clubs and witness public sex.

"It's ridiculous," Walden said. "People have just had it."

But industry lobbyists and strippers said the measure would cripple the industry by prohibiting the most lucrative activity at the clubs. On Monday morning, dancers from a North Hollywood nude club told the Public Safety Committee that they make the bulk of their money from lap dances and entertaining customers in private rooms.

"Solely being on stage on a platform, I would not survive," said a 36-year-old stripper and actor, who asked that her name not be published for fear that disclosure would hurt her ability to get other jobs.

"I hope this doesn't go into effect, because I don't know what I'd do," she said.

A 23-year-old dancer told the council committee that the six-foot rule would make the environment "very impersonal."

"I can put on one heck of a show, let me tell you," said the stripper, who also did not want to be identified. "I'm fabulous But it's not going to give me revenue."

She insisted that activity inside the club is limited to "hugs." One of her customers, an 85-year-old widower, comes in several times a month and lies down with her on a bed in the VIP room, she said.

"We cuddle," she said. "You should be able to reach out to somebody when they're needy."

There are currently few restrictions on adult businesses in Los Angeles. Clubs that have full nudity cannot serve alcohol, and there are regulations about how close a venue can be to a school or playground.

But officials said they have been unable to curb illegal activities inside the clubs, because those activities take place in private rooms.

"It's gotten to the point where the police are saying there's blatant prostitution" in the strip clubs, Greenberg said.

Among other measures, the law would eliminate private rooms and require the presence of a full-time manager and security guard at all times.

Undercover officers could make an arrest if they see a dancer sit on a patron's lap.

Representatives of the adult business industry argued that the city should seek to regulate the clubs through zoning laws, not by restricting behavior inside the club.

Lobbyist Steve Afriat, representing a chain of eight clubs, told the Public Safety Committee that it would be opening a Pandora's box with the new law.

"I would question whether this City Council really wants to go down a path of regulating what takes place inside," he said.

Times staff writer Monte Morin contributed to this report.


Topless Club Loses Liquor Sales License
May 16, 2003

LA Times Staff Writer

The liquor license of a Canoga Park nightclub was permanently revoked Thursday after an undercover investigation revealed that exotic dancers performed lewd routines for customers, a state agency reported.

The revocation of the Gotham City Nightclub's license was the result of an investigation made in January and February 2000 at the topless club in the 21500 block of Sherman Way, said Carl DeWing of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Investigators observed dancers at the club expose themselves below the waist and perform lewd dances in violation of state law, DeWing said, adding that a total of 13 separate acts of misconduct were witnessed on three occasions.

State law prohibits an establishment that serves alcohol from featuring totally nude performers, DeWing said.

The 2000 incident led to the fifth complaint being filed against the club since 1995, he said, and the third to allege violations of lewd conduct in less than three years.

The beverage control department consequently pulled the club's license, but an appeal by the club resulted in a nearly three-year delay before the revocation was finalized.

According to department policy, even if Gotham City closes and another club opens, no liquor license will be issued at that location for at least a year, DeWing said.

George Pofayan, manager of Gotham City, said the club has not served alcohol since December.

"The owners made the decision themselves to stop selling alcohol," Pofayan said.

"It hurts, but we are going to stay open."

Since the club has stopped selling alcohol, it has gone from a topless club to a totally nude establishment.


FBI looks for evidence of strip club payments made to elected officials
May 15, 2003

Jace Radke and Launce Rake

The FBI agents who raided two Las Vegas strip clubs Wednesday were looking for documentation of payments to Las Vegas Councilman Michael McDonald, County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey and former County Commissioners Erin Kenny and Dario Herrera, the search warrants said.

The searches involving more than 100 federal agents came after two years of federal investigation into businesses owned by Jack Galardi and his son, Michael Galardi.

Search warrants were served about 1 p.m. at two strip clubs -- Cheetahs and Jaguars -- as well as at the downtown offices of Galardi Enterprises and a Las Vegas home that sources say the family owns. Simultaneously another cadre of federal agents searched the Cheetahs in San Diego and the City Hall offices of three San Diego councilmen.

According to a copy of one of the warrants obtained by the Sun, FBI agents sought a "ledger or journals or handwritten notes of payments or gifts" to the well-known political figures, as well as to Kincaid-Chauncey's husband, Robert Chauncey, Herrera's wife, Emily Herrera, and Kenny's husband, John Kenny.

Records of payments or gifts to unidentified building inspectors also were sought.

The warrants, signed by U.S. Magistrate Peggy Leen, also gave FBI agents permission to take any records of 1997 campaign contributions made by Cheetahs, Jaguars, Cheetahs in San Diego and Galardi Enterprises.

Another central figure in the FBI investigation is former County Commissioner Lance Malone, a former Metro Police officer who went to work for the Galardis as a lobbyist after he was voted off the commission in 2000, sources close to the investigation said.

Malone was not named in the search warrants and could not be reached for comment. Attorneys for the Galardis said they have been unable to locate the former commissioner.

McDonald said he was interviewed Wednesday by FBI agents. He said they asked him about his ties to Michael Galardi.

"I went to high school with him," McDonald said. "I've never voted on any items involving him. I've always abstained."

McDonald said he has retained Richard Wright, a well-known criminal defense attorney who specializes in political corruption cases.

McDonald was subpoenaed this week to testify before a federal grand jury in connection with the Galardi case, a source close to the investigation said. McDonald declined to comment on whether he had already provided testimony or would soon testify.

Kincaid-Chauncey flew back from Carson City Wednesday night. She said this morning that she has not been served with a search warrant, and she was advised by county attorneys not to comment on the investigation.

"I haven't taken ... I don't know if I should comment on it," said Kincaid-Chauncey, who became chairwoman of the commission in January. "I have not taken any money personally. They did contribute to a trust fund that I was involved in.

"I've not taken any bribes from Mr. Galardi," she added. "My vote is not for sale."

Herrera said this morning that his vote has never been for sale either. He declined to discuss the implications of the search warrant in detail.

"My legal counsel has advised me not to comment on rumor, innuendo or media reports but rather (to wait to comment) in the appropriate legal forum," Herrera said.

Kenny could not be reached for comment Wednesday or this morning.

County spokesman Erik Pappa said Wednesday evening that the county was "fully cooperating" with the federal investigation, but said any information on the probe would have to come from the FBI.

"We don't want to do any thing to affect their investigation," Pappa said.

The warrants indicated that agents also were looking for evidence of secret financial interests in the Las Vegas and San Diego strip clubs owned by the Galardis. They sought records dating back to 1997, "which would establish the identity of those persons who may have a direct or hidden ownership of the clubs," the warrants said.

The search warrants allowed agents to seize all business records at the topless clubs dating back to 1997 -- including savings, checking and loan records, as well as employment and payroll records.

Agents also sought records of payments made to construction contractors.

The affidavits related to the searches are sealed. FBI officials said the investigation is ongoing and involves corruption. No criminal charges had been filed in connection with the raids as of this morning.

Jack Galardi and his son Michael Galardi have had several business items before the Clark County Commission and the Las Vegas City Council in the last several years, including business licensing matters. Their businesses have also had a stake in regulations imposed by the county and the city on strip clubs.

FBI agents on Wednesday interviewed Ardel Jorgenson, the county's director of business licensing, about a controversial May 1999 commission vote involving Jack Galardi. The agents also asked Jorgenson about a luncheon invitation she had received from Malone around the time of the vote. When Jorgenson showed up at the appointment, she was surprised to see one of the Galardis waiting for her.

Jorgensen met Wednesday with Clark County Counsel Mary Miller and Deputy District Attorney Kathleen Janssen, one of a series of meetings that were convened on the probe in the last 24 hours. County Manager Thom Reilly returned from Carson City and was meeting on the issue with ranking county employees this morning, county sources said.

In 1999 Jorgensen had asked for funding to send investigators to Atlanta to investigate Galardi, who was seeking approval for Jaguars. But by a 4-3 margin, the commission turned down her request. Malone, Kenny and Herrera, along with Commissioner Myrna Williams, voted against the funding.

Commissioners Bruce Wood bury, Kincaid-Chauncey and Yvonne Atkinson-Gates voted to support the request.

Williams said she has not been served with any warrants.

"I don't know anything about it," Williams said.

Williams said during the 1999 discussion about the Galardi probe that the county often spends money to investigate unsubstantiated innuendo, with little to show from those efforts.

"Lots of money is spent to investigate rumors," she repeated Wednesday.

Robert Loosle, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Las Vegas office of the FBI, said that the investigation has no connection to the Feb. 21 raid of the Crazy Horse Too strip club owned by Rick Rizzolo.

"We are not targeting these types of sexually orientated businesses, it just happens that these two cases involved search warrants at these establishments," Loosle said.

Rizzolo's club at 2476 Industrial Road was raided by the FBI, Metro Police, and the IRS on Feb. 20. The focus of the raid was to locate evidence of connections between the club and organized crime interests in New York and Illinois, and to seize financial documents dating back to 1995, according to a federal search warrant.

No charges have been filed in connection with the Crazy Horse Too raid.

Employees of the two clubs raided Wednesday said they hope the same holds true for them.

Nada Madanat, a 22-year-old dancer at Cheetahs, 2112 Western Ave., was getting ready for her shift Wednesday afternoon when armed men and women burst into the dressing room.

"I thought it was a joke at first, but then I saw the guns and got scared," Madanat said. "They told us to put our hands up and then to put them behind our head."

FBI agents from neighboring jurisdictions were called in to assist in the raids, which used the majority of Las Vegas' FBI personnel, FBI spokesman Special Agent Daron Borst said.

Agents loaded boxes of confiscated materials into trucks at each of the search warrant locations.

Peter S. Christiansen, an attorney for the clubs, said he had no comment about the raid.

Jaguars General Manager Rich Buonantony said he was home sleeping when he was called by a club employee and told of the raid.

"They want to check on a few things and we're letting them," Buonantony said of the FBI. "As of now everything's fine. They have access to everything."

Buonantony said that FBI agents were not telling club officials what they were doing other than serving a search warrant.

"Our environment is always under scrutiny," Buonantony said. "When you do things the right way you have nothing to worry about."

Buonantony has managed Jaguars since it opened on June 26, and before that he served in the same position at Cheetahs, which opened in 1991. Also raided was Galardi Enterprises located at 713 E. Ogden Ave., and a home. The FBI refused to disclose the location, owners or residents of that home.

The FBI separated the employees at the clubs from the handful of customers inside, who were allowed to leave. Employees had their bags and lockers searched, and were then allowed to leave.

Senior Metro Police officials were told this week that the in vestigation would be heating up and that the FBI would be the lead agency on the case.

The FBI searched the clubs, office and residence for several hours Wednesday.

"They finished up at Jaguars about 9:30 p.m., and they had already finished at Cheetahs by then," Borst said.

Both of the clubs reopened for business.

For the bartenders, cocktail waitresses, dancers and receptionsts at Jaguars on Procyon Road, Wednesday night is usually when business starts to pick up and build toward the weekend. That wasn't true this week.

"It is so slow, it's really slow tonight," a dancer named Melanie said late Wednesday. She said she has been working at Jaguars since it opened in August.

Two thirds of the two-story club was empty.

A lone dancer twirled under mood lighting, the music pulsing through the dimly lit lounge.

Most of the people working at the club said they knew little about what had happened Wednesday afternoon.

Business was so slow that valet parking attendants had time to sweep leaves, cigarette butts and dust off the circular driveway under the watchful yellow eyes of a 10-foot tall black faux marble jaguar statue at the entrance.

Sun reporters

Dan Kulin, Mary Manning and Steve Kanigher contributed to this story.


Owner Will Sell Strip Joint
April 29, 2003

Inland Valley Voice

FONTANA — The owner of an all-nude strip joint that has come under protest in recent weeks has agreed to sell the enterprise to a real estate developer, attorneys said Monday.

Joe Diaz, owner of Diamonds Gentlemen's Club on Foothill Boulevard, has agreed to sell the club for $2.2 million, said his attorney, Larry Adamsky.

"That's outstanding news if that is the case," said Mayor Mark Nuaimi, who has led the protests against the all-nude club. "I'm happy that this is moving forward."

The unnamed developer plans to purchase the property to construct affordable housing and hopes to finalize the sale June 1, said Deputy County Counsel Matt Marnell. The strip club would shut down about that time, Adamsky said.

Since the club reopened in February, protesters from various churches have gathered on Saturday nights to oppose it. The club is across the street from the Village of Heritage and within half a mile of an elementary school.

Diaz bought the strip club for $725,000 about six months ago, Adamsky said, meaning he will realize a profit of about $1.5 million.

San Bernardino County has been pursuing a civil case against the club for two years, arguing that the club does not have the necessary county permit. Adamsky has argued that the club does not need the permit because it has been in operation since 1946 -- well before the county's strip club ordinance passed.

Adamsky announced at a pretrial conference Thursday that the $2.2-million offer had been accepted. If the sale goes through as expected and the club ceases to operate, the county will drop its civil suit, Marnell said.

The county worked with the developer to buy the property, Adamsky said. When the mayor and others first began protesting the strip club in March, Adamsky said that Diaz had rejected a $2-million offer. Adamsky said at the time that Diaz's 1st Amendment rights were not for sale.

Asked about that comment Monday, Adamsky said Diaz "still plans to pursue his 1st Amendment rights, but not in the county."

Adamsky declined to say where Diaz was thinking about operating a club.


Santa Ana Strip Club at Center of Police Scandals
April 28, 2003

LA Times Staff Writer

With its worn interior, dust-coated liquor collection and unobtrusive location off the Costa Mesa Freeway, Santa Ana strip club Mr. J's hardly seems a place that would attract attention.

Yet the topless bar is at the center of scandals that have cost three Orange County police officers their jobs and hampered prosecution of some defendants.

A Buena Park narcotics detective, once the department's officer of the year, resigned in September after he allegedly spent the night with an informant, a Mr. J's dancer, at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. A second officer resigned after he was accused of concealing the tryst, law enforcement sources said.

After Detective Jason Parsons and fellow officer Tom Collins left the Buena Park Police Department, Orange County prosecutors dismissed charges in some cases for which they were possible witnesses, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The exact number of cases affected by their departure could not be determined.

In a separate incident, Tustin Police Officer Anthony Bryant was fired March 7 for allegedly running police background checks for the club owner's son, a longtime friend, police sources said. The same officer had previously been accused of misusing his authority by helping Mr. J's employees deal with a customer who was disputing a bill for lap dances.

And a woman whose reckless driving left a 55-year-old man dead ended up getting a light sentence for vehicular manslaughter after she cooperated in an internal police investigation.

The trouble began in July 2001, when Lisa Piho, a Mr. J's dancer, drove through a pair of red lights in Huntington Beach before her sports car struck and killed a man out for a morning walk with his dog.

While prosecutors were deciding whether to file criminal charges, Piho said she went to the Buena Park police station to see if she could negotiate a deal. Accompanying her, she said in an interview at Orange County Jail, was Sammy Johar, whose father owned Mr. J's. Piho offered to work as a drug informant, hoping to win leniency if prosecuted for the traffic death, she said.

Parsons told her he might be able to help, she said.

According to Piho, Parsons and five friends from the department paid her a visit at Mr. J's a few weeks later. When her shift ended, the officers gave her a ride home, opened a few beers and made a proposal, she alleged.

"They were expecting me to dance for them," Piho said, adding that she declined the request.

A few months later, in April 2002, Parsons joined other friends from the department in Las Vegas for the annual Baker-to-Vegas relay, a popular desert run that attracts teams fielded by police agencies around the country. Thousands of officers travel to Las Vegas for the competition.

That weekend, Johar arranged a complimentary suite at the Bellagio for Parsons and fellow officer Collins, Piho said. The suite came with a bar and a view of the Las Vegas Strip, she said.

It was during that weekend that Piho went to Parsons' hotel room and had sex with him, she told The Times. At one point, Collins caught them in the act, she said. Piho said she didn't think Parsons did anything improper.

Neither Parsons nor Collins responded to repeated requests for comment. Johar, who is wanted on an arrest warrant for a drug-possession case, could not be reached for comment.

Piho said Buena Park police internal-affairs investigators somehow learned about the Las Vegas trip, and within a few months, investigators were inquiring about her relationship with Parsons.

After an initial denial, Collins told his superior what he knew about the Las Vegas trip, according to Piho and police sources.

In September, Parsons, 29, and Collins, 24, resigned from the Buena Park department, records show.

While department officials declined to discuss the case in detail, they acknowledged that the department took steps.

"I wish it didn't happen. But it did, and we were faced with having to investigate it and take the appropriate action," said Buena Park Police Capt. Robert Chaney. "I think the fact that they're no longer here shows we take these things seriously."

Police departments throughout the country train officers to avoid even the appearance of improper conduct with people they encounter on the job. When it comes to dealing with female crime informants, male officers are instructed to never meet with them alone in hotel rooms and to avoid a situation in which they could be accused of misconduct, experts said. Sleeping with an informant is prohibited because it could be viewed as an abuse of power and could taint an officer's credibility as a witness, police officials said.

George Wright, chairman of the criminal justice department at Santa Ana College, said officers are trained to keep their distance from witnesses, informants and others they encounter on the job. Having sex with an informant, he said, is "out of line and unprofessional."

The allegations of misconduct by the two officers surfaced during an unrelated internal-affairs investigation of Bryant and his connections to Mr. J's, police officials said. Tustin investigators heard about the allegations involving Piho and Parsons and passed them on to Buena Park police, according to a source familiar with the case.

Bryant is a longtime friend of Johar, who once served as a Tustin police Explorer scout. Bryant, a Tustin officer for 11 years, was accused of using a department computer to run background checks for Johar, police officials said. Piho and another source familiar with the case said Johar acknowledged paying Bryant for the information.

The allegations of the computer misuse came about four years after accusations that Bryant flashed his badge at a Mr. J's guest who was disputing a bill for lap dances, according to sources familiar with the investigation. It would have been a violation of department policy to use the badge to help a friend resolve a financial dispute, police officials said.

After an investigation into the alleged misuse of the department computer, Tustin Police Chief Steve Foster fired Bryant on March 7 and referred the case to the district attorney's office for possible prosecution. No charges have been filed.

Bryant declined to discuss specific allegations, but said he frequently visited Johar at Mr. J's when he was off duty.

"We were just good friends. He'd let me come in. He'd buy me drinks. I knew a lot of the bouncers there," Bryant said. He said he did not think his friendship with Johar was improper.

Johar's family sold the club last year. The current club manager said the club does not condone any of the alleged misconduct and does not believe it's fair to link it to any controversy.

"We certainly had no part with any scandal with any police officers," said Mr. J's manager Jason Greene. "That was [Piho's and Johar's] thing. It had nothing to do with Mr. J's."

In January, a judge sentenced Piho to five years of probation and one year in Orange County Jail for her role in a 2001 collision that claimed the life of Mark de la Fuente and for possession and transportation of methamphetamine. Officers found a small amount of the drug in her car after the accident.

The sentence was lighter than that recommended by the Probation Department, which said Piho — given a prior reckless-driving conviction and a recent drug arrest — should go to state prison.

The light punishment stunned the victim's brother, Tom de la Fuente. "When sentence was passed, I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or drop to the floor," he said.

While there is no evidence that any of the fired officers helped Piho with her case, another Tustin investigator — who got to know her as he investigated the complaint against Bryant — did act on her behalf.

Before the sentencing, Tustin Police Officer Joseph Stickles wrote a letter to Judge William Evans asking that he consider the help Piho gave Tustin police in a "sensitive confidential investigation."


Ontario Will Limit News Rack Placement
April 17, 2003

Inland Valley Voice

ONTARIO -- New guidelines soon will govern newspaper racks on public sidewalks throughout the city, in response to months of complaints that a Montclair strip club was using such racks for advertising.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to increase fees from $10 per rack to $65, and require racks meet aesthetic guidelines that should eliminate the white plastic racks owned by the Deja Vu Showgirls club within a few months.

Earl DeVries, a resident who has been pressing the issue before the council for several months, said he would send the council a "half thank you" because in recent weeks he has noticed that about half the racks have disappeared from Euclid Avenue. The racks sometimes contain a printed newsletter with photos of strippers in bikinis, but more often they sit empty, with the large Deja Vu sign on the side acting as cheap advertising.

"They listened to their constituents and did what they should do," DeVries said. "I haven't run across anybody in the last couple of months that says 'let's keep 'em up.' "

The general manager for the club did not return a call seeking comment.

Not everyone is thrilled with the ordinance.

"It's ridiculous," said Paul Kerrigan, news rack coordinator for The Times. Kerrigan showed up at the council meeting Tuesday night to ask the council to delay its vote until The Times could get a response from its lawyers.

Kerrigan said that the paper is "just not happy" with some of the requirements under the new ordinance and suggested some of the provisions may violate the First Amendment.

First, the ordinance requires news racks be placed in clusters of three to six. Most of the Deja Vu racks stand alone. But Kerrigan said the ordinance requires papers to partner up anytime a new business opens that might draw pedestrian traffic.

"If a new Starbucks opens up, we want to be out there. We want first position," he said. If the new traffic was insufficient to support three racks with the same newspaper inside, "essentially you'd have to form a partnership, and why do you want to do that?" Kerrigan asked.

The Times may also argue the fees are excessive. Kerrigan said he would return in two weeks to make his case during the second reading of the ordinance.

Councilman Alan Wapner, who said during the meeting he wanted the new ordinance to go "right up to the edge" of unconstitutionality, said he would like to craft an ordinance that targets near-pornography without hurting legitimate newspapers, but the First Amendment prevents him from doing so.

"We cannot control content," he said. "If we allow one we've got to allow everybody."

Given the constraints, Wapner said he thought the new ordinance was fair, and did not expect any significant changes to be made at the second reading.

"I don't think there's anything we're going to do that's going to make everybody happy," he said.

The new ordinance does not set a cap on the number of news rack permits allowed in the city, something that had been considered.

DeVries said he's sorry legitimate papers will have to pay higher fees, but he's not letting that keep him from savoring at least a partial victory in his battle against what he calls "porno racks."

"I'll be happy when they're all gone for sure," he said. "It's just sad that it took the city so long to do this ....They belong someplace else, not in our town."


Deputies Arrest Man in Attack at Strip Club
April 2, 2003


San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies arrested a 25-year-old man early Tuesday who allegedly fought with another patron at a strip club and cut the man's face with a beer bottle.

Deputes arrested Jose Gonzalez about 1:30 a.m. at the Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen's Club, 573 N. Central Ave., deputies said. Gonzalez is accused of assaulting the 23-year-old man, who suffered several cuts to his face but declined to be taken to the hospital.

Gonzalez was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.


Residents Picket Strip Club
March 24, 2003

Inland Valley Voice

FONTANA -- More than 100 protesters chanted slogans, held candles and prayed outside a full-nudity strip club Saturday night, in an effort to get the owner to sell.

Mayor Mark Nuaimi led a group from his church in prayer.

"God, please move this business," Nuaimi said. "I ask that you touch the owner's heart."

The owner, Joe Diaz, was not at Diamonds Gentlemen's Club, at Foothill Boulevard and Banana Avenue, Saturday night.

In an earlier meeting with Nuaimi and Councilwoman Janice Rutherford in their church's parking lot, Diaz said he thought the protest would bring him publicity and more business, Rutherford said.

Outside the club, the general manager said business was good.

"We welcome them tonight," he said, giving only his first name, Anthony. "We applaud them for standing up for what they believe in."

There were no direct confrontations between protesters and the handful of young customers who came and went Saturday night. Rutherford said protesters had consulted with the California Highway Patrol and Fontana police, who told them they had to stay off the club's property, stay out of the road and avoid blocking access to the club.

Protesters hope to shame customers and hurt the club's business.

"The goal is to give Mr. Diaz the incentive to move the business off the corner," Rutherford said. "If we can do that by dissuading customers, then so be it."

The club reopened about six weeks ago after being closed for six months for remodeling. Many in the community assumed it had shut down permanently. They were dismayed to see it operating across the street from the Village of Heritage and near an elementary school.

The club's attorney, Larry Adamsky, said the club has been on the corner since the end of World War II. It sits on county land, but does not have the required county permit. The attorney said the club does not need a permit because of a grandfather clause that allows existing use of a given property despite current zoning. An attorney for the county disagrees, and has sued the club. A trial date is scheduled for next month.

A developer has offered Diaz $2 million for the property, which Adamsky said is worth $600,000. Nuaimi said the city would like to annex the land and help develop apartments on the property.

"Progress is moving forward," Nuaimi said. "This guy's just got to get out."

One of the protesters, Guillermo Mendieta, said he was concerned the club taught children that "women can be debased and used as objects of sexual gratification."

"I don't want my children to see their dad do nothing when something comes around that's hurting the community," Mendieta said. "Some things are worth fighting for."

Lisa Harris of Chino brought her children to the protest. Harris said she was an exotic dancer for five years, before quitting about 15 years ago.

"It really is dangerous," she said. "You hype the guys up. You may have rapes here, you may have murders here. You're inviting a lot of evil."

Harris, who has four children, said she got out of stripping when her husband told her he didn't want her to end up dead. Several strippers she worked with used drugs, she said, and she saw stripping debase marriages and destroy families.

"The Lord changed my heart," she said. "I had a reality check."

She said she hoped others would have a similar change of heart after witnessing the protests.

"If no one's saying anything about it, it's easy to keep doing your sin," Harris said.

The protesters plan to return next Saturday. Nuaimi said he wanted to make the protest a weekly occurrence.

"If nothing else, we've got a lot of people praying for this facility to be transformed," he said.


City Will Fight Strip Club
March 18, 2003

Inland Valley Voice

FONTANA -- City leaders are planning to protest the recent reopening of a full-nudity strip club situated about a half mile from an elementary school.

Mayor Mark Nuaimi and Councilwoman Janice Rutherford plan to picket outside Diamonds Gentlemen's Club at 9 p.m. Saturday. Both said they would try to get members of their churches involved as well.

Rutherford, who lives in the Village of Heritage, a housing development across the street from the club, said she held a community meeting on the issue about two weeks ago.

"I spoke with upwards of 50 people who are just sickened that this kind of use is happening in this community," she said. "They don't want their children to have to look at that sort of thing."

The club, at the southeast corner of Foothill Boulevard and Banana Avenue, reopened about five weeks ago after being closed for six months for remodeling. A sign out front advertises that the club is under new management. Another sign advertises job openings for dancers and deejays.

"I don't like it at all because it's too close," said Salena Brown, who lives with her husband and three daughters in the Village of Heritage. She can see the roof of the club from her backyard.

Her husband, Anthony, said he was concerned his property value would go down, and was also worried about what type of clientele the club would attract.

"I did think about the small kids playing in the neighborhood, and the sexual predators.... I thought about Danielle Van Dam a lot," he said, referring to the San Diego girl who was kidnapped and killed last year. "It seemed like it would have been zoned differently."

In fact, an attorney for the club admits it does not comply with the county ordinance, which limits strip clubs to nonresidential areas. The club, Tarzana attorney Larry Adamsky said, does not have a conditional use permit to operate on unincorporated county land.

He argues, however, that the club doesn't need a permit, because it's been there since 1946, before the housing development and the elementary school were built.

"Perhaps they shouldn't have put an elementary school there, knowing there was a strip club in close proximity," he said.

Adamsky argues that the owner, Joe Diaz, should be immune from the regulations because of a grandfather clause.

"He has the right to be there," Adamsky said. "That travels not just with the person who owns the place, but also subsequent owners."

Joe and Irma Diaz bought the property last year from Jerry Inman and his wife, Virginia Bybee. Inman, who is in his 70s, operated the club as Jerry's Stable, a topless dance club.

The club did not have full nudity until a couple of years ago, when state beverage control officials revoked its liquor license, said Matt Marnell, the deputy county counsel who has been pursuing a civil case against the club for two years. Marnell said officials caught dancers selling drugs to patrons. State law prohibits clubs with liquor licenses from having nude dancers, but once the license was revoked, nothing prohibited the club from allowing fully nude performers, Marnell said.

Inman bought the club in the 1980s from the original owner, Adamsky said. The county ordinance regulating strip clubs was passed in 1989, Marnell said.

Marnell argues Diaz has no rights under the grandfather clause, because the business changed substantially when it went from being a topless bar to an fully nude bar. In addition, the grandfather clause in the county's ordinance expired after three years, Marnell said.

The county sued the club in 2001 after receiving a complaint from the public. A trial is scheduled for April 28. Marnell said it has taken this long to bring the case to trial because San Bernardino's civil judges are overburdened.

Both sides said settlement talks are under way. Adamsky said Diaz has been offered $2 million for the property, which he said is worth only about $600,000.

"He doesn't want to take it," Adamsky said. "He insists on his 1st Amendment rights."

Rutherford said she hoped Diaz would take the buyout so "he can hopefully go do something productive somewhere else."

"He's got a 1st Amendment right to operate this sort of business," she said. "And the residents have a 1st Amendment right to oppose that kind of business."

Rutherford said she and Nuaimi met with Diaz and encouraged him to take the buyout. Diaz was unresponsive, she said. If Diaz could be persuaded to leave, the city might wish to annex the land, Rutherford said. But the city will not annex the land while the strip club is there because it would then have protection from the city's strip club ordinance, Rutherford said.

Adamsky said he believed the city was interested in developing a shopping center on the property.

For the moment, Fontana leaders say they have no recourse but to try to shame customers out of visiting the club. It is unclear whether the Saturday protest will become a regular occurrence, but Rutherford vowed to keep pressure on the club.

"If Mr. Diaz does not locate elsewhere, there will be some ongoing effort," she said.


Police Arrest Another Dancer For Prostitution
January 30, 2003

Los Angeles Independent

Another week, another arrest made by vice officers at a West Los Angeles adult entertainment establishment.

Police last Thursday arrested a 39-year-old woman at the Silver Rain [SIC] Gentleman's Club (formerly the Platinum Club) at 11908 Mississippi Ave. and charged the nude dancer with prostitution

An undercover officer reportedly described the inside of the club as a brothel.

"We'd gotten reports for a very long time of what was occurring inside the location," says Sgt. Carmine Sasso of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Los Angeles Division vice squad.

"The Silver Rain is a brothel, they have people in there that condone it," Sasso says. "That's what's happening in the Silver Rain. Just because you put a sign outside doesn't mean it's being run properly."

He adds that management knew what was going on but looked the other way to generate more business.

"There was a lot of stuff that was happening in there with their knowledge," Sasso says. "A blind man could see it."

The arrest came seven days after vice officers arrested a dancer at Fantasy Island, a nearby bikini bar on Pico Boulevard, for prostitution.

Moreover, police say last Thursday's arrest was the second made at the location in the last 12 months. According to officers, the prior arrest was for the sale of narcotics.

"There's definitely activities going on in there that the community has been concerned with for a very long time," Sasso says. "Citizens' groups in the community are very upset with the way the club has operated."

Neighborhood groups have complained to city officials and police about problems that they say are related to the establishments. The recent arrests were good news to some.

"I'm happy that the police are monitoring the area, it makes me feel a lot safer," says Stacey Michaels, an area resident.

Michaels and other residents feel that some of the club clientele all too often hang around the neighborhood.

"I feel that the clubs attract a seedy and a drunk crowd that is looking for somewhere to go after they close," she says. "I'm definitely glad to hear that [police are] monitoring it."

Residents as well as police have complained that some of the clubs continue to operate without proper permits. Sasso says the vice unit will attempt to work with other agencies to ensure that the businesses are complying with city, county and state codes.

Sasso says that there's been ongoing battles between the City Attorney's Office and attorneys for the clubs over their operations.

"There's been some questionable rulings that have come down from those sessions that has made it difficult for the city attorney to go after them," he says. "They get a temporary ruling or some type of justification to keep them open."

But it's not going to discourage vice officers, he says.

"We're going to try to get more aggressive with them and use more forms of enforcement to try to root out problems," Sasso says. "We're not going to stop with this investigation."

Michaels alleges that many of the clubs have not been in compliance with codes for some time.

"The mayor and his staff swear that they're upholding their codes. This proves him and his staff wrong," she says. "I'm happy to hear that police are not turning a blind eye."

Sasso says that monitoring the business practices at the clubs is all part of the job in the vice office.

"We're just taking a regular, normal approach to our enforcement," he says. "That is part of our operation, and it's going to continue until they decide to go someplace else."

Mario Villegas can be reached at (323) 556-5720, ext. 163, or by e-mail at mvillegas@laindependent.com


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