Sides wage war of words over Dodge County gentleman’s clubs
The drama over strip clubs in Dodge County continues.
Controversy over the presence of three strip clubs in the county erupted earlier this year after the indictment of Christopher Childs, 45, of Hartford, on federal charges of human trafficking. Childs is accused of torturing women and forcing them to engage in prostitution while keeping the money they earned for their work.
Prosecutors allege that he operated out of the TNT Club, soon to change its name, in the town of Lebanon, and the Hardware Store in Clyman. Only Childs has been charged with a crime. No one else has been charged or implicated in the alleged activity.
Afterward, local politicians and religious figures began organizing to shut down the clubs. State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has led those in opposition to the establishments, portraying them as magnets for crime.
TNT, the Hardware Store and Solomon, in Juneau (formerly known as Silk Exotic), recently had their liquor licenses renewed by local officials. In Juneau, the Common Council originally denied the renewal before reversing after the city attorney advised council members had to act within the law, not their personal beliefs, and that they could be subject to a lawsuit.
“When an investigation by law enforcement results in felony indictments directly tied to the operations of a business, there must be a license revocation process that can take place without the fear of retaliatory litigation that will jeopardize a municipality’s limited budget,” Fitzgerald said in a statement released last week after TNT had its license renewed.
Jeff Olson, a Madison attorney, is representing the owner of TNT and the owner of both the Hardware Store and Solomon. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of Solomon, but it apparently became moot after the council changed its mind about the liquor license.
“Most folks in their communities take a ‘live and let live’ attitude toward this sort of entertainment and feel that they can register any moral objections they have by simply not visiting these businesses, but there will always be a few who want to campaign to rid their communities of exotic entertainment, because they object to it on moral or religious grounds,” Olson said in a statement on behalf of his clients in response to Fitzgerald, saying the issue is one of First Amendment rights.
He noted that only Childs has been charged and his case is going through the system. He said that he’s encouraged the clubs to scrupulously cooperate with law enforcement and be vigilant about who is operating within them. Olson said that as investigations continue, any wrongdoers who can be prosecuted with evidence that comes up will be.
“Unless and until that happens, it would be unwise for state officials to attempt to use the human-trafficking media wave as tool to shut down constitutionally protected expression for moral or religious reasons,” he said.
Fitzgerald said he is taking steps to give municipalities the ability to act with more discretion.
“I have been in contact with the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue exploring options relating to liquor license revocation at businesses where crime is rampant,” he said. “I will also be investigating the need for legislation to fix any blind spots in our state law.”
Some local municipalities are looking at the use of demerit point systems, like the one in place in Beaver Dam, which formally record offenses by establishments that serve alcohol, and can guide officials in deciding whether to renew a license.