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Paid sex at Flesh Club admitted

SAN BERNARDINO, Ca. – Managers, owners and bartenders from a Hospitality Lane strip club testified Tuesday that prostitution is forbidden at the club, but that dancers have occasionally engaged in paid sex with customers.

Witnesses painted a raunchy panorama of Flesh Club’s inner workings, describing condoms strewn on stained booths and discarded in trash receptacles. Managers testified that “VIP areas” – small, dark rooms with sofas and privacy curtains – are rarely checked during “private dances” purchased by customers.

Club owners argue that while some of their former dancers may have had paid sex with customers, they have never encouraged, condoned or profited from the encounters.

The proceedings are the latest in a series of courtroom battles dating back to 1995, when the club opened in the shopping and dining district. Since then, the city has initiated several court attempts to close the club down. Both sides have been dealt legal losses.

City officials say the ongoing legal battle has cost about $130,000 to date.

In the current case, the city seeks an injunction that could close the club for one year and impose steep fines. The city is trying to prove that prostitution not only occurs at the club, but is encouraged and sanctioned by club management.

When asked about the presence of condoms and wrappers on the property, club owner Ryan Welty, 33, testified it could be explained in “myriad ways,” including that condoms may fall out of customers’ wallets.

Tuesday’s hearing was notably more tame than court proceedings on Jan. 10, which included a private investigator’s testimony that he paid $800 for sex and other services provided by a dancer at the club.

The investigator was working for the city at the time; city officials have disavowed the investigator’s transgressions, but contend the episode only bolsters their case that Flesh Club is a de facto brothel.

Club representatives maintain it is not. Roger Jon Diamond, pictured] the club’s attorney, pointed to more than a decade of operations void of convictions for prostitution.

The city’s attorney, Joseph Arias, peppered Welty with questions after the club owner admitted that unpaid sex has occurred between employees and dancers, delving into how often the only person supervising the club is a manager on duty.

“That leaves the manager on duty as the most likely to be having sex with dancers?” Arias asked.

After Judge Donald Alvarez overruled an objection from Diamond, Welty answered, “That would be the prime suspect.”

Welty also made clear that on the few occasions he has learned that customers may have paid dancers for sex, offending dancers have been banished from the club.

Later, Arias pursued a line of questioning implying that prostitution benefitted club managers and owners, a point Diamond repeatedly attempted to refute by saying that prostitution could only benefit the women practicing it, while jeopardizing club profits.

Diamond began the day by calling Andy Enomoto, a publisher of an adult-industry magazine, in an effort to establish that little differentiates the Flesh Club from dozens of other adult clubs in the region, all of which meet reasonable “community standards,” Diamond said.

The two attorneys also clashed over the implications of what Welty said was a pronounced downturn in business since news accounts of alleged prostitution surfaced Jan. 11.

Arias said the downturn may reveal an exodus of nervous customers who in the past expected sex at the club. Diamond countered that law-abiding patrons may be staying away because of the club’s tarnished reputation.

Later, Diamond announced he would attempt to subpoena City Attorney James F. Penman today.

“If I am summoned from the court to come over, I’ll go over,” Penman said, adding that he has left decisions concerning how to respond to Diamond’s motion to Arias.

Diamond said he will likely wrap up his case today by calling to the stand four to six women who work as dancers and Penman if the judge allows. Diamond said that Penman has pursued the case for political purposes.

“We’re making the assertion that Penman deliberately brought this action because he doesn’t like lap dancing and nude dancing and is using alleged prostitution as a pretext to suppressing First Amendment-protected activities,” Diamond said.

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