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Threats of Closures Worries Cheetahs

San Diego, CA – With job titles like “nude entertainer” and “club manager,” employees at Cheetahs know they’ll never overcome the stigma associated with their work, particularly since the FBI raid in May and the indictments and guilty pleas of their bosses.

But they wish they could make people understand their plight.

Dancers, managers, bartenders, bouncers, parking attendants and doormen at Cheetahs wonder every day if the club will be padlocked when they arrive for their shifts. They worry about how they would survive, what kind of work they would find, if the Kearny Mesa club were to be shut down.

“We want people to be interested in the fact that 350 citizens of San Diego are employed here, there are people depending on their jobs and they don’t know where they’re going to go,” manager Ron Collins said.

Cheetahs employees said the political corruption investigation has impacted more lives than just San Diego City Councilmen Ralph Inzunza, Charles Lewis and Michael Zucchet, multimillionaire Cheetahs owner Michael Galardi, Cheetahs manager John D’Intino and lobbyist Lance Malone. They were charged in August with scheming to repeal a law that prohibits touching between dancers and patrons in strip clubs.

The councilmen have said any money they received was legally reported as campaign contributions. They and Malone have entered not-guilty pleas and await trial.

Galardi has pleaded guilty to wire-fraud conspiracy and racketeering in parallel investigations in San Diego and Las Vegas. That makes him a felon, and the San Diego Police Department recently denied Galardi’s application to renew his annual nude entertainment permit. Galardi has appealed, and if he loses, the club could be immediately shut down.

“It’s been rough for a lot of employees,” Collins said. “The biggest thing is going day to day not knowing if they have a job to go to. The girls have to put themselves through school. They have mortgages, families to support. Everyone’s really, really scared.”

The employees of Cheetahs have also suffered financially from the negative publicity, Collins and other employees said. Business is off by as much as 50 percent because customers are scared off by the possibility of encountering federal agents and television cameras. Employees who live on tips worry about paying bills and making the rent or mortgage.

The public is judgmental, employees said.

“People need to realize it’s strictly nothing more than entertainment,” Collins said. “We get lawyers, judges, politicians in here. There’s nothing going on. No sex, no drugs, no violence. It’s not like that.”

Employees said they are uncomfortable and bothered by the spotlight on the club. Many employees remain supportive of Galardi and D’Intino, who also entered a guilty plea and is cooperating with authorities. Employees aim their criticism at law enforcers, not their bosses.

“People need to realize how much taxpayer money is spent on these investigations,” Collins said.

Cheetahs employees say they are like family, often helping each other financially, spending time together outside of the club. Dancers collected money and gift certificates for a co-worker, Amay Guillen, who was renting a house in Harbison Canyon that was destroyed in the recent fires.

“Everyone has been actually really great as far as offering me support,” Guillen said. “A few of the girls took up donations where everyone chipped in to help out.”

D’Intino, who is in jail awaiting sentencing in March, has been corresponding with Cheetahs employees.

“John absolutely knows what he did was wrong and he’s paying for it,” Collins said. “John beat himself up, he was so upset he made a mistake. He apologized over and over again for affecting people’s lives. Mike has done the same thing.”

D’Intino used to take Cheetahs employees, sometimes up to 100 people, to San Diego Gulls games. He would pay thousands of dollars for Cheetahs Christmas parties at a nearby restaurant.

“I don’t want it to sound like we’re blowing our own horn. Everyone here knows people have made mistakes. Everyone is kind of really humble now,” Collins said.

Employees say Galardi has changed since the raid at Cheetahs, the indictments and his guilty pleas.

“He’s been more personal than ever,” said Maurice Smith, who wears a few hats at the club – doorman, bar assistant, security guard.

“He’s the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him,” doorman Bryan Martin said. “Before it was about the money and the business. Now he’s focused on what’s important: his family and kids.”


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