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Scores Near to Being Shut Down

NEW YORK — The end could be nearing for the Manhattan strip club Scores, an establishment that for 17 years survived Mafia infiltration, FBI raids and ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crusade against smut.

State authorities this year revoked the liquor license for a spinoff version of the club on Manhattan’s West Side after a police raid led to prostitution charges against several dancers. The cavernous Chelsea nightspot closed last spring.

Now, the club’s owners are fighting not to have the revocation extended to the original Scores at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge on Manhattan’s East Side.

They face an uphill battle. The state’s liquor board rarely, if ever, allows an owner with a yanked license to continue operating a second establishment.

The club’s demise would likely generate mixed feelings in a city that waffles between celebrating its seedy past and being relieved that its era of pimps and peep shows is over.

“In some ways, it’s kind of like an institution in New York, so it would be sad if it closed down, I guess,” said Ruth Fowler, a former Scores West dancer and author of No Man’s Land, a memoir about her days on the gentlemen’s club scene.

On many nights, she said, Scores had the feel of an exclusive club. High rolling patrons including star pro athletes dropped thousands of dollars in a single night. Gossip columnists reported on sightings of stars from Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe to Lindsay Lohan and Carson Daly.

“On the other hand,” Fowler said, “I hate the place.”

Women at the club, she said, were often treated like “absolute dirt” by managers. Prostitution was encouraged, she claims. It was the kind of place where a customer might give a dancer a big tip, then smile and call her a whore to her face.

Lawyers for the club did not return phone messages this week. Elda Auerbach, a Scores publicist and a director of the Scores Holding Company, said the club’s ownership would have no public comment until the legal dispute with the New York State Liquor Authority was finished. A hearing could be scheduled later this month.

Scores first opened its doors on East 60th Street in 1991 after its founder, New York lawyer Michael Blutrich, agreed to pay a “tax” to Gambino crime family associates.

Business boomed, in part to expert promotion from Scores publicist Lonnie Hanover and near-weekly adulation on the radio from the club’s biggest fan, Howard Stern.

“It’s a winning formula,” Hanover told The New York Times in 1998. “Men want big juicy steaks, a big thick cigar and the current sports contests. They want to kick back and look at gorgeous women … It is simply a man’s paradise.”

Federal prosecutors would later say that the mafia was one of the primary beneficiaries, taking kickbacks from the staff, getting a piece of the profits from the coat check room and valet service, and hand-picking the security staff.

A waiter and a bouncer were shot dead during an after-hours brawl in 1996. Two patrons were later convicted.

The situation came to a head in 1996 when Blutrich and his partner, Lyle Pfeffer, were charged with embezzling money from an unrelated insurance business in Florida. In an attempt to save themselves, they agreed to wear hidden FBI microphones during meetings with suspected mobsters. The evidence they gathered was a factor in the racketeering indictment that sent reputed Gambino boss John “Junior” Gotti to prison in 1999.

Blutrich and Pfeffer entered the federal witness protection program and are now serving prison terms of nearly 20 years in connection with their Florida fraud case.

Scores passed to an intermediary owner, had a few rocky years during which it barely avoided being shut down by Giuliani’s new zoning laws, then was purchased in 2002 by a group that included current owners Harvey Osher and Richard Goldring.

The new group set about turning Scores into a national brand. They opened Scores West in 2004 and licensed the Scores name to other clubs in Las Vegas, Baltimore, Chicago and New Orleans.

Yet, problems persisted at the original club. A number of patrons filed lawsuits and complaints alleging that their credit cards had been overcharged, sometimes for amounts as high as $240,000 for a single night.

Goldring and Osher were indicted in 2006 on charges that they falsified tax returns and business records. Goldring pleaded guilty to falsifying a state tax form and got five years probation; Osher got four weekends in jail.

The current licensing dispute stems from a police raid in January 2007, when several Scores West employees were arrested on prostitution charges. Undercover investigators claimed that dancers were performing sexual favors for patrons in private rooms.

Simultaneously, Scores expansion efforts hit one hitch after another, with some clubs dropping out of their licensing deals and others being sold.

Scores’ owners and managers have denied any knowledge of prostitution in court hearings and have said they were the victim of overzealous detectives.

Fowler, who says she was fired from Scores West in 2005 after throwing a drink in a rude customer’s face, said she finds those denials hard to believe.

“Everyone knew what was going on,” she said. “It just kind of shows how careless and how arrogant they came to be. It’s like they had this fantasy that they weren’t living in the real world and that the rules didn’t apply to them.”

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