Alleged connections to strip clubs, adult stores draws criticism on two candidates

HARRISON TWP., Montgomery County — from – The strip clubs and sexually oriented stores in Harrison Twp. are fueling controversy in the race for two trustee seats in the November election.

Two candidates — Julie Caserta and Georgeann Godsey — are being criticized by candidate Steve Adams for their connections with those businesses.

Adams said incumbent trustees, including candidates David A. Woods and Darrell Lairson, aren’t doing enough to battle pornography in the township.

“I’m not trying to legislate morality, it’s a zoning issue,” said Adams. “It should not be zoned around where children or families live, or would have to go by on a school bus or would have to walk by on the way to a convenience store.”

The area of Harrison Twp. along North Dixie Drive, long known as the “Dixie Strip,” is home to several strip clubs and at least two shops selling sexually oriented movies, novelties and lingerie.

Trustees and Township Administrator Randall Brooks said the township has made progress in cutting the number of those businesses and tightening zoning laws. But Woods said Adams is oversimplifying an issue that is governed by state law and court rulings that prohibit simply zoning the businesses away.

Caserta’s husband, Tony Caserta, co-owns the Naughty N’ Nice store at 3814 N. Dixie Drive with Michael J. Ferraro and Gabor Tatar.

Ferraro’s son, Michael C. Ferraro, owns the adjacent strip club, The Living Room. Julie Caserta denies a connection between the two, even though the club’s Web site lists the store as “our XXX adult shop” and links to it.

Michael C. Ferraro also owns Sharkey’s Lounge, 6028 N. Dixie Drive, according to Matt Mullins, spokesman for the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.

In a 2004 Dayton Daily News interview about protests against the strip clubs, Tony Caserta identified himself as manager of Sharkey’s. Julie Caserta denies he was the manager, saying he simply was speaking for Michael C. Ferraro because he also works for the younger Ferraro’s father at Gem City Home Improvement.

Although she has made comments indicating she operates the store, Caserta denies she is the manager or that she regularly works there. At an Oct. 12 candidates night when questioned about her connection to the shop, Caserta said, “I run it cleanly. I run it professionally. There’s never been any issues at my business, or my husband’s business.”

Interviewed last week, Caserta said she was put on the defensive at the meeting and misspoke in attempting to defend her family. “I don’t work in the store. I don’t go in there and work every day, I don’t do the ordering, I don’t work behind the counter.”

She said she fills in at the store at times, and doesn’t want to “sidestep” her husband’s co-ownership. She said Naughty N’ Nice obeys the law and contributes to the community by helping make Christmas possible for needy children.

“We donated over $300 worth of toys,” she said.

Julie Caserta said people are unfairly blaming the sex-related businesses for what ails the township.

“I don’t think they are the downfall of the whole community,” she said.

Adams said those businesses are the main thing the township is known for.

“I don’t see how you can talk about family values and operate a sexually oriented business,” Adams said of Caserta. “We are at complete opposite poles, complete opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue.”

He also points to Godsey’s employment at Zeller Management, which owns the North Plaza shopping center that includes the Naughty N’ Nice store and The Living Room.

Godsey, an accountant and business manager for Zeller, defended her employment, saying she has “no authority to approve or disapprove of the tenants anywhere that we have.” She said the businesses in North Plaza support the township and schools through property taxes just as other businesses do. “It is my feeling that the township has done legally all they can to control the clubs,” said Godsey. “Whatever the laws are they should be enforced.”

Citing pending litigation, township officials have not enforced a 2007 state law that limits patrons’ contact with strippers and the hours nude dancing is permitted. But the Ohio Attorney General’s office says the strip club owners failed to get an injunction to stop the law, a case now pending in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ted Hart, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, said, “The law is in effect. Yes — townships are allowed to enforce the law.”

Woods and Brooks were unaware that the township could enforce the law. Woods said he will bring it up at the next trustee meeting, although he is concerned that the township could be liable if the clubs prevail in their lawsuit.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Papaneck, district commander for Harrison Twp., said the strip clubs don’t cause any more problems than regular bars. He said the main issues are with drunk patrons, and the occasional prostitution arrest of dancers for behavior inside the clubs.

Papaneck and Woods, a deputy in Harrison Twp. in the 1970s, said things are definitely better than in the old days, when there were more than two dozen strip clubs, shops and massage parlors in the township.

“There are less strip clubs and there are no massage parlors any more than there have been in years past,” Papaneck said. “As far as calls for service and crime occurring at the strip clubs, it is nothing that I would consider to be alarming.”

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