Judge Charles Simmons ordered a Greenville strip club accused of facilitating acts of prostitution to close pending the outcome of a civil trial.
The court gave Platinum Plus 48 hours to comply, according to an order filed Wednesday. Simmons’ decision to grant the temporary injunction means he sided with 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins that the business should be closed prior to trial. Wilkins alleged in a civil lawsuit that the strip club is a public nuisance based on an undercover investigation that witnessed widespread acts of prostitution.
Simmons found that Elephant Inc., which operates Platinum Plus, repeatedly violated state code, a county ordinance and a 2002 consent order stipulating specific acts that were prohibited.
Elephant Inc. denied that management knew of the alleged acts and challenged the admissibility of sworn statements from an undercover officer and female entertainers at the strip club.
“Now, in light of both the degree and the nature of the evidence, EI has clearly crossed the lines it agreed to operate within and the lines that the applicable law allows,” Simmons said in the order. “EI may not close its corporate eyes to the activities in its location at 805 Frontage Road and then claim blindness to the act.”
Simmons said in the court order that none of the evidence reflects that Frontage Road Associates Inc., which owns the property and was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, participated in the prohibited acts.
Randy Hiller, lead attorney for Elephant Inc., said he was disappointed in the decision and filed an appeal.
“The deck was kind of stacked against us,” Hiller said. “The government had 13 months to prepare, and we had three days.”
The trial for the lawsuit will be expedited, Simmons said in the order, and could go to court within 90 days.
Undercover officers said in court documents that illegal sex acts regularly occurred over the course of more than 15 visits. Wilkins on April 17 filed the civil lawsuit, which contends undercover deputies since April 2014 have investigated reports of prostitution at the nightclub.
The Sheriff’s Office has declined to comment on the case, citing an ongoing investigation. Wilkins and Sheriff Steve Loftis have scheduled a press conference at 1 p.m. Thursday to discuss the temporary injunction against Platinum Plus, which, according to court documents, had more than 85,000 visitors within the past year.
The defense filed a motion to strike the affidavit of Robert Curtis, a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office who participated in the undercover operation.
Undercover officers spent an average of at least $1,000 and up to $2,000 per visit, according to the affidavit of Kevin Ford, the director of Ken Wood Enterprises, which manages Elephant Inc. The average patron spent $37 per visit in 2014, Ford said, and the deputies spent 30 to 60 times that amount.
The defense argued the illegal activity happened because the deputies began spending so much money, which included buying the entertainers drinks.
“Only after those 10 months of being unable to observe any wrongful conduct did the plaintiff elect to send in undercover agents in February and March with apparent instructions to do whatever and spend whatever was necessary to make a case,” Elephant Inc. said in a court document.
The state replied in a consolidated summary that the arrests happened near the end of the investigation but the problems previously existed. The summary described Elephant Inc.’s response as “veiled accusations of coercion and other baseless claims.”
“It is simultaneously unfortunate yet telling that EI would resort to attacking public servants in such manner,” the plaintiff response summary said. “Having no other viable options, unfounded, ad hominem attacks appear to be the keystone of EI’s defense.”
Elephant Inc. argued that the allegations did not demonstrate habitual conduct and that they abated the alleged nuisance after the charges surfaced by not allowing those persons to work. However, the nuisance statute states only the owner of real estate has a right to avoid suit by statutory abatement.
Simmons said in the court order that the state established “a right, both factually and legally, to close PP.”
“To accept EI’s argument allowing a tenant to abate a nuisance would require the court to re-write the Nuisance Statute,” Simmons said in the court document.
Simmons stressed in his court order that the injunction is temporary. Violation of the court order may result in contempt of court, including fines and jail time.
“None of the findings herein constitute permanent or conclusive findings and defendants retain their full rights to present any and all defenses at the trial on the merits,” Simmons said. “Similarly, none of the findings herein shall in any way be binding upon any of the parties at the time of the trial on the merits.”