Burned strip club faced penalties

ALE agents reported illegal sexual conduct at the club that caught fire Sunday

Staff WriterJanuary 8, 2008 

A strip club that burned down along U.S. 70 near Clayton was facing fines and a 10-day suspension after state investigators reported lewd conduct by club dancers over a three-month period last year.

The allegations against the Crazy Horse include that three dancers illegally exposed themselves to patrons. State law allows only topless dancing at adult clubs. Investigators also alleged that dancers simulated oral sex on patrons and that they touched and were touched inappropriately. Such activity can be charged as misdemeanors under state law, but ALE agents filed administrative violations instead.

Alcohol Law Enforcement agents also reported that dancers drank alcoholic beverages while performing and that the private club allowed patrons to join upon entering, instead of requiring a three-day waiting period. Both are state violations.

The club caught fire early Sunday morning, and the cause remains under investigation.

Wake County Fire Marshal Ray Echevarria said Monday that investigators have not determined whether the fire was accidental or intentional. He said the amount of debris at the site will likely mean it will take a few days to determine the cause.

"It's a long, slow, laborious operation trying to shovel all that stuff out by hand," he said.

Jerry Reid, a co-owner of the club, disputed some of the allegations in the ALE's earlier investigation.

"There was an investigation. It's inconclusive," he said. "It's still under investigation as far as how much truth there is to it."

The violations are before the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, which regulates establishments that serve alcoholic beverages. Fred Gregory, the commission's chief counsel, said his staff has offered to close the case if the club accepts a $5,000 fine and a 10-day suspension. So far, he said, the club has not responded to the offer.

ALE Director Bill Chandler said the investigation began about a year ago after his agency received an unrelated complaint.

From January to April, agents visited the club posing as patrons. Their graphic reports say that dancers on several occasions invited the agents over to booths where the dancers then exposed themselves and engaged in other improper behavior such as putting their faces in the agents' clothed crotches. The dancers charged roughly $50 per dance, agents said.

On one occasion, the agents said, a dancer reclined on stage with birthday cake smeared on her body and allowed patrons and other dancers to eat the cake.

The dancers also asked agents to buy them drinks mixed with hard liquor. One dancer told an agent that she had gotten so drunk that she had fallen into a trash can as she tried to get dressed for a performance.

Chandler said he did not think there is a connection between the violations and the fire.

He said the violations for lewd conduct are the first that ALE agents have filed in several years after another club in 1999 challenged the law that defined illegal sexually explicit conduct. The challenge prompted lawmakers to rewrite the law. Recent court decisions have upheld the new prohibition on such sexually explicit conduct.

No other clubs have run afoul of the revised statute, Chandler said.

The Crazy Horse is one of six clubs in the Aberdeen-based Pure Gold chain. The club opened in 1998 and employed about 80 people, Reid said.

Gregory said the violations would be moot if the club does not reopen. Reid said Sunday that he plans to rebuild it.

dan.kane@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4861

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