A recent undercover investigation at the only strip club in unincorporated Pierce County found that dancers committed several violations including touching, taking tips and in one instance soliciting prostitution, according to Sheriff’s Department reports.
Five dancers performed lap dances for several undercover deputies, touching them in an arousing manner and accepting payment of $20 to $60 for each dance, according to reports from a two-day operation in mid-September.
Law enforcement officials also noted they saw managers in the club. The managers’ booth was at the entrance to the VIP area, where dancers take customers for lap dances. A man and woman dressed “in business attire” were at the booth “just watching the club,” according to the reports.
A deputy county prosecutor had the reports posted on the county website in October to show elected leaders that changes in code are needed to bring accountability to managers at DreamGirls at Fox’s. The adults-only club in Parkland reopened this year after it was closed for illegal activity under previous ownership in 2010.
County leaders have been considering new strip club rules that Auditor Julie Anderson calls the strictest in the state.
But now Anderson’s office, which handles strip club licenses, recommends loosening a major piece of its original proposal. It now wants to forgo holding club managers criminally responsible for violations dancers commit, unless managers “knowingly permit” a violation.
Under the original proposal, club managers would be subject to both civil and criminal penalties if dancers violate regulations by giving lap dances, touching customers, handling tips or soliciting prostitution. Managers could be held liable whether or not they knew the dancers were breaking the rules.
The auditor’s office is backing off that strict level of criminal liability out of concerns about legal challenges.
The revised proposal still is more stringent than regulations currently on the books, which don’t single out strip club managers as being culpable for dancers’ behavior.
A Pierce County Council committee will take up the proposed changes Monday.
Strip club managers took action after learning of the sheriff’s undercover reports, said a spokesman for Deja Vu, which owns DreamGirls.
They terminated their contract with the dancer who allegedly solicited prostitution and talked to management and dancers about what behavior is “appropriate and not appropriate,” said Tim Killian, spokesman for Deja Vu.
But he stressed no one was cited or charged – a fact confirmed by the Auditor’s Office. And he said Pierce County should enforce its existing regulations before adding new ones.
Killian said his company opposes holding managers responsible either civilly or criminally for what dancers do.
“We will always object to making our managers liable for violations committed by the dancers, who are independent contractors,” Killian said.
He said holding managers responsible is unconstitutional and has been struck down in court.
“You’re shifting the responsibility for the infraction from the person who commits it to someone else,” Killian said.
But specifically holding managers responsible for dancers’ conduct is a linchpin in the changes that county officials have been considering.
Under the club’s previous owners, the county’s efforts to track down dancers who committed violations consumed time and resources because the women often left the area, said deputy prosecutor Cort O’Connor.
He said it was too easy for managers to turn a blind eye to dancers breaking the law.
“The behavior of the club wasn’t changing because the managers were never held accountable,” O’Connor said.
The Sheriff’s Department has said that before it closed in May 2010, Fox’s was the scene of prostitution and drug use as well as shootings in its parking lot.
Fox’s was shut down after three associates of Seattle strip club boss Frank Colacurcio Sr. pleaded guilty to racketeering and prostitution at Fox’s and three other strip clubs in Seattle, Shoreline and Everett that also closed.
Fox’s reopened as part of the Deja Vu chain as DreamGirls at Fox’s in March.
Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said the September undercover operation was the first and only such operation he’s aware of since the club reopened.
The deputies’ reports reveal varying degrees of out-of-bounds behavior by five dancers.
One deputy described how a dancer named Charity “climbed on top of me, straddling me, gyrating and rubbing her buttocks on my lap and groin,” the report said.
County code permits dancers to perform nude in adult clubs, but only on an elevated platform at least 10 feet from any customer.
Other deputy reports say two dancers, using the names Candy and Desire, exposed their private parts during their dances in a so-called VIP area. Desire offered and agreed to perform sex acts with one deputy after she was off work for $125 to $150, the documents state.
Killian said he’s not aware of a VIP section at DreamGirls. He said the club’s physical layout complies with regulations and that it has no separate, enclosed areas inside.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said the deputies’ reports were brought to his office’s civil division to review and advise the council on strip club regulations. He said no criminal charges are expected.
O’Connor, the deputy prosecutor, said that with the auditor’s approval, he had the Sheriff’s Department reports posted online to show the County Council that changes in strip club regulations are necessary.
Sheriff Paul Pastor requested that the reports be taken down Friday, and they were. Troyer said posting reports online could compromise current or future police investigations.
Killian said the club’s new ownership shouldn’t be judged by Fox’s past.
“At the heart of my objection is the attempt to try and paint this ownership in the light of the previous owners of the club,” Killian said.
Terminating the one dancer’s contract, he said, is a “clear example of how we operate differently than the previous ownership might have operated.”
The Auditor’s Office is sticking with the civil provisions, but it’s no longer recommending the high level of criminal liability after Killian and an attorney for DreamGirls objected and cited legal rulings in their favor.
“The code that was being proposed was the strictest in Washington state,” Anderson said. “We thought it was very likely the code would be challenged and perhaps successfully because it was so strict.”
But it still allows for criminal penalties in the most egregious cases. It says that any strip club employee – including a manager or owner who “knowingly violates or knowingly permits a violation” of strip club regulations – could be found criminally liable.
Criminal violations of county code are a misdemeanor punishable by up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail. Civil violations could lead to license suspensions or revocations and a penalty up to $1,000.
Anderson said the new proposal is not a “softening” of changes her office first sought.
“A strong law that can be easily challenged and overturned is not a useful law,” Anderson said. “We’re giving managers and owners the opportunity to change the behavior of the business.”
If changes don’t occur, Anderson said, her office will then have a better legal case for recommending the stronger code proposals to the County Council at a later date.