Z Bone Zone

Z Bone's Media Bites For 2004

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.

Appeals Court lets Taboo will sue La Habra
December 22, 2004

By Eric Carpenter
The Orange County Register

The legal battle between La Habra and the owner of the city's only strip club continued Tuesday with an announcement that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has opened the door to a civil lawsuit.

Bill Gammoh, owner of Taboo Gentlemen's Club, says he was harassed by La Habra police, violating his civil rights.

La Habra sued Gammoh in 2000 to restrict lap dances. Gammoh filed a cross-complaint alleging civil-rights violations. A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of La Habra and declined to hear Gammoh's complaint. He appealed.

The appeals court dismissed Gammoh's appeal but allowed him to file suit.

He also owns a club in Anaheim. That city paid him $2 million in a similar case.

-- Eric Carpenter

(714) 704-3769


In S.F., Weighing Strippers' Rights
December 19, 2004

By Lee Romney
LA Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — This city claims a proud history in the realm of tease.

Stripper Carol Doda made her 1964 debut at the country's first topless club atop a baby grand piano. Then the wild and raunchy Mitchell brothers one-upped her — promoting the heavy-contact lap dancing that has become the national norm in strip clubs.

Here, sex and free speech walk hand-in-hand — often donning leather chaps or a G-string. So when Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris declined this year to prosecute exotic dancers arrested for soliciting prostitution in the private booths of strip clubs, some saw it as another dose of sexual tolerance, San Francisco-style.

Not so. Behind the district attorney's decision was a long-simmering controversy that has put the city's sensibilities toward sex with its attitudes toward labor rights.

Now, in a frank public airing typical of this town, city officials are weighing whether conditions in the strip clubs are exploitative — as some women have alleged for years.

At issue are steep fees that clubs charge strippers — fees culled from cash that customers hand over for private lap sessions. About 200 strippers here have complained to the state Labor Commission in the last decade.

All but a handful have prevailed, after commissioners and some Superior Court judges determined that clubs improperly classified dancers as independent contractors, failed to pay minimum wage and illegally took dancers' tips.

Some women also contend that the high fees, coupled with the growing prevalence of private booths, have compelled strippers to engage in prostitution — with tacit urging or direct encouragement by management. They also say the secluded booths provide cover for sexual assaults.

Daisy Anarchy and others who support her union-backed organization — Sex Workers Organized for Labor, Human and Civil Rights — say many dancers must prostitute themselves to make the $120 to $430 in fees they relinquish each shift.

"The most vulnerable women end up doing the most for the least amount of money in the most dangerous conditions," she said. Anarchy, whose legal name is Tracey Buel, is a former dancer who has won quiet support from some strippers and the vocal enmity of others.

Her opponents have a different message: Nancy Banks insists it is her refusal to engage in prostitution that keeps her high-end customers coming back — and paying big tips.

Thanks to private booths, she says, she earns as much as $400,000 a year — and owns a Bay Area home, three cars and two horses. She likens her $120 fee to the New Century Theater — one target of the recent raids — to a barbershop's charge for the freelance use of a chair.

"All this boo-hooing about, 'I only brought home so much.' Well, all I can tell you is that person did not exert themselves," said Banks, who has formed a group to help women manage their earnings — and counter Anarchy's allegations.

Eliminating the private rooms, Banks said, would smother the financial promise of stripping in San Francisco.

"We would not be able to make money just with lap dancing. That's not what [customers] come for," Banks said. "They come for a one-on-one experience with a beautiful showgirl."

After a long silence on the stripper debate, city officials are taking note. This summer, Harris declined to pursue prostitution solicitation charges against dancers netted in vice raids, saying she wanted to see the broader issues of safety, exploitation and fairness explored.

State labor officials said last week that, at the urging of Harris and the Board of Supervisors, they will audit the financial practices of San Francisco's strip industry.

Also last week, San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty directed the city attorney's office, police and other departments to look into booth safety, as well as whether the city can regulate the fees women are charged to work.

The San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, meanwhile, has been conducting hearings on the issue for months and plans to explore legislation to better regulate the booths.

"We have to make sure that every woman feels safe, no matter what her occupation," said commission president Andrea Shorter. "There's a whole politic around how we discuss these issues in San Francisco. The history is deep and complex."

In many ways, that history begins with Doda. But it was Jim and Artie Mitchell who took the strip industry to another level. Although they did not invent the close-contact lap dance at their famed Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater, it could be said they institutionalized it.

In response, then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein ordered club raids in the 1980s, prompting foes to put her unlisted home phone number on the marquee. But a bond would eventually be forged between club owners and San Francisco politicians.

Meanwhile, workers in what was broadly defined as the sex industry were organizing. First came COYOTE — Cast Off Your Old Tired Ethics — which fought for prostitutes' rights. By 1976, activist Carol Leigh, a.k.a. Scarlot Harlot, coined the term "sex worker" to address the industry — both legal tease and sex for sale — through the lens of fair wages and workplace safety.

By the early 1990s, strippers, too, began to stir. Clubs had classified the women as "independent contractors," stopped paying wages and begun demanding a "stage fee" to dance. Strippers with the Exotic Dancers Alliance, formed in 1993, successfully brought the first wage complaints before the Labor Commission.

Commissioners and courts have repeatedly determined that the dancers are employees, said commission attorney Miles Locker. Clubs were ordered to pay back wages and repay stage fees, which were deemed illegally taken tips. One 1994 class-action suit against the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater yielded a $2.85-million settlement.

But victory was hollow.

Dancers who won judgments against Steve Moses and his Chez Paree club, for example, were never paid. Moses is now under a Superior Court injunction prohibiting him from doing any business in California until he posts a $100,000 bond with the labor agency.

"Hell could freeze over before [the women] got a penny from me," he said. The dancers signed agreements stating they were independent contractors, made good money, then betrayed him, he said.

Other clubs paid their judgments but adapted. Many labeled lap dances a "service" and demanded a preset quota. Locker said fees charged to the women to dance jumped from $25 to as much as $200.

The strippers struck back. In 2000, they won support in the Legislature, which amended the state Labor Code to categorize money handed directly to dancers as "tips" and thus the dancers' property.

The clubs adjusted again, devising new payment methods so that — technically — customers didn't hand money to dancers.

Strippers at some venues are told to carry hard makeup cases and tell customers to slip the first $20 into a slot. Elsewhere, customers buy lap dance coupons or insert cash into a machine. Dancers keep money earned after their duty to the house is fulfilled.

Locker said those practices are legal as long as women receive minimum wage and are not asked to pay out of pocket to meet quotas. Several pending lawsuits allege such violations.

But whether the system forces women to prostitute themselves is less clear.

Few dispute that prostitution sometimes occurs in booths, but whether management encourages it is fiercely contested.

Joe Carouba, president of BSC Management, which operates 11 of San Francisco's 15 or so clubs and continues to classify workers as independent contractors, said women who get "rambunctious" are terminated.

One recent BSC employee said she has never performed sex acts or been pressured to do so, has always felt safe and wouldn't make her quotas without the booths. But in written and verbal testimony, about half a dozen women have told commissioners that they gave up dancing or struggle to survive because they refuse to prostitute. In some cases, the women said, management encouraged it.

"I can't tell you how many times I have struggled to pay my stage fees … after a night of hearing, 'Why should I get a lap dance from you when another girl will give me oral sex for the same price?' " one dancer, who calls herself Datura Larsen, told commissioners.

City officials have heard it before. Anarchy and seven other women made statements to police about coerced prostitution and assaults after construction of the booths took off eight years ago. They also met with then-Mayor Willie Brown and then-Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan.

But nothing happened. Anarchy blames snug ties with the industry. Brown once served as private attorney to a strip club owner and gleefully declared a "Marilyn Chambers Day" when the Mitchell Brothers' famed porn star returned for a 1999 stage appearance. Hallinan, who lost a reelection bid to Harris last fall, now works for Mitchell Brothers.

Hallinan said he asked police to investigate but the effort fizzled — after rumored intervention by Brown. Brown said recently that the women's concerns rang no bells. "They're having lap dance fantasies," he chortled.

With Harris in office, however, things have changed.

"No one's been talking about this for a long time, and that's part of the problem," Harris said.

Her office is pressing to make booths safer through stricter enforcement of codes that require the interiors to be visible.

As for pimping and assault charges, Harris said, she would consider them if women came forward with specific allegations. But the underlying question is vexing: Can the clubs be held accountable for exploiting women through economic coercion if that holds true only for some women?

Meanwhile, Anarchy battles another front of resistance, as longtime sex worker activists like Leigh argue that the dancers' concerns about exploitative working conditions can be addressed through labor law alone. The involvement of police and prosecutors, they say, can only bring trouble for women who are selling sex.

"Many other communities may not have an open forum where people can feel safe talking about these kinds of issues," said Shorter, the president of the Commission on the Status of Women, which plans to continue its review of the issue next year. "Does that mean that all the issues are resolved here around safety or sex workers' rights? No."


City to Dancers: You Can Leave Your Tag On
December 18, 2004

From Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — Strippers in this city will soon have to put on something they can't take off — a business license.

The City Council on Friday approved a measure requiring exotic dancers to apply for permits and wear them while performing.

Law enforcement authorities said the rule, which was unanimously approved by the 11-member council and goes into effect in 10 days, will allow them to quickly identify dancers who are breaking nudity ordinances. (Among other things, full nudity and contact with customers are not allowed in San Antonio strip clubs.)

"We're trying to reduce criminal activity inside the establishments on the part of the entertainers — i.e., prostitution," said Lt. Mike Gorhum, who heads the vice squad.

The permit — expected to be half the size of a credit card — would include the dancer's stage name and a photo. Police would be able to check that information against club records to determine her real name and other personal data.

"I really don't know where we're supposed to place it," complained a dancer who called herself Tempest. "It's definitely going to get in the way of our performing, and it might just look a little bit tacky."


Escort, Boss Found Guilty of Murder
December 9, 2004

By Claire Luna
LA Times Staff Writer

An exotic dancer and her boss were convicted Wednesday of murdering a San Clemente engineer and face mandatory sentences of life in prison.

Charles Ray George, 54, was bludgeoned to death in his apartment on Jan. 29, 2001, after paying $150 to a performer from Lakewood-based Ambrosia Escorts in the hope of having sex with her. After she refused and he complained, Elizabeth Nava, now 30, of Irvine called Daniel Louis Parra, 37, of Cerritos who then beat him with a metal flashlight, prosecutors say.

Nava and Parra, who were arrested in Northern California about two weeks after the slaying, were also found guilty Wednesday of robbing and beating another client, Bert Madison, 46, in a San Clemente motel room in 2000. Madison, of Northern California, testified at the monthlong trial.

"They were out to hurt people who didn't like being robbed," Madison said in a phone interview Wednesday. "There was no reason for him to beat me like he did."

Madison said that after Nava text-messaged him, Parra "came in swinging" a flashlight. The first blow fractured his skull, giving him a wound that required 12 staples. After beating him, Madison said, Parra chased him into the bathroom and squirted pepper spray in his eyes as Madison knelt on the floor.

"I'm not surprised that someone ended up being killed because of that same behavior," Madison said. "It wasn't about protecting anybody. It was about beating and robbing."

Outside Judge Frank F. Fasel's Santa Ana courtroom, jurors declined to talk about the verdict they reached after deliberating 1 1/2 days.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Murray said that in picking jurors for the trial he sought people who understood that the law protects everybody — even those trying to engage in criminal conduct such as hiring a prostitute.

"Once you start picking and choosing who can be a victim, what's next?" Murray said after the verdicts were read. "If you prepare jurors for that concept in advance, they'll be offended if the defense tries to argue that someone engaged in misdemeanor or felony conduct doesn't deserve protection."

During the trial, Murray said Parra and Nava had been luring clients with promises of sex, then taking their money, knowing that few would call police.

Lawyers for Parra and Nava tried to show during the trial that some men who hired exotic dancers became volatile after they were told that sex wasn't included in the deal. George and Madison, they claimed, had tried to rape Nava, and Parra had stepped in to protect her.

As the court clerk read aloud the verdicts related to Parra first, his head sank lower in his hands each time the word "guilty" was read. Nava appeared torn between tears and anger when her verdicts were read, staring at Parra with narrowed eyes before looking blankly down at the defense table.

Nava's lawyer, Deputy Alternate Public Defender George Douveas, said Nava planned to file an appeal immediately after her Jan. 7 sentencing. Nava was convicted of murder during a burglary despite being outside the apartment when Parra was beating George.

"She's a 30-year-old woman who will spend the rest of her life in prison when she didn't touch or hurt George," Douveas said. "It's very frustrating that the justice in this case meted out for Parra and Nava will be the same. It doesn't seem right based on her conduct."

Parra is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 28.


Area City Eyes Crackdown on Strip Clubs
November 28, 2004

By Rodney Tanaka
San Gabriel Valley Tribune Staff Writer

INDUSTRY -- The city of Industry has six strip clubs and 777 residents.

Surrounding communities have four strip clubs and 690,000 residents.

"The city feels we have more than our fair share,' Industry Planning Director Mike Kissell said.

Tired of being the strip-club capital of the San Gabriel Valley, the Industry City Council is considering changes that could eliminate three of the city's six strip clubs.

The council recently introduced the amendments and will consider final approval Dec. 9.

The council adopted an Adult Business Overlay Zone in 1996, which allowed strip clubs to operate in areas of the city.

Three clubs Paradise Theatre, Spearmint Rhino and Exotica, all on Valley Boulevard fall within the four zones and are in compliance.

But three other clubs Miss Kitty's at 13079 E. Valley Blvd., Hawaii Theatre at 15333 E. Gale Ave. and Sahara Theatre at 16025 E. Gale Ave. are not within those zones and are considered non-conforming adult businesses.

These three businesses have operated out of compliance for eight years, Kissell said, and were given 20 years to meet criteria when the overlay zone was approved in 1996. But the proposed amendment would reduce that grace period in half, giving them until Dec. 31, 2006, to comply or leave. The businesses also could apply for an extension.

Of the three, Miss Kitty's might be able to meet the criteria for an Adult Business Overlay Zone, but owners there must apply, Kissell said.

The other two, based on preliminary reviews, would not be able to meet requirements because they are too close to homes, he said.

A representative of Miss Kitty's, who did not want to give his name, declined to comment. The manager of Hawaii Theatre could not be reached for comment.

Sahara Theatre is closed, but the property owner has expressed interest in re-opening another adult business at the location, Kissell said.

Industry also has tried to clean up prostitution at massage parlors by beefing up regulations and requiring workers to pass a massage therapy test.

Strip malls with adult businesses record higher incidences of criminal activity, such as prostitution, graffiti, drug use and assaults, Kissell said.

"The information the Sheriff's Department has speaks for itself,' Councilman Jeff Parriott said. "We're being responsible to neighboring communities and trying to improve these areas.'

The clubs may fight the city in court, Parriott said, but Industry has a strong argument and precedents from other cities.

Rodney Tanaka can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2230, or by e-mail at rodney.tanaka@sgvn.com .


Gentleman's Club Permit is Canceled
November 23, 2004

By Kristopher Hanson
Press Telegram Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A gentleman's club had its entertainment permit yanked Tuesday after officials said the establishment violated city rules by allowing nude dancing.

The decision by the City Council to revoke the permit at Flamingo Gentleman's Club was stayed for 45 days, however, to allow the club time to appeal the ruling and possibly challenge the city's ordinance banning nude dancing.

In casting the lone vote in the club's favor, 2nd District Councilman Dan Baker said that taking away Flamingo's permit could lead to a court challenge against the city's nudity ban, which Baker said he would welcome.

"It seems to me that the law is inappropriate … and I hope somebody will challenge that law," said Baker, a former federal prosecutor.

The club, located at 2421 E. Artesia Blvd., is accused of violating city rules banning nude or topless dancing by allowing girls to dance fully disrobed and allowing customers to touch them in private lap dance sessions.

The club is also accused of employing two 16-year-old girls as dancers, though club management contends the girls used fake documents to get their jobs.

A city ordinance approved in 1999 requires dancers to wear nontransparent coverings on their nipples.

Not long after the club was issued a renewed permit allowing alcohol sales and live entertainment in February 2003, Long Beach police vice detectives testified observing on several occasions women dancing topless and naked in violation of the permit.

During permit review hearings earlier this year, an officer also said he observed the two underage girls working as dancers. Afterward, a hearing officer recommended the permit be revoked.

Council members had the option of revoking the permit, holding additional hearings or sending it back to the hearing officer for more testimony.

Flamingo attorney Larry Diamond told the council he may challenge not only Tuesday's ruling, but the city's ban against nude dancing as well.

"The court will have the authority to decide if the nude ordinance is constitutional," Diamond said after the vote. "The bottom line is, had they not stayed the decision for 45 days, I was prepared to file a lawsuit (this) morning."

If such a lawsuit is filed, it wouldn't be the first time Flamingo owners have gone to court challenging the city's nudity ban. A 1999 court challenge of the law was thrown out by a judge who said communities can restrict nudity, but not adult entertainment.

Before the council voted, Long Beach City Attorney Bob Shannon said that the city's nudity ban would withstand a court challenger.

Diamond has made a career out of representing adult entertainment businesses, and successfully challenged a proposed Los Angeles City ordinance requiring dancers and strip club patrons be separated by at least 6 feet.

The proposal ended with the Los Angeles City Council approving a watered-down version allowing lap dances, but banning private dance rooms.

Red light cameras

In other action at Tuesday's meeting, the council voted 8-1 for a new two-year agreement with a red light camera operator to provide services at intersections across the city.

The new agreement, which should have bulbs flashing by week's end, is expected to eliminate six of the 16 cameras in use until Aug. 9, when the previous agreement lapsed. Since that time, the cameras have been off as officials discussed a new agreement and reviewed their effectiveness at curbing red light violations and accidents.

The cameras capture digital images of motorists running red lights, which police use to review and issue tickets by mail if so decided.

The $341 infractions net the city a percentage for each violation, and the city expects to collect $464,000 from the tickets per year, with Nestor receiving about $240,000 of that amount and the rest going to cover personnel costs.

Citing invasion of privacy concerns, lack of promised revenue from the tickets, high overhead costs and discrepancies on their usefulness, Councilman Dan Baker voted against the renewal.

The previous agreement called for Nestor to receive $97 per ticket, but a new law sponsored by Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, requires vendors like Nestor to be paid a flat monthly fee.

Intersections targeted for removal have not yet been decided, but may include east/west Willow Street at Bellflower Boulevard and north/south Cherry Avenue at Artesia Boulevard.


Three Sentenced for Providing Sex on a Golf Course
November 11, 2004

By Lance Pugmire
LA Times Staff Writer

Riverside County sheriff's investigators knew something was fishy when some golfers showed up for a golf tournament in Norco without their clubs.

When deputies raided the Hidden Valley Golf Club during the June 14, 2002, tournament, they found more than a dozen prostitutes and strippers providing sex and entertainment to golfers in tents set up near several tees.

On Thursday, a woman and two golf course managers who organized the tournament were sentenced to 125 days of house arrest and three years' probation for felony conspiracy to corrupt public morals.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Christian F. "Rick" Thierbach chastised the three for the "immoral and illegal actions," telling them that the results of Tuesday's presidential election showed that many in the community place a high value on morality.

Hidden Valley Golf Club general manager Jason Wood, 38, his former assistant Darren James Bollinger, 30, and Sandy Juarez, 39, had organized two tournaments that drew an estimated 160 golfers. Along with a day of golf, Juarez provided prostitutes and strippers inside tents along the course.

The strippers and prostitutes, including one 16-year-old girl, advertised their services and prices on boards posted outside the tents, Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Arthur Chang said.

"Some were drink girls; others were pure strippers who didn't let guys touch them, and others were there to have full-on sex," Chang said.

Juarez, of Lancaster, lured the golfers from various strip clubs, charging each $200 to play. Wood and Bollinger brought in an estimated $5,110 to $5,810 to the club by allowing the so-called "girlie" tournament to take place on May 23 and June 14, 2002.

Riverside County sheriff's deputies, dressed in camouflage and equipped with binoculars, were in the surrounding hills monitoring the June 14 tournament. Deputies raided the event, detaining 90 golfers, 17 strippers and prostitutes and several golf course employees. Two male golfers were convicted of engaging in prostitution, and Angie Peraza, the mother of the 16-year-old prostitute, faces charges of prostitution and child endangerment.

Wood, Bollinger and Juarez initially were charged with eight counts of felony pimping and pandering and could have been sentenced to three years in prison. Juarez struck a plea bargain in February 2003, agreeing to testify about Wood and Bollinger's knowledge that the sexual acts were being provided at the tournament.

"Women degrading themselves … lewd sexual activity for money, golfers without golf clubs; these tournaments involved both largely illegal and highly antisocial conduct, all purely for profit," Chang wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Outside of court, Chang said he had heard of similar "girlie" tournaments at other Southern California courses.

"We'd like to send the message [that] this type of activity is illegal, immoral and something that will be prosecuted," Chang said.

Wood and Bollinger, both of Temecula, and Juarez were convicted of felony conspiracy to corrupt public morals and, along with the house arrest and probation, were each ordered to pay $10,000 to a nonprofit charity of the district attorney's choosing and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.

"[Wood and Bollinger] are both happy this is all over now; they are happy to look forward to the future," said Steve Harmon, Bollinger's attorney. "This has been quite an ordeal for both of them."


Showgirls Gets Court Victory
August 6, 2004

Whittier Daily News

PICO RIVERA -- The city's only strip club will get to stay put in a Slauson Avenue mini-mall near a McDonald's restaurant and several small shops at least through 2007, when the club's lease expires, a federal judge has ruled.

The owners of Imperial Showgirls challenged a city ordinance that barred adult entertainment business outside the city's commercial manufacturing zone and within 1,000 feet of any residential property, church, school or park.

The plaintiffs claimed the ordinance violated their free-speech rights and gave them no options for relocating their business.

Pico Rivera City Attorney James Casso said Thursday's ruling by federal District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian was "a sad day for Pico Rivera,' which has spent thousands of dollars and more than two years defending itself against the lawsuit by Imperial Showgirls' owners.

"The ruling essentially states that a court of law, not the elected members of the City Council, will decide where adult-oriented businesses can operate,' Casso added.

Councilman David Armenta went further.

"It was a total loss,' he said. "We're going to have to pay all their attorney's fees, plus our own. I think ours are up around $200,000.'

Imperial Showgirls opened in January 2002, but city officials ordered it shut down within days of the opening. The strip club then sued the city.

In February of that year, Tevrizian issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Pico Rivera from forcing the club to comply with its ordinance.

On Friday, attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who represented the club's owners during a five-day trail last month, said Tevrizian's ruling essentially upholds the 2002 injunction.

"The reason we won - the first time around - is that no place qualified. Every property was within 1,000 feet of homes,' he said.

The city has since revised its adult ordinance, making it illegal for any adult business to open within 150 feet of any church, school or residences.

During the trial last month, city officials sought to show that there were several viable locations for the club to move to within the city's commercial- manufacturing zone, which is on Slauson, between Serapis Avenue and Rosemead Boulevard, about two blocks from the club's present location.

However, city officials admitted that there are currently no vacant properties within that zone.

"Our lease is up 2.5 years,' Diamond said Friday. "If properties become available, we move. Right now, no properties are available.'

Armenta said the city should have presented several more sites within the city where the club could move for the judge to consider.

"We needed a different strategy. It was a mistake not giving the judge four or five sites to choose from,' he said.

Diamond said the club's spot on Slauson is "the best spot we have in the city.'

"We're delighted we won,' he said but added, "I feel bad for the citizens' whose tax dollars paid for the city's legal battle.

"This has been a vendetta by a couple City Council members,' he said.


Judge Upholds Lap Dance Ban in La Habra
May 31, 2004

By Arlene Martνnez
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Lap dancing is still illegal in La Habra. That's what U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor ruled last week in his Santa Ana courtroom, dismissing a lawsuit filed by a strip club owner who alleged that such a ban was unconstitutional.

The attorney representing Bill Gammoh, who owns Taboo Gentlemen's Club, said he would appeal the decision to the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals.

The judge said contact with customers was not a right guaranteed to dancers under the 1st Amendment, and that the ban did not infringe on protected expression.

At issue is a city ordinance that prohibits dancers from being within two feet of customers. Taboo Gentleman's Club, which opened in 1998, is the only adult cabaret in La Habra. Gammoh took legal action soon after the club's opening, protesting the required separation between dancer and patron.

The ordinance "unfairly impedes on your right to expression and speech," said Scott Wellman, the attorney representing Gammoh.

City Atty. Richard D. Jones said La Habra must regulate the activities of adult clubs to prevent "secondary" effects.

"The city's concerned about potential for prostitution and other criminal activity" that stems from such physical closeness, Jones said. The possibility of the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is also a factor, he said.

In the lawsuit, Wellman argued that such claims were false. "I can't find any evidence … that shows dancing between two clothed individuals with no alcohol leads to prostitution, drug dealing or STDs," Wellman said.

Wellman said the dancers are dressed, at minimum, in a bikini.

The city uses such restrictive measures against adult clubs because they don't want them there, he said.

"They know clubs won't be able to survive" without lap dancing, Wellman said.

Attorney Deborah Fox, who represented the city in court, said that that argument lacked teeth. "They also claim that they're not doing physical touching, and they are doing major physical touching, gyrating and grinding," she said.

La Habra spent at least $800,000 arguing the case, Jones said.

In an unrelated case, Gammoh received a $2-million settlement from Anaheim in March after successfully arguing that the city prevented the opening of an adult club by the same name there, which resulted in lost profits.

The Los Angeles City Council briefly banned lap dancing last year in strip clubs, before repealing the ordinance following aggressive opposition by the industry.


Sex-permit Request Upsets Neighbors
April 22, 2004

By James Nash
Los Angeles Daily News Staff Writer

An adult club has applied for a city permit that would allow it to host a full range of sexual activities -- fueling concerns among residents that it could lead to a resurgence of prostitution along Sepulveda Boulevard.

A representative of Eros Station, which has operated on Oxnard Street near Sepulveda Boulevard for eight years, said the business won't allow everything permitted under the city of Los Angeles' definition of a "sexual encounter establishment," where just about anything goes.

City officials did not have statistics on the number of permitted "sexual encounter establishments" in Los Angeles.

Some neighbors of Eros Station say there's a thin line between hosting sexual encounters between consenting adults and tolerating prostitution, since money could change hands outside the doors of the business.

"Whether or not the club owners want to admit that happens, it happens on a regular basis," said Victoria Davidson-Castillo, a neighborhood activist who said she worked near sexual-encounter establishments in Hollywood.

"To give a company a permit that legitimizes sexual encounters could lead to problems in the community. It would be a step backward for a community that's worked hard to clean up Sepulveda Boulevard."

Stephen Afriat, a lobbyist representing Eros Station, said the business decided to apply for the permit after city officials issued a citation forbidding a type of sexual contact that was occurring.

"The city had reinterpreted how they allow some of the activities that have taken place in this business all along," Afriat said. "Nothing is changing at the club. This is an opportunity for neighbors and people at City Hall to put new conditions on this business that don't currently exist."

City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who represents the area, said she opposes Eros Station's bid for a sexual-encounter permit.

"My opposition to this is relative to its location near areas where we have had serious prostitution issues. That issue alone is enough for me to oppose that establishment."

The area near Sepulveda Boulevard and Oxnard Street already has another adult club, the Spearmint Rhino. Nearby residents opposed both clubs, but they admit that Eros Station has caused few problems in the community.

"We have to come up with a way to assure the neighbors that we're prepared to have conditions that will address their concerns," Afriat said.

Don Schultz, president of the Van Nuys Homeowners Association, said residents would stand firm against businesses that degrade the quality of life in their community.

"This isn't Hollywood or North Hollywood. This is Van Nuys, and we won't tolerate that kind of thing."

James Nash, (213) 978-0390 james.nash@dailynews.com


Strip Club Sale Provokes Outcry
April 11, 2004

By Ian Gregor
Daily Breeze

The corporation that operates Hawthorne's Bare Elegance strip club, which inspires rave reviews from patrons and scorn from some local residents, is under new ownership, spurring claims that the business can no longer operate in its current location.

Michael Galam, who owns the Valley Ball Cabaret in San Fernando, bought all of the stock in the corporation that owns Bare Elegance earlier this month, said his attorney, John Weston. Michael Woods and David Amos, the previous stockholders in Imperial Projects LLC, are serving lengthy prison sentences related to the 1989 murder of their former business partner, Horace McKenna.

Rumors of the Bare Elegance sale prompted a slew of e-mails from a man who identified himself as Eli Jones and claimed to represent a group called "115th Street Neighbors."

Jones alleged the club would no longer be able to operate because new zoning laws ban such businesses within 500 feet of homes and 1,000 feet of schools. Bare Elegance, which is located on the southwest corner of Inglewood Avenue and Imperial Highway, was exempt from the new zoning laws because it began operating before the City Council adopted them.

Weston said the club remains exempt from those regulations because its ownership -- the corporation -- has not changed. Only the officers in the corporation are different, he said.

"The same corporation which has owned and operated the business for many years will continue to own and operate the business," Weston said. "The business is going to continue to be essentially as it is."

Hawthorne City Attorney Glen Shishido said the city hired an outside legal expert to provide an opinion on the sale. He said he could not discuss the opinion because it is a privileged communication. The City Council was scheduled Tuesday to consider releasing the opinion.

Lisa Miller, Hawthorne's director of licensing and code enforcement, said the corporate stock transfer does not require a new business permit or adult business license.

"It's not a change of ownership," Miller said.

However, the dancers must now buy business licenses because the new corporate owners made them independent contractors rather than employees of the corporation, Miller said. They are not covered by the zoning regulation because the adult business permit rests with the corporation and not the individual dancers, she said.

Some residents and City Councilwoman Ginny Lambert have tried for years to shut down Bare Elegance.

In 2001, Lambert said she believed the city could shutter the business because the owners had been convicted of the crimes related to McKenna's murder. Woods was convicted in 2001 of arranging the 1989 machine-gun murder of McKenna. Amos pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge in exchange for his testimony against Woods.

But the City Council did not act after the club's attorney argued that the corporation existed independently of its stockholders and had done nothing wrong.

Lambert also said that a private investigator had uncovered numerous municipal code violations during visits to the club, including nude dancers touching their breasts and genitals and rubbing their bodies against patrons. But Hawthorne police said they repeatedly sent undercover officers from three other police agencies into Bare Elegance to see if anything illegal was occurring and they never found any violations.

Weston, the attorney, said Galam is committed to maintaining the club's attractive exterior and tight security inside and out.

"He will keep the business the very best neighbor and corporate citizen it can be," Weston said.

Galam did not buy the nearby Jet Strip club on Hawthorne Boulevard in Lennox, which Woods and Amos also controlled, Weston said.


La Habra Next Battle for Strip Club Owner
April 11, 2004

By Regine Labossiere
LA Times Staff Writer

Anaheim recently lost $2 million to a strip club owner, and some believe a similar fate may await La Habra.

In March, Anaheim settled a lawsuit filed by Bill Gammoh that alleged city officials unconstitutionally prevented him from opening a Taboo Gentlemen's Club there, causing him to lose profits, court documents state.

Gammoh and his attorney, Scott Wellman, are also fighting La Habra City Hall. They are scheduled to head to court in June in lawsuits filed over an adult cabaret.

Although the issues are different in each city, the common goal of city officials and many residents is to bar strip clubs near homes. Similar battles have been waged for decades by cities nationwide.

In La Habra, the city in 1995 denied Gammoh the permits to open the cabaret, which then was called the Pelican Theater, court documents say. An appellate court ordered the city to issue Gammoh the permits in 1996 and 1998.

Taboo Gentlemen's Club, as it is called in both cities, has been open in La Habra since December 1998. It is the only adult entertainment club in the city of 60,000.

According to one of Gammoh's suits against La Habra, the city then passed restrictive ordinances, including one calling for exotic dancers to remain at least two feet from patrons. That suit contends that La Habra's laws are unconstitutionally vague and seeks to have them overturned.

A second suit seeks an unspecified sum to compensate Gammoh for lost profits because of the restrictions and for what Gammoh calls police harassment of customers.

"This case never had to happen," Wellman said. "All they had to do was give Mr. Gammoh his permit in 1995 and then no one would have known [the cabaret] was there. My pet peeve in this is that they're spending tons of taxpayers' money. This is getting ridiculous."

La Habra City Manager Brad Bridenbecker said that Gammoh's allegations are false and that the city has a duty to defend its laws.

"We have a business owner that has challenged the ordinances of this city, and the city has an obligation to defend those," he said. "I don't think the ordinances have the ability to limit the businesses that open in town."

La Habra has spent about $800,000 on the court cases so far, Bridenbecker said. "We'd love to be able to spend the money in other areas," he said, "but you have to defend the ordinances on the books, and that's what we're doing."

Bridenbecker declined to discuss the specifics of the two suits, but said, "If [Taboo Gentlemen's Club] was operated in a manner that conformed with the code, we probably wouldn't be spending all this money."

Roger Jon Diamond, a Santa Monica-based attorney who has won many strip club cases over the years, said cities will always be in an uproar over the clubs "simply for moral reasons." People don't like the idea that men enjoy watching scantily clad women dance, he said.

Diamond represented Gammoh when he first sued Anaheim and La Habra, then left the cases for undisclosed reasons.

He said city council members tend to succumb to pressure from residents who don't want strip clubs in their neighborhoods, but judges tend to find that there is no constitutional reason to prevent strip clubs from coming into cities.

"We keep winning in court as long as the judges are faithful to the Constitution," Diamond said.

He said there was a good chance that Gammoh will win his case against La Habra.

Bridenbecker, however, said La Habra is not worried about losing.

"We feel the ordinances we've got on the books would survive any legal challenge."


$2-Million Settlement Paid by Anaheim
March 31, 2004

By Kimi Yoshino
LA Times Staff Writer

After a nine-year court battle that tested Anaheim's right to restrict adult entertainment, the city has paid $2 million to the owner of the Taboo Gentlemen's Club, officials said Tuesday.

In 1994, the city denied Bill Gammoh permission to open the nude entertainment venue. He sued the city, claiming violation of his constitutional rights.

An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled in the city's favor, but the California Court of Appeal overturned that decision in 1999 and ordered Anaheim to issue the permit, said Scott Wellman, Gammoh's attorney.

The $2-million settlement covers Gammoh's lost profits during a roughly six-year period from the time the permit was first denied to 2001, when he opened the club near the Riverside Freeway and Kraemer Boulevard. Deputy City Atty. Moses Johnson said the city agreed to settle because Gammoh's experts estimated his lost profits at $6 million.

"We thought $2 million was a pretty good deal," Johnson said.

Gammoh has a similar case pending in a federal court against La Habra, which also denied him a business permit, but was later ordered to issue one.

The city of Anaheim, over a nine-year period, spent about $430,000 in legal fees, Johnson said. La Habra has spent more than $800,000, Wellman said, citing city documents.


Ex-Spearmint Rhino Dancer's Suit Claims Sexual Harassment
March 19, 2004

By Jessica Keating
Ventura County Star Register

Nude dancers at the Spearmint Rhino, an adults-only club in Oxnard, were coerced into performing illegal sex acts and punished if they refused to comply, a former performer alleges in a lawsuit.

The dancer, a 34-year-old Oxnard woman, claims in a lawsuit filed last week in Ventura County Superior Court that she was fired after being sexually assaulted by a manager who had asked her to engage in acts of prostitution.

The suit seeks $1.6 million in compensatory damages for workplace injury and lost wages and benefits, plus unspecified punitive damages for sexual harassment.

"If these allegations prove to be true, then this is a very serious matter," said Samuel Galici, a Ventura employment lawyer who is representing the woman.

According to the suit, a manager forced the dancer into an office, held her down and performed several unwanted sex acts with her.

Galici said the dancer never took her charges to the police, fearing retaliation.

David Keith, an Oxnard police spokesman, said investigators could not recall any reports of a sexual assault at the Spearmint Rhino over the past year.

Still, Galici said, the club should be held accountable for its managers' behavior. Spearmint Rhino corporate officers kept the manager in place even after another dancer complained about sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.

"That should have put the Spearmint Rhino on notice, and yet they kept him there," the attorney said.

The manager named in the suit declined to comment on the charges. Kathy Mac, president of Spearmint Rhino Worldwide, based in City of Industry, also declined to discuss the lawsuit.

In the suit, the dancer says she refused the manager's request that she perform sex acts for a friend of his in exchange for $300. She alleges that dancers who complied with such requests were given preferential treatment.

Because she would not consent to such favors, the dancer says, she was repeatedly removed from the club floor, preventing her from performing privately for customers and earning tips.

The dancer alleges she was fired after being sexually assaulted in October 2003, about nine months after she signed a contract with the club. She says she was fired because she refused to willingly have sex with the manager or his friends.

The dancer filed suit under the state's fair employment laws, although she worked at the club under a lease agreement. The agreement refers to the dancer as a "tenant" and essentially allowed her to rent space for her performances.

Galici said the dancer must prove that an employee-employer relationship existed in order to claim lost wages and benefits.

The suit alleges Spearmint Rhino controlled the dancer's work schedule, costumes, song selection and routines, yet as an independent contractor she was denied overtime pay and was required to give part of her tips to the club.

The dancer seeks to recoup $300,000 in tips and $100,000 in overtime pay she claims she was denied over an unspecified period.

Because workers' compensation benefits were denied to her as a contract worker, she also is seeking $1.2 million for a shoulder injury she alleges she sustained while dancing around a pole. She says she may not be able to dance again.


Strip Club Can't Trade Full Nudity For Liquor
February 3, 2004

By James Nash
Daily News Staff Writer

A North Hollywood strip club won't be able to trade its permit for fully nude shows for a liquor license, a hearing officer decided Monday.

VIP Showgirls opened in September at Valley Plaza despite strong opposition from neighboring residents and members of a nearby storefront church.

The club's management has petitioned city officials for the right to sell alcohol, while at the same time converting from an all-nude club to a topless bar.

Many residents opposed the move at a hearing Monday, arguing that alcohol sales would contribute to loitering, crime and sexual misbehavior.

A Los Angeles city hearing officer sided with the residents Monday.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who represents Valley Plaza, called the decision a victory for residents fighting to keep public sex and drunkenness out of their neighborhoods.

"I really believe that this was a bait and switch (by VIP Showgirls)," Greuel said. "They came to the hearing (last year) and testified that this was OK because this was going to be a juice bar and then they came back for a conditional use permit to sell alcoholic beverages. That combination of alcohol is what causes all the problems."

Roger Jon Diamond, an attorney for VIP Showgirls, said the city's decision put politics ahead of common sense.

"If the place went topless with alcohol, 18- to 20-year-olds would not be permitted there," Diamond said. "(The decision) was a knee-jerk reaction, really contrary to the interests of the city."


Climax Near in Bare-Knuckle Fight
January 25, 2004

By Michael Del Muro
Whittier Daily News Staff Writer

PICO RIVERA -- Pico Rivera has spent about $240,000 in legal fees so far in its two-year effort to move the city's only strip club out of a busy Slauson Avenue mini-mall flanked by residences, churches and a McDonald's restaurant and playground.

And the costs of the legal fight undoubtedly will climb higher once trial in a lawsuit filed against the city in January 2002 by the owners of the Imperial Showgirls strip club gets under way April 27. Attorneys for both sides expect the trial to last about a week.

Part of the $240,000 went to pay attorneys who drafted new zoning ordinances that city officials hope will withstand any future legal challenges, officials said.

But has it been worth it?

City officials say yes. They believe much more is at stake than just the Imperial Showgirls lawsuit, or even whether they succeed in moving the club from its current location. The city is fighting for nothing less than the right to determine where adult businesses will be allowed in the city in the future, its attorney and council members say.

"What the city is doing is trying to protect itself,' City Councilman Gregory Salcido said.

Roger Jon Diamond, who is representing the club's owners in the suit, thinks the city is wasting taxpayers' money.

"That money could have gone to hire deputy sheriffs, gone to schools, to shelter the homeless. Instead, that money has gone to lawyers,' he said.

The dispute began Jan. 7, 2002, when Imperial Showgirls, an all-nude, no-alcohol strip club owned by two brothers, Leroy and Glenn Smith, opened its doors at the site of a former pool hall on Slauson Avenue. The move caught both the city and residents by surprise. There had never been a strip club in Pico Rivera before, let alone an all-nude establishment. It immediately became a magnet for protesters.

Pico Rivera City Attorney Jamie Casso said the club opened without a city-issued business permit and without any inspections by the fire and health departments.

Looking back at it now, Casso believes the club's owners and their attorney must have known the city was vulnerable.

"I think it's evident by their actions what they were looking for,' he said.

Because the city had never had a strip club, officials had never bothered to update Pico Rivera's 23-year-old ordinance governing adult businesses a lag in the local law the club's owners and their attorney were quick to exploit.

The decades-old ordinance banned adult businesses from opening within 1,000 feet of any church, residences or school and relegated them to the city's commercial-manufacturing zones.

Using those regulations as legal grounds, city officials closed Imperial Showgirls three days after it opened, sending the owners straight to federal court for relief. A judge reversed the city's decision, issued a temporary order barring the city from closing it, and set the stage for the civil lawsuit.

In a statement issued in March 2002, Diamond blasted the ordinance's 1,000-foot buffer provision as unconstitutional.

"The adult business would have to be far from churches, schools and other sensitive uses. There are no such properties in the (commercial-manufacturing) zone ... thus, the city unconstitutionally zoned out adult businesses,' he wrote.

The Smiths sued in federal court Jan. 14, 2002. In February, Judge Dickran Tevrizian sided with the club's owners, issuing a partial ruling in the lawsuit and declaring Pico Rivera's old ordinance unconstitutional.

The club reopened March 1.

In August 2002, city officials drafted a new adult-business ordinance that prohibits such businesses from opening within 150 feet of residences, schools or churches.

City Council members also passed regulations banning lap dances, imposed a 3-foot "no touching' zone between dancers and patrons, and required strippers to be licensed by the city.

In October 2002, Tevrizian issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily prohibited the city from retroactively applying its new rules to Imperial Showgirls.

Whether the new ordinance is constitutional and whether the city can apply it to the Showgirls club is at the heart of the lawsuit to be heard in April. Casso and council members believe the new law will pass muster.

Officials, however, could take a cue from nearby Whittier.

In the 1980s, city officials there spent $670,000 in legal fees in an effort to move an X-rated theater out of Uptown Whittier, using an ordinance that prohibited the sale of sexually explicit materials within 1,000 feet of churches or schools and 500 feet of residences.

The theater, which opened before the ordinance took effect, violated the buffer zone, but its owners sued in federal court. The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled Whittier's ordinance was unconstitutional.

But in 1987, an act of God did what the city could not do: The Whittier Narrows earthquake struck Uptown, severely damaging the theater, which never reopened.

Councilman Bob Henderson, who was on the council in 1977 when the theater opened, said the ordeal was a waste of tax money.

"It's tough to make a place that went in legally to make it illegal after the fact,' Henderson said.

Michael Del Muro can be reached at (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3050, or by e-mail at michael.delmuro@sgvn.com.


2nd Hearing Sought on Strip Club Logo
December 21, 2003

By Hugo Mart
LA Times Staff Writer

The state Transportation Department wants to make it clear that it is not sponsoring an establishment that promotes itself as "the Inland Empire's No. 1 topless club."

Caltrans is demanding that Club 215, located along Interstate 215 in Colton, stop using a replica of the freeway emblem as its logo on billboards and signs. The state is so concerned that the signs might lead motorists to believe the state has entered the adult entertainment business that it is seeking an administrative hearing to strip the club of its logo.

But the club's owners refuse to budge. "Nobody thinks Caltrans is sponsoring a strip club," said Roger Jon Diamond, an attorney for Club 215. "It's silly."

The club's logo, shaped like a freeway shield but emblazoned in red, white and blue, is prominently displayed at the club, on a sign facing Interstate 215 and on several freeway-adjacent billboards in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including one near the offramp near the club. The logo also appears on T-shirts and tank tops sold at the club, which opened in 1996.

Caltrans is not objecting to the club's billboard ad of a suggestive slogan and a female torso wearing nothing but a tool belt.

State law prohibits freeway advertisements that include "any human figure in such detail as to offend public morals." But a 1976 appellate court ruling determined that the standard for offensive material was too vague.

Caltrans officials say the Club 215 logo violates state law regarding the use of signs that resemble highway markers near freeways. The sign could mislead motorists into believing the strip club is affiliated with the state agency, said Rose Melgoza, a Caltrans spokeswoman.

But Diamond said Caltrans' objections are outrageous and vowed to fight to keep the sign.

In June, Caltrans determined that the billboards violated state law after an administrative hearing before the agency's Outdoor Advertising Review Board. The board is responsible for enforcing the state's Outdoor Advertising Act, which prohibits signs within 660 feet of a freeway that are "likely to be mistaken" for "any directional, warning, danger or information sign."

But Diamond said Caltrans did not notify him or any representative of the club of the meeting. Instead, the state agency invited the owners of the billboard, Heywood Co. Outdoor Advertising, to participate.

The board concluded that the club's billboards must be modified to eliminate the Club 215 logo or removed, according to Diamond. A spokesperson for the Heywood Co. could not be reached.

After the June hearing, Diamond said, he contacted Caltrans, demanding that he be included in future hearings.

Caltrans officials have requested a second review board hearing, later this month, to decide whether a 7-foot-tall sign bearing the logo outside the club violates state rules.

Diamond said Caltrans doesn't have the authority to impose the ruling unless the agency sues the club and wins.

David Anderson, a Caltrans spokesman, declined to discuss the case, except to say that the agency has yet to decide whether to take legal action.

But Diamond said he's not ready to budge.

"No one can possibly confuse the billboard sign for a freeway sign," he said. "There is no danger to the motoring public."


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