Mayor Taveras wants 1-strike law for city strip clubs caught allowing prostitution

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The city would be allowed to permanently close any adult entertainment venue anytime dancers are caught soliciting customers, under an ordinance proposed Monday by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

The first-term Democrat said his “one-strike” ordinance would require the city’s Board of Licenses to revoke the licenses of any adult club that has prostitution taking place inside the establishment. Since August, women at two different strip clubs have been arrested for soliciting undercover Providence police officers.

“There is no place for prostitution in the city of Providence, whether it be indoor or outdoor,” Taveras told WPRI.com. “And what has come to light recently with respect to one of our establishments is unacceptable and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it stops.”

Taveras said the law would also apply to clubs that are caught employing underage strippers, a direct response to Cheaters Gentlemen’s Club, the Allens Avenue club that allowed a missing 15-year-old Boston girl to work as a dancer in July. The club maintained that the woman had valid identification cards from the state of Delaware and Boston College.

Police arrested 51-year-old Troy Footman for sex trafficking of a minor in connection with the incident. Days later, another stripper was arrested and charged with prostitution after allegedly soliciting an undercover police officer.

In October, Providence Police charged two women with propositioning undercover officers at the Satin Doll, the Aborn Street club located just blocks from City Hall. The club has not yet appeared in front of the Board of Licenses.

The board slapped Cheaters with a 45-day license suspension and $5,000 fine last month, a ruling that is currently being appealed with the Department of Business Regulation, according to Peter Petrarca, the lawyer for the embattled club.

Petrarca, a former state rep. who lost his bid for re-election in 2012, told WPRI.com he was unaware of the mayor’s proposal, but said he isn’t sure if it would be legal.

“With respect to one strike and you’re out no matter what the explanation is, I think it would potentially be unconstitutional,” Petrarca told WPRI.com. “I think he’s treating one form of entertainment different from other forms of entertainment.”

In addition to the one-strike ordinance, Taveras said he plans to submit a separate bill that would outlaw private booths in any city strip club. The law would mirror a similar bill passed in San Francisco in 2006, according to the mayor.

During a liquor board hearing last month, Cheaters’ general manager H. Charles Tapalian said patrons pay $35 to use the club’s private booths, but indicated he wasn’t sure exactly what happens in those areas of the club. He acknowledged he did not like having the booths, but said they are necessary to remain “competitive” with other clubs in the city.

In most of the city’s adult venues, dancers pay the club a fee to dance and their income is drawn exclusively from tips. The dancers are considered “independent contractors” and are not required to report their income to the club.

Reached Monday, Andrew Annaldo, a former City Councilman who chairs the board, told WPRI.com he had not been briefed on either of Taveras’s plans. He said he could see where lawyers would challenge the constitutionality of the proposal, but said he wasn’t yet in a position to comment further.

In addition to Annaldo, the licensing board is made up of state Sen. Juan Pichardo, D-Providence; Everett Bianco; Jeffery Williams; and Delia Rodriguez-Masjoan.

City Council President Michael Solomon said he too was unaware of the mayor’s ordinances, but indicated he is willing to consider both proposals. Earlier this year, he introduced an ordinance that would require background checks for all strip club employees.

“Unequivocally, I will continue to work to ensure this city does not tolerate the exploitation of women and children,” Solomon told WPRI.com.

Taveras said he plans to submit the ordinances to the 15-member, all-Democratic City Council later this week.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether I have resistance or not,” Taveras said. “This is a fight that we’re going to fight and we’re going to win.”

Separately, City Council Majority Leader Seth Yurdin proposed an ordinance that would remove compensation for Annaldo’s board because it refused to revoke Cheaters’ license last month.

As chairman, Annaldo earns $26,857-a-year and the rest of the board is paid $19,719 annually.

“By allowing an adult entertainment club with flagrant violations—including the hiring of a 14-year-old girl—to remain open, the board has failed to serve the city and its residents,” Yurdin said in a statement. “It is unclear why taxpayer dollars should be used to compensate a city board that is unwilling or unable to properly discharge its duties.”

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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