|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.
November 17, 2007PASADENA -- A second topless bar on Pasadena's east end has agreed to shut down, and will stop selling alcohol by Jan. 25.
"The judge ordered tops back on," Pleasures Gentlemen's Club manager Tony Deleo said. He told the Pasadena Star-News that the bar would look for a new location outside of Pasadena to do business in.
Trouble for Pleasures began in 2003, when it hosted a series of "lust parties" that featured what city undercover cops called illegal public lust.
City council member Steve Haderlein trumpeted the closure, and said he is living up to his nickname: the "Strip Club Killer."
"It's a good day when the city can remove a nuisance business from a neighborhood," he told the Star-News.
Pleasures club is the second topless bar on the eastern end of Colorado Boulevard to be shut down by the city this year. Last summer, the city agreed to spend nearly $5 million to settle litigation with the Peppermint Gardens club, which also shut down.
But that deal may spell trouble for the city, because an agreement to buy the former club has fallen through.
November 16, 2007
By David Kelly
San Bernardino's most notorious strip club was ordered shut down by police late Wednesday, giving the city at least a brief victory in its years-long effort to close up the Flesh Club.
Vice officers who entered the club were enforcing an injunction from a local judge who ruled last month that dancers were selling sexual services at the club with the approval of management. The order closed the business at the stroke of midnight for eight months.
City Atty. James Penman said Thursday that if the Flesh Club reopens it will not be allowed to offer lap dancing or any contact between patrons and dancers. All dancing will have to be on an elevated stage. The club's VIP rooms, where most of the alleged prostitution occurred, will no longer have curtains.
"Their two main moneymakers were lap dancing and prostitution," he said. "Given the parameters of the court order, they will no longer be able to engage in that. And if it does reopen it will be heavily policed."
Roger Jon Diamond, the club's attorney, said he would appeal the order to the state Supreme Court.
"In eight months, they will reopen as an adult cabaret and at this time they are working on plans about what to do during that eight-month interval," he said. "I expected this possibility. We cannot win 100% of the time. We have won many times over the years, and the Flesh Club has made millions and millions of dollars."
"Even if they didn't reopen," he said, "it would be mission accomplished."
Club owner Ryan Welty could not be reached for comment.
The city has targeted the business for more than 12 years. The two sides have battled in court with the city losing more often than not because nude dancing is considered protected speech under the U.S. Constitution.
But for the last three years, San Bernardino has been building the case that the club is actually a brothel. It has sent in undercover police officers who have been propositioned by strippers. A former porn star, recruited by the city to work as a dancer, testified about the variety and price of sex services offered. And on one occasion, a private investigator working for the city spent $800 for a lap dance and sex with a stripper.
"Lewdness is lewdness, and covering it with a patina of 'free expression' is a fiction which the law will not tolerate," San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez wrote in a 15-page statement graphically detailing sexual activity at the club.
He then ordered it closed.
Diamond accuses Penman of going after the club for political reasons.
"He tries to manipulate the media. What Penman lives for more than anything is press coverage," he said. "The question is, are the taxpayers of the city being well served by having all these police officers at the club while the homicide rate in San Bernardino skyrockets?"
Penman, who has been city attorney for 20 years and won reelection Nov. 6, denies carrying out a vendetta against the club. He said three separate mayors and city councils have agreed that the club is a nuisance and doesn't belong on Hospitality Lane, which has numerous hotels and restaurants.
"We did a citywide poll before the election asking whether the city should keep trying to shut down the club or if it was a waste of time and money," Penman said. "Well over 60% said they felt the club should close."
And if the Flesh Club comes back, Penman promises to be vigilant. "We
know if they reopen they will try to go back to being a house of
prostitution," he said. "If we find anyone getting a lap dance they will be
arrested and so will the manager."
October 29, 2007
By CHRIS RICHARD
A San Bernardino judge set a 15-day deadline Monday for a San Bernardino strip club to close for eight months as punishment for routinely engaging in promiscuous sex and lewd conduct.
Roger Jon Diamond, Flesh Club's attorney, said he will ask a state appeals court to block the closure, pending an appeal.
"Now they're saying that we'll be shut down in two weeks," Flesh Club co-owner Ryan Welty said. "We'll see. Roger's a good advocate. Everybody in this area knows what this case is really about."
Diamond claims City Attorney Jim Penman sought to close the cabaret out of personal pique at courtroom setbacks, including a $1.4 million judgment in 2004 for harming the club's business through a separate enforcement action.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez brushed that argument aside.
"The trial evidence does not support a finding that the city attorney acted with anything other than good faith," he said.
Outside the courtroom, Penman said he is pleased with the judge's decision. But he said the fight's not over yet.
"Now we'll see what the Court of Appeal decides," he said.
It's not clear when the clock starts running on Alvarez's deadline. Court Clerk Stephanie Chandler said late Monday that the judge's order would not be filed by the end of the day.
Monday's ruling marks a turning point in on-again, off-again litigation between the Hospitality Lane business and city officials.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that stripping is a form of protected speech, and Flesh Club lawyers have repeatedly and successfully invoked that defense.
But in the latest court fight, which began in July 2006, private attorneys representing Penman and the city government cited the state Red Light Abatement Act, a law aimed at shutting down brothels.
During the trial, private investigators and dancers testified to frequent prostitution in the club, and several dancers admitted they maintained price lists for various sex acts, especially in a private VIP room.
In addition to the eight-month closure, Alvarez's ruling prohibits lewd activities anywhere in the club if it reopens. On Monday, Diamond asked the judge to limit that aspect of his order to the VIP room.
The attorney said other conduct that might appear lewd to an uninformed observer, such as dancers gyrating in customers' laps, is widely permitted.
But Alvarez said the conduct he is concerned about clearly violated the law, and took place throughout the club.
October 18, 2007
By BILL HETHERMAN
SANTA FE SPRINGS -- The owners of a local strip club should stop offering adult entertainment in the city unless they move to one of nearly 20 available alternative sites, a lawyer for the city told a judge last week.
But an attorney for the Spicy Gentleman's Club countered that there are no reasonable alternative sites and that the establishment is located far from any homes, schools or other such locations.
The city sued on May 1, contending the Spicy Gentleman's Club at 12215 E. Slauson Ave. is a public nuisance and is operating in a manufacturing zone in violation of the city code.
The city is asking Superior Court Judge Michael C. Solner to issue a permanent injunction preventing the club from continuing to present adult entertainment. Officials say such entertainment may only be offered in specified commercial areas of the city.
After hearing most of the testimony during a non-jury trial in late July, Solner heard final arguments in the suit Oct. 9 and said he was taking the case under submission. He did not give a date for a ruling.
Solner issued a preliminary injunction in early July ordering the club to stop offering adult entertainment as of 2 a.m. on July 4.
But the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a stay on July 3, blocking the preliminary injunction and allowing nude and lap dancing to continue pending the outcome of the trial.
Club attorney Roger Jon Diamond said his client knew he was operating his business in the wrong zone, but chose to do so to test the constitutionality of the ordinance.
Diamond told Solner it is more important for the club to be as far away as possible from sensitive locations than for it to be in a proper zone. He also maintained the club has a vested right to stay in its current location.
But Debra J. Fox, an attorney for the city, scoffed at Diamond's remarks about a vested right, saying the club owners originally applied to open the location as a restaurant and made a "middle of the night change" to offer adult entertainment.
October 12, 2007
By Martha Groves
For residents of a tiny pocket of the South Robertson Boulevard area of Los Angeles known as Regent Square and for nearby business owners, the slogan of the moment appears to be: Better the X-rated business you know than the one you don't.
That could explain why the Rev. Howard Dotson, former pastor of nearby Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church, recently found himself testifying at a public hearing by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety that he preferred the existence of what city officials casually refer to as a bondage parlor in the neighborhood to the possible opening of a strip club featuring nude performers at the foot of the Robertson Boulevard offramp of the eastbound 10 Freeway.
"The irony has not been missed," Dotson said of his seemingly unlikely position. But the fact is, he said, that the Dominion club on Venice Boulevard, run by a proprietor named Lady Hillary, has been "so quiet we didn't even know they were there." The proposed strip club, on the other hand, is "just way too close to a residential area and to Hamilton High School."
"This is not a campaign against strip clubs," he said. "It's just that this venue is not appropriate."
Despite rousing opposition from the neighborhood, however, it appears that the strip club could open soon. The Department of Building and Safety has issued a temporary permit to the business, identified in city paperwork as Skin Cabaret. And construction workers are busily finishing up demolition work to bring the club into compliance with zoning requirements.
After recently hearing of neighborhood concerns from Councilman Herb Wesson, the Los Angeles Police Commission, which regulates adult entertainment clubs, decided to schedule a public hearing. No date has yet been set, but LAPD Lt. Andre Dawson, a commission spokesman, said the building's owner would be encouraged to show up to hear the community's opinions.
A decision about whether to issue a permanent permit would come after that hearing.
According to city documents and Martin Jon Liberman, acting president of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council, the owner of the building is Levi Litmanovich, chief executive of Golden West Trading Inc., a Los Angeles meat wholesaler. He did not return phone calls.
Litmanovich and the club operator have the 1st Amendment on their side, Dawson said.
"Unless there are mitigating circumstances as to why we should not issue the permit, it will be issued," he said.
For years, strip club operators have successfully used free-speech arguments to battle opposition, said attorney Roger Jon Diamond. He represents Woo Suk Yang, the applicant seeking to open the club at 3388 S. Robertson Blvd., in a building formerly occupied by Culver City Meat Co.
"My client researched the city very carefully . . . and found this location on Robertson Boulevard, which is close to Hamilton High, where I went many years ago," Diamond said. "I'm sure the Hamilton Yankees, being in support of the Constitution, will think very highly of this business."
Many residents of Regent Square, a neighborhood of modest bungalows across Venice Boulevard from the Helms Bakery complex, remain wary. They cite concerns about the potential for drug dealing, lewd behavior and increased traffic in an already heavily congested area at Robertson and Venice.
The site of the proposed strip club is just blocks from a planned Culver City station of the Expo Line, a recently begun light-rail line that will run through southwestern Los Angeles before heading west.
"None of us are happy about it," said Shari Hopper, the mother of infant twins, who lives a few blocks from the proposed club. "It's so bad for our property values. The kids who go to Hamilton High will be walking by it. You don't want your kids to be exposed to that.
Danny Harold, who owns one of four catering businesses that share a kitchen in the building next door to the proposed strip club, said he was not opposed to anybody earning a living. And he quipped that a strip club might make a better neighbor than Culver City Meat, which in the summer, he said, emanated a gag-inducing odor and clogged the block-long street with trucks.
Still, he signed a petition to keep the proposed strip club out, citing the lack of parking and potential vandalism by a late-night clientele. "With catering, we're coming back here between midnight and 2 a.m.," Harold said. "That's a vulnerable time of day for this neighborhood."
Under Los Angeles' municipal code, adult businesses must be at least 1,000 feet apart. They also cannot be closer than 500 feet to a school, church, park or residentially zoned area. If the club's performers are nude, the business may not sell alcohol.
Those restrictions were adopted in the early 1980s after the Los Angeles City Council had spent many years debating how to handle adult businesses. The idea was to avoid creating concentrations of such businesses that could become hotbeds for criminal activity.
Nobody has sought to change the code, primarily because the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the free-speech clause in the California Constitution require that the city allow adult businesses a reasonable opportunity to find locations for their clubs, theaters or cabarets.
As it happens, the proposed strip club is 993 feet from the Dominion club. As a result, the strip club operator has decided to lop seven feet off the building, a move that Diamond said should not be necessary.
Wesson said the city should let the administrative process run its course to allow all affected parties make their case.
"We have genuine concerns about how these types of businesses impact neighborhoods," he said in a statement.
If the city decides to allow the strip club to open, it "will be subject to the city's nuisance abatement laws to ensure its operations do not become a nuisance to the community."
Meanwhile, the Dominion club has issues of its own. Since 1974, it has operated with a massage parlor permit from the city. But an official with the Department of Building and Safety said inspectors recently concluded that the club was not a massage parlor and that sexual encounters were occurring there in violation of the permit.
The Dominion -- which features a saddle in a front room, rows of brightly colored ropes on hooks and a photo gallery of women in dominatrix attire -- has appealed, and a city zoning administrator plans to hold a hearing Nov. 1.
Until recently, the Dominion was advertising itself on its website as specializing in "female domination, bondage, spanking" and other activities. In recent days, it has eliminated that wording from its site.
September 11, 2007
By SALVADOR HERNANDEZ
STANTON -- A lone gunman armed with a chrome revolver robbed a strip club early this morning just after it had closed for business, authorities said.
The masked robber made his way through the club into a back room in TJ's Showgirl Theatre, 10350 Beach Blvd., just after 2 a.m. where the manager was counting the day's earnings, said Lt. Kurt Vasentine of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
The robber, described as 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 240 pounds, pointed the gun at the manager and demanded the cash. He walked away with about $2,000 to $3,000, Vasentine said.
The gunman was wearing a ski mask, a black sweater and blue-jean shorts.
He was seen fleeing on foot and no vehicle was seen or heard, Vasentine said. Nobody was physically hurt in the incident.
August 24, 2007
By David Kelly
The 12-year battle to shut a notorious strip joint in San Bernardino got a major boost Thursday when a judge issued a tentative order closing the Flesh Club and fining the owner $25,000.
"Lewdness is lewdness, and covering it with a patina of 'free expression' is a fiction which the law will not tolerate," San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez wrote in a 15-page statement that detailed sexual activity at the club.
He then ordered the business closed for eight months, required all curtains and doors on private booths removed, put in place an injunction prohibiting lewd activities, and told the owners they would be responsible for making sure that all laws were followed if they reopened.
"He ordered no contact between dancers and patrons, which means no one will ever go there again," said Joseph Arias, a lawyer who represented San Bernardino in the case. "That's the reason they go. I think [the owner] will leave town."
City Atty. Jim Penman, who has led the fight against the club, was elated.
"With more than 20 years of public service, the days don't get much better than today," he said. "The judge's decision was very strong; our evidence was very strong. Clearly, this is a house of prostitution. I expect the case to be appealed, but I think it will be an uphill battle."
The club has been especially annoying to local leaders not just for allegations of prostitution but also because it sits on Hospitality Lane, the one thriving district of hotels and restaurants in a struggling city.
Arias said he expected the club to close within two weeks.
But Flesh Club attorney Roger Jon Diamond doubts it.
"This will not be closed in two weeks, and if Mr. Arias wants to call me and place a bet, I'll gladly take it," he said. "I suspect the Flesh Club will be there for years."
Diamond stressed that the ruling was tentative, and he accused city officials of hyping it when they should be awaiting the final judgment.
"The judge can modify this, and we have a lot of legal options," he said. "It's like a boxing match or baseball game: You may be ahead for an inning or two, but the game isn't over. We can go to the U.S. Supreme Court or to the California Supreme Court, and that could take years."
Earlier attempts to close the club, which opened in 1994, foundered on questions of free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that stripping was a form of protected speech, and for years Flesh Club lawyers used that defense successfully.
San Bernardino has spent $587,496 in legal fees fighting the club, usually to little avail. The city's one fleeting success came in 1995 when a judge ordered the club to stop nude dancing. The owner closed rather than clothe dancers. He then sued the city and won.
The club reopened in 1999; a jury later awarded it $1.4 million in lost revenue despite finding that prostitution had occurred. The case is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Club owner Ryan Welty has said whatever acts of prostitution took place were aberrations.
The judge didn't believe it.
In his statement Thursday, Alvarez cited testimony from private investigators and dancers about the easy availability of sex in the club, especially in the private VIP rooms.
Several dancers admitted having sexual intercourse with patrons and maintaining price lists for various sexual services. In one case, an undercover officer hired by Arias had sex with a dancer and paid her $800.
"Although Welty contended that prostitution is not allowed, he was unable to identify a single thing the Flesh Club has done to discourage 'dancers' from engaging in sexual acts with customers," Alvarez wrote.
It all added up to what he called a "troubling pattern of an ongoing pervasive business climate of blatant promiscuity and lewd behavior."
Welty, who also owns strip clubs in Upland and Industry, said he was disappointed but had no plans to close.
"I am a 1st Amendment activist, and I have fought this for 12 years," he said. "They shut us down before, and the citizens of San Bernardino awarded us $1.4 million. I don't have the luxury of giving up."
August 23, 2007
LOS ANGELES -- A man who planned to open a topless bar near downtown said he will make the club bottomless after being denied a liquor license Thursday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra I. Janavs rejected Moe Ahmadi's appeal of a city decision to deny a liquor license to Little Tokyo Showgirls at Commercial and Vignes streets, disagreeing with his assertion that the alcohol permit application was a free speech issue.
"There is no First Amendment right to a liquor license," Janavs said.
Ahmadi and his brother, Max, said Little Tokyo Showgirls will open in about two weeks and feature full nudity while they appeal the judge's ruling.
State law prevents alcohol from being served in clubs where complete nudity is featured, but proprietors of topless establishments can apply for liquor licenses.
Ahmadi, through his company, SP Star Enterprises Inc., sued the city after the Planning Commission denied him a liquor license.
Ahmadi's attorney, Stuart Miller -- who also represented another strip club owner who recently received a $5.2 million settlement from the city of La Habra -- said outside the courtroom that Los Angeles also will likely end up paying heavily for its decision.
Miller told the judge the city presented no solid evidence to support claims that allowing the club to serve alcohol would increase violent crime in the area. He said the city denied the application solely on grounds that officials did not want a topless establishment in the area, and that the decision amounted to a back-door attack on Ahmadi's free speech rights.
According to the suit, a city zoning administrator last September granted a permit for alcohol to be served at the club after noting that the establishment would be located in an industrial area more than 500 feet away from a church, school, park or residence.
However, the decision was appealed to the Planning Commission by the owner of a funeral home and a Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo. Last December, their appeal was upheld and the Little Tokyo Showgirls liquor license was denied.
The City Attorney's Office argued that allowing the club to serve alcohol would be "disastrous to the character and safety of the community..."
The Fukui Mortuary objected to the club serving alcohol because its owners believed it would create an embarrassing situation for grieving families, while the Nishi Hongwanji Temple feared it would generate loitering, prostitution and violence.
The LAPD also opposed the club's alcohol permit.
"When you get alcohol involved with young men -- and as somebody said earlier, testosterone -- that's a combination of a disaster there," the City Attorney quoted an unidentified LAPD officer as saying. "And I can guarantee that I'm going to be out there on some Saturday night at 1 in the morning handling a murder, because it's just going to happen ... I can guarantee you that."
The LAPD officer also stated that the establishment is close to the Men's Central Jail and that inmates being released could just walk to the club.
Janavs said she believed the concerns raised by the LAPD were legitimate and rejected the liquor license.
August 22, 2007
By H.G. Reza
After almost a decade of court battles and unsuccessful attempts to shut down the only strip club in La Habra, city officials announced this week that they would pay the owner $5.2 million to get out of town.
As part of the settlement, the city will buy the property for $3 million.
The city made the offer Aug. 6 during the Orange County Superior Court trial of a lawsuit against the city filed by Badi "Bill" Gammoh, owner of the Taboo Gentlemen's Club. The City Council approved the deal Monday.
The offer was made after Gammoh's attorneys finished making their case to the jury. The city chose to settle the lawsuit, filed in 1998, without laying out its case in court.
Gammoh was traveling in the Middle East and unavailable for comment, but he was pleased with the settlement, said attorney Stuart Miller. "This is a man who stood up for his rights and refused to cave in. The city figured they could just wait him out. They were wrong," he said.
City Manager Assistant Jennifer Cervantez said "the timing was just right" to settle years of litigation with Gammoh. "It had been discussed for a period of time."
La Habra and Gammoh have squared off in at least five court battles that began in 1995 when he applied for a business license to open the club, and they have been in litigation ever since. He went into business in 1998 after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city could not ban the club just because it offered nude dancing onstage.
In a move aimed at Taboo, the city banned lap dances by passing an ordinance in 1998 requiring dancers to be at least six feet from customers. Gammoh won a lawsuit overturning the ordinance. The city countered with a new law in 2003 that forced the bikini-clad lap dancers to stay at least two feet from customers.
He lost a challenge to the 2003 ordinance.
The lawsuit being heard in Orange County Superior Court was for damages Gammoh said he suffered between 1998 and 2003, when the six-foot distance was in effect, Miller said.
In a written statement, Mayor James Gomez said the settlement was good for the city.
However, the two sides differed on the terms. Miller said $3 million from the settlement was for the purchase of the property, $750,000 for business compensation, and the rest, more than $1.4 million, was for damages.
Cervantez said the city agreed to pay $3 million for the property, $2.2 million for business compensation and nothing for damages. Insurance will cover $1.35 million of the total settlement, she said.
The club, near the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Imperial Highway, is in what was originally a bank. The one-story faded white building with a red neon sign is surrounded by other commercial buildings. The lot is zoned for retail, but Cervantez said the city had not settled on a redevelopment plan for the property. .
City officials had hoped that the lap-dancing ban would force Gammoh out of business, since dancers earn most of their money through the private dances.
The city said lap dances led to prostitution, crime, drug use and sexually transmitted disease.
"The dancers wear bikinis. Customers are fully clothed. What are the chances of either one getting a sexually transmitted disease?" Miller asked.
Cervantez said the club was a center of illegal activity. Miller said in the nine years Taboo was open there were only two prostitution arrests and none for assault. La Habra police said they were unable to provide crime statistics because the department's computers were down.
Miller said the lap dance restrictions and the constant police scrutiny had thinned out the club's clientele.
"They couldn't even get customers. How could they get criminals?" Miller asked.
August 9, 2007
San Francisco Chronicle
The Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre acted illegally when it set a nightly quota on the money its exotic dancers were to bring in that was so strict that many of the women were forced to reach into their own purses to meet the required amount, a judge has ruled.
A lawyer for the dancers said his clients are in line for millions of dollars in damages after Superior Court Judge Mary Wiss issued the ruling last month in a suit filed by about 370 past and present dancers at the club on O'Farrell Street. But a lawyer for the club said that when all the evidence is in, the dancers might end up owing their employer money that they collected from customers and failed to report.
Wiss also said the club must reimburse dancers for the cost of the theme-oriented costumes they were required to wear before disrobing. Further proceedings on damages are scheduled in her court next month.
The case is part of a long-running dispute over wages for performers at the city's strip clubs. A 1998 court ruling upheld claims by O'Farrell dancers that they were employees covered by wage-and-hour laws, rather than independent contractors who had to negotiate their own terms. That issue remains unresolved at some other clubs.
Wiss' ruling last month was the result of a follow-up suit, filed in 2002, that challenged the O'Farrell's system of paying dancers based on the fees they received from customers for lap dances and performances in private booths after the main show. The club - which posted a "suggested" fee of $20 for lap dances and $40 for private performances, in addition to the admission charge - set a quota of $360 a night for each employee, and allowed her to keep half that amount in addition to any sums she received in tips.
Although the O'Farrell said the system was flexible, Wiss said evidence at a nonjury trial earlier this year showed that dancers felt pressured to meet the quota each night to keep their jobs, and sometimes used their own money and tips to make up any shortfall.
The club "took money from dancers to meet the quota," in violation of state regulations that apply to strip clubs, the judge said. She said the employees were entitled to recover any amounts they could show they paid to fill their quotas, minus any amounts the employer could show the dancers had collected but failed to report.
Wiss also said the club was required to reimburse dancers for the cost of dressing up in specific attire - like a showgirl in one room, a nurse or a policewoman in another - before taking it off during a performance. Those costumes can be considered uniforms, which must be supplied by the employer, except for those that could also be used at other clubs, Wiss said.
The dancers' lawyer, James Quadra, said the quota was nearly impossible to meet on most nights and probably cost dancers $100 or more per shift, a cumulative loss of millions of dollars over the four years covered by the suit. Expenses for the costumes could also reach $1 million, plus interest, he said.
Lawyers for the club argued in court papers that quotas in the exotic dance industry have been upheld and that there was no credible evidence that dancers had to dip into their own money to meet their quotas or keep their jobs. Attorney Donna Rutter said Wednesday that the dancers would have difficulty proving their alleged losses and might even owe the club money.
The employer believes that "they cheated the theater, lied in terms of the number of dances they did, to keep the dance fees" without reporting them, she said.
July 31, 2007
(CBS) LOS ANGELES A judge considering whether a Santa Fe Springs
strip club can continue offering adult entertainment was shown a videotape in
court Tuesday of an undercover sheriff's deputy getting a lap dance.
July 5, 2007
SANTA FE SPRINGS - A Santa Fe Springs strip club will not have to stop offering adult entertainment, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.
"This is great news for us, especially coming on the Fourth of July. Let freedom ring," said Roger Jon Diamond, an attorney representing the owner, the owner of Spicy Gentleman's Club, 12215 E. Slauson Ave.
The ruling by the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles reversed a June 29 ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael C. Solner, who had granted the city of Santa Fe Springs a preliminary injunction ordering the club to shut down by 2 a.m. this morning.
In granting the city's request for a preliminary injunction, Solner ruled that the strip club was operating in a manufacturing zone in violation of the city code.
Diamond said he immediately appealed Solner's injunction order, leading to Tuesday's Court of Appeal stay of Solner's injuction.
Officials for Santa Fe Springs were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
The club opened in July 2006 in a manufacturing zone. On May 1, the city sued the owner, saying adult businesses can only open in R-3 zones. Last week, Solner had set trial in the city's lawsuit for July 31.
Meanwhile, Diamond said, the Court of Appeal ruling means Spicy's now can remain open until the lawsuit is resolved.
Previously, Paul Ashworth, Santa Fe Springs' assistant director of planning and development, had said that the owner could have picked from among 16 locations in the city where adult businesses are permitted.
"The owner is in defiance of our zoning laws by operating an adult oriented business in the zone it is located," he said in an earlier interview.
But Diamond on Tuesday said he provided the court with evidence that no locations suitable for an adult business are available within the city's R-3 zoning.
By federal law, cities cannot use zoning laws to unreasonably prohibit adult-oriented businesses within their borders.
Meanwhile, the city's new ordinance for adult businesses, which was passed in February, makes it illegal for such businesses to open within 500 feet of any church.
If the judge rules in the city's favor and upholds the ordinance, Diamond said his client could theoretically "move next to a church," since there are no locations within the R-3 zone that are not within 500 feet of one.
June 30, 2007
The Pasadena Star-News reported that strip-club owner Greg Hakopyan will make a profit of $1.5 million when the city pays him $4.8 million to settle three lawsuits and buy the property currently occupied by his Peppermint Gardens club.
"He did very little work and made a profit of about a million-and-a-half dollars," Roger Diamond, an attorney who has made a name for himself representing strip club owners like Hakopyan said.
The city said it was worth the payments to avoid a lengthy, expensive lawsuit settlement.
In the first round, a Superior Court judge said he was "troubled by" the city's adult entertainment ordinance, and by the city's attempt to use zoning to rid the city of an undesirable business, the paper reported.
June 29, 2007
SANTA FE SPRINGS, Calif. - A judge ruled on Friday that the owner of a Santa Fe Springs strip club must stop offering adult entertainment by early Wednesday morning.
In granting the city's request for a preliminary injunction, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael C. Solner ruled that the Spicy Gentleman's Club at 12215 E. Slauson Ave. was operating in a manufacturing zone -- which violates city code.
A non-jury trial has been set for July 31 on whether or not a permanent injunction should be issued against Spicy Gentleman?s Club and owner.
According to the city?s lawsuit, which was filed May 1, both a stabbing and a shooting have taken place at the club since it opened in July. The city maintains the establishment is a public nuisance and that adult entertainment should only be offered in specified commercial areas of Santa Fe Springs. According to the city's court papers, other sites are available to the owner.
Roger Jon Diamond, who is acting as the attorney for both the club and the owner, says that his client knew his business was operating in the wrong zone, but his client chose to do so to test the constitutionality of the ordinance. He said none of the alternate sites are suitable venues for Spicy Gentleman?s Club.
The preliminary injunction will go into effect when the club closes at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning. Deborah J. Fox, an attorney for the city, said the owner cannot operate an adult entertainment business after that time, but would be allowed to convert it to a restaurant as he originally proposed.
However, Diamond said the owner's dancers will most likely get dressed and back on the stage.
"If they have to put on the G-strings and pasties for a couple of weeks, that's not a problem," Diamond said.
Diamond asked Solner to delay the injunction until the trial, claiming the city was exaggerating the immediate need.
"There is no emergency," Diamond said. "This is a constitutional issue of tremendous importance to my client."
However, the city's attorney claims the First Amendment offers little protection for the owner.
"This case is about nude dancing, which is barely protected, and lap dancing, which has no protection," Fox said. "So the tie doesn't go to the lap dancer."
According to Sheriff's Deputy Gary Furuyama, three members of the department's vice unit went undercover to the club on April 10.
Furuyama claims two dancers groped him and offered him lap dances for $40. Furuyama accepted both offers from the women. After the first lap dance, one woman offered to take him to "the back" for another $150, he said.
June 19, 2007
LOS ANGELES - A judge ordered the owner of a nude dance club to pay a $90,000 fine for violating city code barring adult businesses from operating within 500 feet of a residential area. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey also ordered the owner of the Frisky Kitty in Tarzana, Jamal Haddad, to stop offering nude dancing if he wants to stay in business.
The fine was substantially less than the nearly $6 million penalty the city sought against the club for its violations of the city code and the state business and professions code.
For years, the city had been attempting to shut down the club on the grounds that it was close to an apartment building.
Roger Jon Diamond, an attorney for the club, said his client stopped serving alcohol when he began offering nude dancing to adhere to laws prohibiting the mixing of alcohol and total nudity. By making dancers wear some clothes, the club will have to serve alcohol again to stay in business, he said.
"Putting skimpy clothing on dancers and reintroducing alcohol is something I'm sure the community doesn't want," Diamond said.
He said the club has not drawn much criticism from residents of a nearby apartment building.
May 31, 2007
By brynn galindo
The venue owner initially planned to open a strip club on Buck Owens Boulevard under the name "Silver Rhino" in 2002.
The boulevard is now home to the Teaser Pleaser.
The construction of Exotic Kitty's sparked a debate at the city council after local businesses and faith-based groups complained it was too close to homes.
May 30, 2007
City officials acted within their rights when they revoked building permits for a strip club that would have been across the street from a new middle school near USC, a state Court of Appeal panel has ruled.
The decision affirmed a Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling. Under city law, adult entertainment businesses are barred from being within 500 feet of a school.
The middle school, which opened this fall at West 37th Street and South Grand
Avenue, has not received its permanent name but is known as Central Los Angeles
New Middle School No. 4.
May 16, 2007
May 3, 2007
By MICHAEL MELLO
FONTANA - Even if the city of Fontana succeeds in shutting down a Foothill Boulevard strip club after months of legal wrangling, the owners could reopen it elsewhere in the city, without City Council approval.
A jury trial scheduled for September will decide whether the Diamonds Gentlemen's Club can continue to operate at its current location. The city annexed the property around the club in 2005, and officials say the owners have resisted efforts to bring the business into compliance with city codes. The owners, Joe and Irma Diaz, say the city is violating their right to run the business.
Community Development Director Don Williams said that state law requires the city to provide adult businesses a permit if certain requirements are satisfied, regardless of how the members of the public or the City Council feel about it.
A study recently commissioned by the owners of the Diamonds club indicates there are 27 plots of land nearby where, under city code, a strip club could be placed.
However, the study notes most of them are unavailable for a variety of reasons. Some are occupied by restaurants or other commercial endeavors. Several more plots are unavailable because they are owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which plans to build a new place of worship there.
Not that moving the club would be easy.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions mandate that there be at least one place within a city where adult businesses such as the Diamonds Gentlemen's Club can operate.
However, "It's not the use itself that can be regulated, but the secondary effects of that use" the city can control, Williams said.
Because of that, a Fontana city ordinance passed in 2003 stipulates an adult business cannot be located within 400 feet of "sensitive uses," defined as residential areas, parks, schools and religious institutions.
Many cities require such businesses to be 1,000 feet or more from other uses. When Fontana began crafting its ordinance, however, officials found that no area of the city was more than 1,000 feet from a sensitive area. The circles had to be narrowed again and again, Williams said, until they reached a 400-foot radius.
Despite the 27 spots, the study argued there is no viable place for the club to relocate within the city of Fontana. The only place that has any chance of being a suitable site is one vacant lot -- out of three -- near the of corner Base Line and Citrus Avenue.
The thought of a strip club opening at any of those locations came as a surprise to some of the area's residents, many who appear to be just outside that 400-foot radius, if at all.
"As a parent, I would not want one near my house," said Alfred Flores, whose home of eight years abuts one of the empty lots near Citrus and Base Line.
Flores said he could live with a club nearby, "if they build a wall big enough where my kids can't go through, and can't see it from their (second story) windows."
Hilario Gutierrez, who also lives nearby, didn't like the idea of a club appearing in his neighborhood.
"There are a lot of kids around here," Gutierrez said. "They're going to see that and think it's all right."
Marine Cpl. Angelo Gutierrez agreed with his brother.
"It's going to attract younger guys," he said, " ... and they'll probably cause trouble. This isn't a good spot."
Once a location is established -- wherever that is -- the business would have to apply for a permit, and all employees would have to submit information, fingerprints and passport photos.
"The idea here is to make sure that the people who perform or work here doesn't have a record of a sexually related crime," Williams said. "It's fairly extensive."
Attorneys working for the city recently asked the court to seal any documents that list assessor parcel numbers or addresses where an adult club could locate in Fontana.
Superior Court Judge Christopher J. Warner denied the request, citing the California Public Records Act and California Rules of Court, which state there has to be an "overriding interest" to seal parts of a court file.
Sacramento-based lawyer Kevin T. Collins, who's heading the case for the city, would not say why those documents needed to be kept from the public.
"That would go into attorney-client privilege, and I won't comment on that," he said.
Reach Michael Mello at 909-806-3056 or mmello@PE.com
April 19, 2007
TARZANA, Calif. -- A judge ruled that the Frisky Kitty strip club in Tarzana is operating too close to a residential area, Councilman Dennis Zine's office announced Thursday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey on Tuesday granted the city's motion to find all issues in its favor and dismiss the case before trial, according to Zine's office.
The Frisky Kitty is located in a manufacturing zone and has been offering totally nude dancing since 1998. That year, the city notified the club's owners that they were operating an adult cabaret too close to a residential zone.
Frisky Kitty lawyer Roger Jon Diamond argued the city code was not clear about how such distances should be measured.
Zine said in a prepared statement that he hopes the club will voluntarily close.
March 8, 2007
Los Angeles police detectives have arrested an Encino man on suspicion of fatally slashing the throat of another patron at a Canoga Park strip club Monday night.
Zachary Todd Balonick was booked Tuesday in connection with the death of Jose Omar Montalvo Jr.
Police said Montalvo was seated in the Xposed club talking to a dancer about 8:30 p.m. when he was allegedly attacked by Balonick.
"He walks up behind this guy and cut his throat. There was no conversation between the two of them. He just suddenly jumped up with a knife and attacked," said Det. Rick Swanston of the West Valley Division homicide unit. The motive remains unclear, Swanston said.
Montalvo died of his injuries at a Northridge hospital.
Police said Balonick left the club immediately after the attack and drove off in a late model Audi. Detectives were able to identify the assailant because those entering the club are required to present identification and have it scanned, Swanston said. Witnesses also knew his first name from his previous visits to the club.
Swanston said Balonick was arrested at his Encino home without incident. He is being held without bail pending charges and arraignment.
March 7, 2007
By Matt Cota
SANTA BARBARA -- More than six months after David Klotz died outside a Santa Barbara strip club, the district attorney has finished the investigation into his death.
David Klotz died outside the Spearmint Rhino Strip Club following a dispute over a $960 bill.
Bouncers held the 26-year-old accountant on the ground for 20 minutes while waiting for police to arrive.
A surveillance video tape shows Klotz struggling, telling the bouncers he was unable to breath.
The district attorney conducted a lengthy investigation, but decided not to file criminal charges.
"It has to be reckless and indifferent to human life. In other words, it has to be not just negligent but very very negligent and we didn't think the evidence showed that," said Santa Barbara County Assistant District Attorney Pat McKinley.
An autopsy revealed that Klotz had a pre-existing heart condition and that his arteries were 90% clogged.
His blood-alcohol level was also more than twice the legal limit.
While one doctor blamed Klotz's poor health for his death, the district attorney asked for a second opinion.
Another doctor determined that the most likely cause of death was chest compression due to the way the bouncers restrained him.
However, the expert admitted his conclusion could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
"That conflict between the two experts created for us reasonable doubt about something that is pretty important, mainly the cause of death and the manner of death," said Asst. District Attorney McKinley.
While no criminal charges will be filed, the family of David Klotz could file a wrongful lawsuit in civil court against the Spearmint Rhino and its employees.
David Klotz's family lives in northern California.
The district attorney notified them about the decision not to file criminal
charges before releasing details to the media.
March 6, 2007
Melissa Arfat filed the lawsuit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court against D??Vu of North Hollywood, alleging various violations of the state's Business and Professions and Labor codes.
Arfat is seeking to have her lawsuit certified as a class action so that she can represent all employees of the club who were "performing live, nude, semi-nude or bikini dance entertainment to (the club's) customers."
Arfat worked from May through August 2006, her lawsuit stated. During that time, she was required to share her dance tips with management, disc jockeys, door men, security guards and bartenders in violation of state law, the lawsuit stated.
According to the suit, she and other dancers were required to work a minimum of six hours nightly. If they didn't, the suit contends, the strip club would take away the tips the dancers received for their first eight lap dances and keep half of any other tips they received for the rest of the shift.
Arfat's lawsuit asks for restitution of those portions of tips and gratuities
taken by management, plus minimum and overtime wage compensation due her and
other dancers for the club.
February 26, 2007
In case anyone is confused, Ryan Welty likes to point out that the Flesh Club is not a Christian Science Reading Room, nor is it a church or high-minded civic organization.
"We are not a sympathetic member of society," the club owner concedes. "There are naked ladies in there. It's a very sexually charged atmosphere."
That's putting it mildly, San Bernardino officials say. They allege the strip club is little more than a front for a brothel. Patrons go there for sex, they say, not to see a show.
"I don't think any city would tolerate that, and neither will we," said San Bernardino City Atty. James Penman.
But proving it is something else. For 12 years, San Bernardino has targeted the Flesh Club, and for 12 years the club has escaped largely unscathed. The latest legal effort, a criminal prosecution, to close the place is scheduled to wrap up in court this week.
The red brick club sits in the middle of busy Hospitality Lane ? arguably the nicest commercial street in an otherwise struggling town ? with a big sign proclaiming "Flesh Showgirls, Total Nude, Open 7 Days."
Its very presence seems to taunt a city that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and launched many covert operations to expose illicit sexual activity within its dimly lighted rooms.
Over the years, according to court testimony, authorities have tried repeatedly to trip up the club:
? Undercover police officers, sometimes in wheelchairs to hide cameras, filmed dancers who appeared to be having sex together;
? A former porn star-turned-private eye was recruited to get a job as a stripper and gather intelligence. After three days she concluded the club was "a house of prostitution";
? A former Flesh Club dancer was successfully persuaded to testify in court last year and boasted of being called the "top ho" for making $1,000 a day. Asked how often she traded sex for money, she said, "I would say for every customer."
As in all spy craft, agents were sometimes compromised.
Duane Minard, a private investigator and former Riverside County sheriff's deputy, was hired to find out what services the club's women would offer for cash.
According to his court testimony, Minard went into a VIP room with a stripper for a private $120 dance. By the time it finished he had shelled out $800 for sex.
"I told him when they start asking for money, excuse yourself and skedaddle," said Joseph Arias, the lawyer representing the city against the club. "But he goes out and gets more money then goes back in. When I asked him why, he said, 'It was the heat of the moment.' "
Penman wasn't amused.
"He clearly crossed the line and won't be reimbursed by the city," he said. "But the fact that he did it so easily shows what kind of business it is and how much money is involved. This is no $50 romp in the backseat with a hooker, it's $800."
The story came out in court last month as part of San Bernardino's latest attempt to rein in the club. This time it is using California's Red Light Abatement Act, essentially trying to prove the business is a brothel. If the city is successful, a judge can close the club for a year.
"An occasional act of prostitution is not enough to shut the place down; we have to show more than that," Arias said. "Exactly what the burden is remains an elusive question."
The Flesh Club has survived so long because it's hard to prove wholesale prostitution and, more important, stripping is often viewed as constitutionally protected speech.
Club lawyer Roger Jon Diamond never lets anyone forget that.
He concedes that such places are unpopular, that local officials rarely "give them the key to the city" or ask them to "sponsor Little League teams," but he sees them as legitimate businesses.
"It's the right of free expression versus the city's attempt to censor," he said. "San Bernardino is like most cities; they try to suppress freedom they don't like, especially when it involves erotic material."
Diamond has an encyclopedic knowledge of adult entertainment. He knows how close, measured in feet and inches, a patron can get to a topless dancer as opposed to a nude one. He knows the delicate legalities of lap dancing. If sexual contact occurs, Diamond said, it's no reason to penalize an entire business.
"At hockey games many people go to watch the fights, but theoretically public fighting is a crime, so allowing them to go on is breaking the law," he said. "You don't shut down the game because of that. In our situation, dancers are not told to be prostitutes but they do act as independent contractors, and sometimes there is some hanky-panky, but that isn't reason to close the club."
Despite spending $587,496 in legal fees, San Bernardino has racked up a dismal record against the Flesh Club.
Its one victory came in 1995 when a local judge issued a restraining order against the club, saying its location wasn't zoned for nude dancing. The club shut down. A Superior Court judge overruled the decision a year later. The city appealed, and in 1999 a state court ruled San Bernardino had not proved that the club negatively affected the neighborhood. It also declared that the city ordinances used to close it were unconstitutional.
The Flesh Club reopened in 1999 and sued for lost revenue. A jury awarded it $1.4 million in 2004 despite finding that prostitution had occurred inside. The case is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Welty, who also owns strip clubs in Upland and the City of Industry, denies running a brothel and says he's a convenient target for political opportunists.
"It's easy to kick people like us, and there is little price to pay," he said. "Acts of prostitution occur in every strip club in the country. It would be ignorant for us to believe or claim that the place is pure as driven snow, but the fact of the matter is that prostitution is rare."
Witnesses in the latest case dispute that. They allege that management knows prostitution happens and simply urges employees to be discreet.
Raquel Gomez, who danced at the club before becoming a Christian evangelist, testified to routinely having sex with customers.
She said almost every dancer did, and the patrons expected it. Her price was $200. Most women had a sliding scale of fees depending on the sex acts, she said in court.
Gomez said the inauguration of private rooms several years ago made things even easier. Dancers now didn't have "to fight for the darkest corner" where they often had sex just inches away from other couples, she testified in July.
The privacy "gave me more freedom," she said. "It impacted me financially because I made more money."
The small rooms are dimly lighted by red lamps and covered with heavy curtains. Patrons spend $120 for three dances inside. On a recent visit, barely clad dancers led men into the rooms while the stage was mostly empty.
Sandra Margot-Escott, who spent 20 years as a stripper and also starred in porn films as Tiffany Million, testified she was hired to work undercover as a dancer in the club by Arias, the city's attorney.
Now a bounty hunter and private investigator, Margot-Escott testified that club managers said whatever she did in the VIP room was between her and the patron as long as they got their $45 cut from the $120 fee. She also said that one dancer, who identified herself as a high school student, was charging $800 for sex.
"My experience at the Flesh Club was unlike any I had ever had working in this industry, and it was the first time I've ever worked at a club where there were not only no ground rules ? but even when I asked about the rules, they were not given to me," Margot-Escott told jurors.
Club dancers are even rated on an Internet site where patrons critique their experiences.
Yet it's not just what happens inside the club that irritates the city so much, it's also the club's location.
In economically depressed, crime-plagued San Bernardino, Hospitality Lane is a narrow island of restaurants, office buildings and a few upscale hotels in a sea of gritty neighborhoods.
"That is our commercial hub; it is the economic engine of the city," said City Councilman Tobin Brinker, who represents the area. "It's a little embarrassing to have the club there."
Diamond describes the street, somewhat sardonically, as the Rodeo Drive of San Bernardino.
"The solution would have been a long time ago to sit with me and my client and say, 'Look, we don't want you on Hospitality Lane, but you can go elsewhere,' but they wouldn't do it," he said.
Penman said the city did offer to find another location but the club preferred to go to trial.
"They think they have a winning case," he said. "But the 1st Amendment doesn't protect prostitution."
Diamond is optimistic about this latest court battle, scheduled for closing arguments today. And he hopes people will someday revise their view of strip clubs.
"I think they are a positive for a community," he said. "They bring in a lot of money. The women who dance are supplying a need. There are a lot of lonely guys out there who basically want to talk to someone. They want companionship. They just want a hug."
January 17, 2007
PASADENA - Six weeks after opening in defiance of City Hall, the Peppermint Garden strip club was ordered by the courts to close Wednesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jan Pluim granted a temporary restraining order requested by the city to shut down the club for 30 days, after which she will consider extending the order for as long as the matter is in court.
"We're definitely interested in bringing a halt to this business, which is why we filed the restraining order," said Deputy City Attorney Javan Rad, who argued the city's case in court.
The city's legal complaint alleges owner Greg Hakopyan knowingly violated its rules for where adult clubs are located and how they may operate.
The lawyer representing Hakopyan said he wasn't surprised by the ruling and would likely file a countersuit on behalf of his client.
"We believe the Constitution of the United States applies to Pasadena," said Roger Diamond, who represents the club. "We're going to sue the city for millions of dollars. San Bernardino did the same thing, and we won $1.4million from them."
Diamond, who has represented numerous adult businesses in the region, counters that Pasadena has knowingly violated his client's First Amendment rights.
Court rulings have affirmed such adult businesses have a constitutional right to exist in any city, but can be subject to "time, place and manner" limitations.
Peppermint Garden opened its doors in December, several days before a new set of city ordinances went into effect that invalidated the East Foothill Boulevard business's location.
(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4444
January 11, 2007
The proceedings in San Bernardino Superior Court were the latest installment in a long saga. City officials have tried to stamp out the club since 1995, and both sides have been dealt legal losses over that time. In the current case, attorneys hired by the city seek a court injunction that could shut down the club for one year and impose hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
To do so, they must prove that prostitution occurs at the club. The quest to close the club has cost the city at least $130,000 to date.
The sex divulged in Wednesday's testimony was never supposed to happen - one investigator said he lost control.
Duane Minard, 45, a licensed private investigator and former Riverside County sheriff's deputy, testified that he visited the Flesh Club on reconnaissance missions three times in early and mid-December 2006. On all three occasions, Minard said, women at the club fondled him, implied or bluntly offered sexual services and performed simulated sex acts on him behind closed doors.
On his second visit, Minard testified, he went into a secluded "VIP" room with a dancer named Taren - and that's when he lost control.
"She unzipped her gold and silver purse and pulled out a condom," Minard said softly.
Prodded by prosecuting attorney Laura Tall Liu, Minard described in vivid detail how he engaged in sex for two to three minutes with Taren.
But his debt wasn't settled, Minard said. Up to that point, he said, he had paid the woman $300 for time and lap dances in the dark room. After having sex with her, he had to leave his driver's license with a bouncer for collateral while going to fetch $400 more from a nearby ATM. He only had $100 on him.
Altogether, he paid the dancer $800, Minard testified.
While picking up the money, a frazzled Minard put in a call to the private investigation firm with which he was contracted, CI&S, which is owned by Robert Bittner.
He told Bittner what had happened.
"He wasn't very happy with me. He said I crossed the line," Minard told the court. "(But) I said I needed to pay, and he said he'd cover the costs."
When asked by one of the city's attorneys to explain his actions, Minard was at a loss.
"I didn't have the time to clear my head, I was aroused. I was waiting for the cavalry to come over the hill," Minard said. "A cop way of thinking."
While Minard's testimony dominated the day's proceedings, he wasn't the only undercover investigator to report questionable activities at the club.
Brett Nichols, 29, testified that he too was paid $45 per hour to scope out the club. He said he went on the afternoon of Jan. 5 and purchased a "totally nude" lap dance for $40 from a dancer named Daisy, after which she led him to a dim, secluded room. She groped him and offered to perform sex acts on him for $200, Nichols testified, adding that he declined.
Roger Jon Diamond, the attorney representing Flesh Club owner Ryan Welty, 33, labored to impugn Minard by highlighting contradictions in his testimony and draw a direct connection between city funds and paid sex acts.
Minard subcontracted with Bittner's investigation firm, which was hired by Arias & Lockwood, a law firm, to investigate the club. The city hired Arias & Lockwood to bring the case against Flesh Club.
Minard admitted to Diamond under cross-examination that he had billed the investigation firm for the $500 he paid for sex on Dec. 5.
"Eventually & the city of San Bernardino will have paid for the sex?" Diamond asked.
He also made a point of establishing that Minard was being paid by the investigating firm, and perhaps ultimately by the city, for his testimony. Minard denied that he took the stand for money, saying he did it because he "felt obligated."
"Knowing I overstepped the bounds of the investigation, I don't know if (Bittner) will be obligated to pay me (for the $500 sex)," Minard said.
Joseph Arias, the city's lead attorney in the case, said he had not decided whether to reimburse Bittner for Minard's sex bill. Minard went back to the club after his bosses interviewed him and were satisfied that he would not make the same mistake again.
"I don't know, I'm inclined not to pay him," Arias said.
City Attorney James F. Penman said Minard would get no city money because he broke the law. Penman added that he has reported the incident to the District Attorney's Office.
"I decided immediately when I heard (about the sex) that we weren't going to be paying him. When he crosses that line, he's on his own," Penman said.
"We don't need an undercover investigator to participate in a sexual act, but the fact that he did only further demonstrates what type of an establishment this is."
During a court recess, Diamond said the club had never been cited for prostitution and that he thought the city would ultimately foot the bill for Minard's $500 sex.
Welty, who sat in the audience for the entire day, was critical of the city's operations against his club.
"Twelve years and hundreds of thousands of dollars against me and the city is still full of potholes," Welty said.
Judge Donald Alvarez set the next court date for Jan. 23.
January 6, 2007
FONTANA - A strip club on Foothill Boulevard -- and the controversy surrounding it -- has been around for years, though it only became part of the city of Fontana with a mid-2005 annexation.
Now, more than a year later, the city wants the Diamonds Gentleman's Club shut down for alleged code and permit violations, and has filed a lawsuit to put the place out of business.
The club's owners say the city has refused to let them submit a permit for the business and have violated their rights by trying to shut down the operation.
City personnel say they have sent club owners Joe and Irma Diaz permit applications by certified mail that haven't been returned.
"This is just another example of politicians wasting taxpayer money on frivolous lawsuits," said Roger Jon Diamond, the Santa Monica lawyer representing the club owners. "As usual, the only people who come out ahead are the lawyers. I don't think it's a wise expenditure of taxpayer money to bring a lawsuit nobody asked for."
Diamond has lots of experience with similar lawsuits, recently winning a federal appeals case for a San Diego adult bookstore the city wanted to shut down. He also is representing the owner of the Flesh Club in San Bernardino, which the city is trying to close.
According to the Fontana suit, the zoning for the land on which the club sits was changed from general commercial to community commercial when it was annexed. Under Fontana Municipal Code, the club can operate under that zoning only with an adult business permit.
If the club had been legal under San Bernardino County codes when it was brought into Fontana, the business would be allowed to continue to operate, said Ted Porlas, Fontana's code enforcement manager.
But, he added, it wasn't.
"The research we've done shows the business wasn't legitimate in the county, either," Porlas said. "They had a year, according to our adult-use ordinance, to square this away."
Instead, because the city sees the club as noncompliant, attempts to get a license are treated as a new application.
And the club's current site doesn't qualify for a permit under city codes, Porlas said.
"If a new application walked through the door (today) ... we would not allow it at that location," Porlas said.
In court documents, Diamond says the city's adult business ordinance violates the First Amendment because "it does not provide for a sufficient number of alternative sites" for the business, amounting to an effective ban.
City code stipulates such businesses should not be located near schools or residential areas, as the club currently is.
"Even if the Fontana ordinance is valid, which we don't concede, my client was there first, operating the business," Diamond said. "If Fontana didn't want the club in the city, it didn't have to annex the property. It brought this club into the city and now says it can't be there."
City officials say they have received complaints about the club from nearby residents, but those complaints aren't mentioned in the lawsuit.
The club has hosted adult entertainment since 1945, when it was well away from any form of residential development. Before that, the land was used for Marine Corps barracks.
This isn't the first time the club has faced a forced shutdown. In 2000, when it was owned by Virginia Bybee and Gerald Inman and called Jerry's Stable, San Bernardino County authorities sued the club, saying it operated without a conditional-use permit and an adult-oriented business license.
Joe and Irma Diaz purchased the property in 2002. In 2003, the county agreed to drop the action when the Diazes agreed to sell the property to Lewis Operating Cos., of Upland, for $2.2 million. The company had made an agreement with the county to tear down the club and build apartments -- some of them for low-income residents.
Representatives of the Lewis Operating Cos. said the deal later fell apart because of title issues with the property. The Diazes continued operating the club.
The case is due to return to San Bernardino County Superior Court in April for a case management conference.
Reach Michael Mello at 909-806-3056 or mmello@PE.com
January 6, 2007
By Kelly Thornton
Former strip club owner Michael Galardi bankrolled the plan to bribe San Diego councilmen to repeal a no-touching law at the clubs, but he was not the leader and organizer of the plan and should not be penalized as such, prosecutors said.
In documents filed Thursday with the court, prosecutors took the unusual step of objecting to a sentencing recommendation by the neutral U.S. Probation Office by saying it is too harsh. Prosecutors are better known for objecting when they consider recommendations to be too lenient. The government disputed the conclusion in a pre-sentencing report by probation officers that Galardi, one of its key witnesses during the 2005 corruption trial, is eligible for a tougher sentence because of a leadership role in the conspiracy. The government said Galardi's accomplices - in particular his bagman, Lance Malone - made the decisions and carried out the plan.
"Here, the facts of this case demonstrate that Galardi did not exercise any significant decision-making authority in the commission of this offense, did not recruit accomplices (Galardi and Malone were already involved in a corrupt relationship), and did not significantly participate in planning or organizing the crime," prosecutors wrote.
"Remaining primarily in Las Vegas, Galardi paid Malone to do whatever Malone, in his experience and expertise, felt was necessary to repeal the no-touch legislation in San Diego," the prosecutors wrote. Malone is a former Las Vegas politician.
Some defense attorneys in the case criticized the government's contention that Galardi was anything but the commander issuing orders.
"It is astonishing to me that the government could make any claim that he wasn't the leader," said Jerry Coughlan, lawyer for former San Diego City Councilman Michael Zucchet. "Anybody who's listened to the tapes knows that. The evidence was overwhelming that he was giving the instructions to everyone. I am disappointed the government would argue that."
Galardi, who pleaded guilty and testified against his co-conspirators, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 25. According to the terms of his plea agreement, Galardi can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
The pre-sentencing report is confidential, so it's not clear what sentence the probation officers are recommending. The Probation Office conducts background investigations of defendants and submits objective sentencing recommendations to judges.
Galardi's lawyer, Bob Rose, said he agrees with the government's position and plans to make the same objections within a few days. He noted that as part of the plea deal, the government agreed not to seek a longer sentence based on Galardi's role in the crime.
Rose said the government's objection to the pre-sentencing report is nothing unusual and is simply part of the routine legal process prior to sentencing.
The government acknowledged in its objection to the pre-sentencing report that Galardi bankrolled the operation and stood to gain financially if the crime had succeeded. But Malone, not Galardi, masterminded the plan to repeal the city's law banning touching between strippers and their patrons, prosecutors wrote.
"Galardi did not make any significant decisions regarding which San Diego politicians would be bribed, the amount of the payments, the form of the payments, the negotiations with the politicians, or the particular ruses which were employed," the government said. "Those decisions were left to Malone and the politician-defendants."
Some legal experts said the government's effort to help a cooperating witness isn't unusual, even if its methods are.
"Typically the owner of a business who is involved in making unlawful payments to multiple public officials would qualify for the enhancement, even if the payments are made by an underling," said criminal defense attorney Michael Attanasio, who is not involved in the Galardi case.
Prosecutors are taking this position because of promises made in a plea deal, and because the witness met or exceeded their expectations, the experts said.
"This is a classic example of 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours,' " said University of San Diego law professor Shaun Martin. "I'm fairly confident this is a situation where the government's trying to help out someone who's been helpful to them. Almost invariably those deals are negotiated in advance.
"In a normal case, the government would contend that people three levels below Galardi were leaders. This is all just a big dance. The government is just basically trying to tell the judge, 'Look, this guy's been really helpful, be nice to him, be lenient.' They have to do that by fitting a square peg in a round hole, saying he's not really a leader."
Regardless of the terms of the plea agreement, ultimately the decision is up to the judge. But the government's recommendation does have some influence.
"Courts don't want to destroy deals that the parties have agreed to, so this is just the government's way of saying, 'This is the deal we structured, can we please have our deal,' " Martin said. "The judge isn't bound to that, but the government's voice carries a lot of weight."
Galardi was indicted in August 2003 on fraud, extortion and conspiracy charges, along with Malone and then-Councilmen Ralph Inzunza, Michael Zucchet and Charles Lewis. Malone, Inzunza and Zucchet were convicted by a jury in July 2005; Lewis died before trial.
Malone was sentenced to three years in prison; Inzunza was given a 21-month sentence and is appealing. Zucchet was acquitted by the judge a few months after his conviction on most counts, and the government is appealing; the judge ordered a retrial for Zucchet on two charges.
During the trial, Galardi was on the stand for five days. He testified that he sent Malone to build relationships with San Diego politicians to get the no-touch law repealed, which would be good for business at the club he owned at the time, Cheetahs in Kearny Mesa.
Galardi testified that he gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and cash, via Malone, to San Diego councilmen "because I wanted to gain influence with local politicians so they would change the law."
Galardi testified that he gave various orders, and Malone or others carried them out. "Lance was going to be my frontman to get in the door with local politicians," Galardi told the jury, later adding, "I wanted him to come to San Diego at any cost to get the (no-touching) law changed."
Experts said Galardi's role will come down to a judge's interpretation of federal sentencing guidelines. When determining a potential sentence, judges consider mitigating factors, such as acceptance of responsibility, or aggravating factors, such as being a leader in a conspiracy. Mitigating factors may reduce a sentence; aggravating ones may increase it.
Kelly Thornton: (619) 542-4571; email@example.com