Richland deputies raid ‘nuisance’ strip club again

Dancers, manager cited at Crush Gentlemen’s Club on River Drive for operating without sexually oriented business licenses

nophillips@thestate.comJanuary 27, 2013 

— A tall, thick-legged dancer with a lion’s mane of hair stood in front of the bar at Crush Gentlemen’s Club. A single dollar bill hung limply from her garter belt.

Her voice quivered as she asked Richland County Sheriff’s deputies what was happening.

The deputies ordered the woman to her dressing room so she could put on street clothes rather than the black lace teddy and knee-high black boots she was wearing.

“Put some clothes on and come back,” a plain-clothes officer said.

The woman was one of three strippers who were charged with performing without a sexually oriented business license during an early Saturday morning raid at Crush Gentlemen’s Club at 3722 River Drive north of Columbia. The club’s general manager, Neely D. Smith Jr., was cited for operating without a sexually oriented business license and for serving beer and wine without a permit, according to arrest warrants.

No one was taken to jail for the charges. Instead, they were issued tickets and released.

It was the second raid conducted by the sheriff’s department in two weeks as Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson take steps to have the club closed for good.

The club’s location is where Columbia attorney Dewain Herring in 2006 shot and killed a bouncer, John H. Johnson Sr., before being arrested following a hail of gunfire at his Gregg Park home. The club was a different business then, Chastity’s Gold Club.

Crush Gentlemen’s Club is now at that location, and the business has had sheriff’s deputies called there 142 times since January 2010, including twice this month after shots were fired. In one instance, only cars in a parking lot were damaged. But in the other, two people inside the club were hit, although their injuries were not life-threatening.

The club has generated dozens of complaints from nearby residents as well.

Lott and Johnson said they repeatedly have warned the club’s owners and managers to clean up the operation. But those warnings have gone unheeded, Lott said, and they are taking the necessary legal steps to have the club closed for good.

“The ownership and management of Club Crush drew a line in the sand, daring us to close them down,” Lott said. “We will do all we can to make that happen as well as make sure they follow the law until their doors are locked permanently.”

Smith, the club manager, declined to comment for this story.

The raid began just after midnight as more than two dozen deputies swarmed the club, asking the 15 or so male customers to leave. Five strippers who were inside but had not started working for the night were detained but not charged. The three others were.

“I got lucky. I had my pants down to here,” one woman said as she gestured toward her knees. “If they had come 10 seconds later, I would have been up there with them,” she said of those who were charged. None of the women wanted to give their names to The State newspaper but complained about the sheriff’s raids, saying they were hurting their livelihoods. They said it was especially painful because January is tax season, when men, with pockets full of cash from their IRS tax returns, tip very well.

“This raid is a load of crap. We need our jobs,” said one woman who would only identify herself by her stage name, Gucci. “The raid is messing up the tax money.”

The three strippers caught dancing on stage were cited because they are considered independent contractors, not employees of the club, and therefore must have their own license to perform in a sexually oriented business.

Sgt. Andrew Caldwell, a deputy who participated in the raid, said one dancer told him she paid a fee to the club and then kept all of her tips for performing on stage. He did not know the amount of the fee.

However, if the woman performed in one of the private dance rooms, the club charged customers $30 per dance, which lasts the length of a song played by a DJ, Caldwell said. The club kept $10, and the dancer took home $20.

Some customers pay for multiple dances.

The club has three dimly lit VIP rooms where men sit on purple, crushed-velvet seats to watch the dances. Deputies searching the rooms found two used condoms stuffed under the bench in one room and an empty condom wrapper in another.

The deputy overseeing the raid said those condoms were evidence of illegal activity taking place inside the club’s purple and black walls. The condoms would be kept as evidence for upcoming court hearings.

“It just shows exactly what is going on inside here,” said the deputy, who is not being named because he works undercover.

During the Jan. 16 raid, the club’s marquee was advertising a special event that included an obscene word in its title. The event featured women slapping each other in front of customers until one was left standing. The winner would receive cash heaped on a nearby table, Caldwell said.

On that night, deputies seized cash, gambling machines and 68 cases of liquor. Reports from that night that the club did not have a business license were incorrect, authorities said Saturday. But the club had been selling liquor by the drink without a license, the sheriff’s department said.

By Saturday, Crush management had posted a sign at the front door that said, “This is a BYOB establishment.”

The cover charge was $10. Investigators found money with Post-it notes that indicated the club was charging patrons $10 per bottle of liquor and $1 per bottle of beer they brought in the door, Caldwell said. Beer and wine was being offered for free at the bar.

Deputies seized nine cases of Budweiser and Bud Light and at least six bottles of Gallo white zinfandel wine. They also found marijuana in the dancers’ dressing room, but no one was charged for possessing it.

The three dancers charged told deputies it was their first week working at the club. They said they were not aware of the club’s legal problems or that it was allegedly operating in violation of the law.

“Do you think the judge will throw it out because I didn’t know?” asked one young woman with long, straight hair and piercings in her upper lip and left eyebrow.

Caldwell told her he doubted it.

“There’s nothing going on in here that you’re supposed to be doing,” he said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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