Businessman claims discrimination in lawsuit over Fells Point nightclub

August 01, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A Washington businessman who offered more than $1.6 million to buy the troubled Ritz Cabaret nightclub said in a lawsuit filed yesterday that the club's owner refused to sell because he wanted the Fells Point strip bar to have a white owner.

The $10 million federal discrimination claim is the latest problem for Ritz owner Francis Lee, who was convicted this year of running a money laundering scheme from the club and hiring illegal Hungarian immigrants as dancers.

Lee could not be reached to comment yesterday. But court records show that he has been entertaining offers for more than a year to sell the club along with its adult entertainment license, the only permit in the busy Fells Point bar scene to allow nude dancing. The proceeds are expected to go to the government under federal forfeiture proceedings.

In his lawsuit filed yesterday, Ron Hunt, who is African-American, contended that Lee has been an unfairly selective seller.

Hunt, who operates the Nexus Gold Club five blocks from the Capitol, said in the lawsuit that he offered Lee $1.6 million for the club in late May and also agreed to pay a 6 percent "buyer's fee." Hunt said he agreed that the offer would include no contingencies, such as his ability to secure financing for the purchase.

Hunt alleges that Lee, a 46-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, never responded to the offer and instead defamed Hunt inside the bar. According to the lawsuit, Lee told employees that Hunt would "treat his girls bad," and that he would "bring the club down" and "bring in a lower class of clientele."

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