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Babe’s sting details revealed

Scottsdale, AZ- Minutes before uniformed Scottsdale police arrived to inspect Babe’s Cabaret on Aug. 26, Terri Etsitty finished giving a lap dance and put her bikini top back on, a police report states. Another stripper told Etsitty “there would be no more table dances,” states the report. Officers moved through Babe’s, looking for violations of the city’s Sexually Oriented Business ordinance.

Dancer Lynne Blecker explained to some of the patrons that “Jenna (Jameson) had just bought Babe’s and that the police were there to intimidate and make things difficult for her,” the reports state.

Little did Blecker know, the patrons she spoke with were police officers, working undercover as part of a sting on Scottsdale’s two topless bars that afternoon. At Babe’s and Skin Cabaret, police gathered evidence that two months later would result in 81 criminal citations issued to 26 strippers, two managers and a club owner.

The charges have come as Scottsdale releases long-awaited revisions to the ordinance, which toughen regulation of strip clubs and adult bookstores. If enacted, club owners argue the changes – which the City Council will consider today – would force them out of business.

“This is an extremely aggressive legislative proposal,” said John Weston, a Los Angeles-based First Amendment attorney representing Skin Cabaret.

However, even under the existing ordinance the topless bars’ sexually oriented business licenses might be at risk. If a business’ employees or owner are convicted of three violations of the ordinance, the city can terminate the business license.

Babe’s employees have been charged with 23 criminal citations; Skin employees and its owner have been charged with 58.

“My personal intent is not to close any business down,” Mayor Mary Manross said. “But the Constitution and the Supreme Court have said that municipalities across the country can regulate the time, place and manner of operation of sexually oriented businesses in order to protect the community.”

The proposed regulations include a ban on the consumption or sale of alcohol on the premises of a Scottsdale strip clubs and a restriction dictating that strippers cannot perform within six feet of customers. Additionally, the revised ordinance would rewrite the definition of “nude” to outlaw nude performances.

Scottsdale’s topless bars have been under unusually intense scrutiny since it became known in August that Jameson, a world-famous porn star and producer, had purchased Babe’s, along with other executives in the adult film industry.

Neighborhood activists called for Babe’s closure, arguing that it will serve as a stumbling block to revitalization efforts around the strip club. City officials began researching the process Jameson and her partners would go through to acquire a sexually oriented business license.

Some officials joined the activists in looking to oust Babe’s, which has operated in the city more than 30 years.

But police had not enforced the existing strip club regulations for two years, which the Tribune reported in an Aug. 21 article. Five days later, Scottsdale launched its sting.

Some of the topless bars’ employees were arraigned Dec. 5, said Caren Close, city prosecutor. Police reports show the dancers were repeatedly cited for failing to have a city permit required to strip in Scottsdale, giving personal stripteases to customers called “lap dances” and allowing tips to be placed on their bodies – all activities outlawed by the current ordinance.

A majority of the charges are Class 1 misdemeanors, which carry penalties of up to six months in jail, three years probation and a $2,500 fine, Close said.

Todd Borowsky, Skin’s owner, has been charged with seven different ordinance violations; one of which is for knowing that all the other violations were occurring.

“We believe very firmly that we have evidence and proof that these are frivolous charges,” Borowsky said Friday. It is unfair, he contends, for Scottsdale to enforce the ordinances without warning after disregarding them so long.

After the sting, Borowsky said he went to Manross and other city officials to try and involve himself in the discussion of how to revise the ordinance. Changes have been made necessary by a federal appeals court ruling that struck down some of Maricopa County’s sexually oriented business regulations.

In August 2003, former City Attorney David Pennartz called for police and prosecutors to ignore strip club violations until the county’s lawsuit was settled, which it was in late 2004.

Both Borowsky and Jameson, in statements, have placed blame for the tougher regulations on Manross.

The mayor vehemently denies she had any direct role in drafting the proposed ordinance revisions or in the police action.

“I didn’t go to anybody, call anybody or send a message to anybody to go do any of that,” Manross said. “The police department just acts independently on all legal issues like that.”

Despite the criminal charges, Borowsky said nothing has changed at Skin. Strippers still give lap dances and patrons still place cash on strippers’ bodies.

“The club’s still operating under the same rules we had before,” he said.

 

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