The mayor of Providence, R.I. has vowed to take action after an investigation by Providence NBC affiliate WJAR found that prostitution was allegedly taking place at three area strip clubs.
A producer for WJAR was allegedly offered sex for money by dancers during each of four trips over the past three months to a Providence club called the Cadillac Lounge. A former employee who worked at the club for five years told the station’s investigative team that “70 to 80 percent” of the dancers at the club engaged in prostitution.
In addition, private investigators working for a private client in Providence alleged in confidential reports provided to WJAR that prostitution was occurring at two other strip clubs as well. Video from the Cadillac Lounge and Club Desire documenting the offers of sex was aired on the station Monday and Tuesday night, and the investigators also provided a report alleging that a similar offer was made at a club called Fantasies.
WJAR called the Cadillac Lounge and attempted to speak with Richard Shappy, whom the former employee identified as the “boss” of the club, though according to official filings it is owned by Richard Shappy’s wife. Shappy did not respond to the request for comment. A man who called himself “Gerry” at Club Desire told WJAR he was unaware of any prostitution taking place at the club. Calls to Fantasies were not returned.
Mayor Angel Taveras told the station via a spokesman that he would introduce ordinances banning private booths at entertainment clubs and calling for mandatory revocation of a club license after one instance of prostitution or one instance of using underage girls as dancers.
The WJAR investigation comes after a Providence strip club called Cheaters was temporarily closed recently when police allegedly found open prostitution and a 15-year-old stripper on the premises. According to authorities, the underage stripper was allegedly being pimped out by a Massachusetts man.
The owner of Cheaters, where police allegedly found an underage stripper and open prostitution this summer, has filed an appeal after the city’s Board of Licenses hit the club with a $5,000 fine and suspended its liquor, food and entertainment licenses for 45 days. Charles Tapalian said that the 15-year-old dancer found at the club, who was allegedly hired at age 14, had a phony id and had the appearance of an older person.
But the majority leader of the Providence City Council said he wants to eliminate the pay of the licensing board because of its decision not to shut the club immediately. Seth Yurdin, who had previously sent a letter of protest to the board calling its decision a “severe dereliction of duty,” said he would introduce legislation Thursday cutting the board’s pay.
“Unfortunately, the Board of Licenses has taken no steps to remedy their initial decision," said Yurdin. "This Board has a responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of the public.”
Providence Police commissioner Steven Pare said he was “outraged” when his officers found the teen working at the club, and said it should have been shuttered permanently.
“There’s no room for that sort of business in the City of Providence,” said Pare.
Andrew Annaldo, who chairs the Board of Licenses, said it was "retribution" and "counter to democracy" to propose a law that would revoke pay for board members.
"You can't threaten a judicial body and say, 'Because you didn't do what I told you I'm going to take your pay,' " said Annaldo. "That's outrageous."
He also defended his board's decision to suspend Cheaters' licenses rather than revoke them, saying it was consistent with the evidence.
Said Annaldo, "If I thought for one second that the licensee intentionally hired a 15-year-old, the Board of Licenses would've stripped that license in a split second. But that wasn't the evidence that was presented."
"We gave them a 45-day closure and we fined them the maximum under the law," said Annaldo. "There was a price to pay."
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