Five clubs on Block cited for violations

Underage drinking, prostitution among charges brought before liquor board

October 11, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,sun reporter

The Stagedoor, a strip club on The Block, was recently fined more than $9,000 after undercover vice officers arrested three dancers on charges of offering sexual favors in exchange for money. The club was one of at least five cited in recent months after liquor inspectors, health officials and police visited Baltimore's adult entertainment hub.

"The board will enforce all violations of the law with liquor licensees," said Stephan Fogleman, chairman of the liquor board, a state agency that regulates bars and adult entertainment venues in the city. "No one is picking on The Block, but the truth of the matter is that there have been substantive violations over the years."

A case against the Foxy Lady, a club on The Block, is scheduled to be heard by the liquor board today. Police who visited the bar earlier this year said they found three boys -- ages 15 to 17 -- drinking Grey Goose vodka at the bar. The boys said they paid a cover charge to enter but were not carded. The strip club also faces charges of prostitution and health code violations, according to liquor board files.

City police and liquor board officials said that police visits do not represent an organized crackdown on The Block, but rather standard enforcement of local laws.

Still, some strip club owners said they feel they are being victimized. They said the nature of their business makes it difficult to avoid prostitution violations, in part because dancers will promise a patron almost anything if they think they will get a big tip.

"They [the police] try to set you up," said Steven M. Cook, the owner and president of the Oasis Nite Club, which was fined $2,000 recently by the liquor board after a dancer told an undercover police officer that she would perform a sexual act on him, according to liquor board records.

The fine was reduced to $500, however, after Cook's lawyer pointed out that state law prohibits fines of more than $500 when it is the licensee's first offense.

Cook, who took over the club at 417 E. Baltimore St. in 2006, has not appeared before the board before. The case is being appealed.

The owners of the Stagedoor, which was fined $9,250 in July for three prostitution violations, has also filed an appeal. Police officers also found evidence of marijuana and drug use at the club, at 5-11 Commerce St., but those charges were dismissed, according to liquor board files. The bar lacked hot water, a violation of the city's health code, for which it was also fined. Attempts to reach owners Jennifer Ward-Pulaski and Jason Roberson were unsuccessful.

Liquor board officials are scheduled to review alleged violations at the Foxy Lady, 16 Custom House Ave., today.

The bar's owner, Mark A. Avery, declined to comment yesterday, stating, "I don't talk to reporters."

The bar was closed for a period after a city Health Department inspector discovered used condoms in the VIP room, roaches and other unsanitary conditions, including a clogged toilet and a water leak in the women's restroom, according to police reports. Avery also argued with the inspector, a woman, when she asked whether he had a valid contract for waste removal.

According to a police report, Avery grabbed his crotch and told the inspector: "Watch what I do with my trash."

A Foxy Lady dancer named "Lot of Bottom" also allegedly told an undercover vice detective that she would have sex with him if he paid her $150, according to police reports.

The bar was fined $1,125 in March 2006 after police officers discovered an enclosed room at the back of the establishment where two dancers and two men were engaged in intimate interactions, according to liquor board files.

Avery's attorney, Lisa Harris Jones, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Two other Block bars are scheduled to appear before the liquor board on similar violations next week.

Police officers said that a dancer named "Sandy" at Lust, 408 E. Baltimore St., was arrested for solicitation of prostitution several months ago. Lust owners Wanda Nash and Stephanie Wantland could not be reached for comment.

Police have also reported numerous violations at the 2 o'Clock Club, 414 E. Baltimore St., including selling alcohol to a minor, evidence of crack cocaine, prostitution, inappropriate touching and simulation of a sexual act by two dancers. Owner Shellie Lynn Poling declined to comment on the allegations yesterday, and her attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said he did not want to comment before the liquor board hearing.

Most of the reports detailing violations by strip club owners were filed by members of a unit of the city Police Department's vice squad. The head of that unit, Sgt. Craig Gentile, recently retired. At one time, Gentile and his unit teamed up with members of the liquor board to conduct organized stings on The Block. However, in recent months the two agencies have not worked together.

Fogleman said he would like police and liquor inspectors to work together again, especially on The Block.

"I am a fan of that program, and I definitely would like to see something like that in the near future," he said.

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