Most of the strip clubs on Baltimore Street faced charges this week ranging from prostitution and sexual assault, to improper record keeping.
The charges, which Sergeant Craig Gentile of Vice Enforcement termed “the tip of the iceberg,” resulted from police sting operations from February 1998 to April 1999. The cases were heard on Monday by the Liquor Board, which through a recent bureaucratic shuffling now has jurisdiction over Baltimore’s adult industry.
Nine cases were heard, with testimony from the undercover officers participating in the sting operations. Pojice testimony contained sexual propositions, fondlings, and acts of a highly graphic nature.
According to Monday’s testimony, which is bolstered by testimony from prior Liquor Board hearings, prostitution is widespread and organized on “The Block.”
The price and organizational structure seems to vary little between bars. Bartenders act as the managing agent between dancer and guest. A dancer will approach the patron, at which point the bartender will ask the patron to buy her a
drink, for $20. If the patron and dancer agree to a specific trade, then the bartender will ask the patron to buy the dancer a $60 drink.The dancer then asks for a $30 to $50 tip.
According to Shelley Gordon, owner of the Circus Bar, the bars do use such a price structure, with the dancers getting a percentage. He denied, however, that there is a $60 drink, or involvement in prostitution. The bartender also works as a lookout for the dancers, notifying them when an undercover cop is in the bar, with either a visual or vocal signal, according to the testimony of Lt. John Bailey.
Bar owners were rarely present during propositions at the time of a sting, and whether they have a financial interest in the underground sex trade is unknown.
When a dancer is arrested, often no records are available at the time, and the owner allege it was the dancer’s first night on the job. According to the testimony of Officer David Jones, a dancer at the 408 Club told Jones that she could not prostitute herself because the club owner was present at the time, but that he should come back in the afternoon, when a specific bartender was working. Lt. Bailey stressed that the club’s owner, Charles Tuil, was one of the better owners.
William Wantland, owner of Pussycat Club, defended himself by stressing that the dancer’s actions were not his responsibility. “I am not participating in soliciting… it is easy to talk to a girl.”
Attorney Charles Milland represented the 2 O’Clock Club by arguing that it was difficult to control human behavior, and that his client should not be held accountable for enforcing the law. In Millard’s case, a dancer admitted to Lt. Bailey that she let several men fondle her for a tip.
All nine club owners were found guilty and fined for not having the dancers’ files available to the arresting officers. All the club owners were also found guilty of allowing bartenders to solicit drinks for the dancers. (The state code that governed Baltimore’s adult industry, including nudity and sexual touching, had crumbled in court earlier this year. To temporarily remedy the situation while new regulations are being drawn up, the Liquor Board is using the drink solicitation charge to hold the bar owners accountable.) The five clubs that were charged with prostitution were found guilty: Club Pussycat, Circus Bar, Doll House, 408 Club, and Stagedoor Gentlemen’s Club.
The fines levied to the club owners are as follows: William Wantland of Club Pussycat, $1,600; Robert Hagan of Dynasty Lounge, $400; Shelley Gordon of Circus Bar, $1,600; Michael Bruenger of Diamond Lounge, $600; Steven Kough of Doll House, $700; Charles Tuil of 408 Club, $700 ($500 of which was suspended); David L. Gatchell of 2 O’Clock Club, $600; Jennifer Ward-Pulaski of Stagedoor Gentlemen’s Club, $900; Atanasia Renieris of Foxy Lady, $700.