Dancers from Treasures implored a state administrative judge today to renew the club's liquor permit and dismiss the city's protests. (No ruling has been issued yet.)
The dancers -- some of whom said they were single mothers and small business owners -- told State Office of Administrative Hearings Judge Roshunda Pringle that their jobs at the Galleria-area booby hut have allowed them to care for their kids, pay the mortgage and go to college. They described the owners and staff as tolerant, respectful and familial.
On the other hand, Houston City Attorney David Feldman and City Councilman Mike Laster described Treasures as a festering den of iniquity, replete with prostitution and human trafficking. (Side note: It also has awesome brisket.)
City officials have long complained of Treasures, which has allegedly incurred the most violations of any, uh, gentleman's club in Houston. Club owners Ali and Hassan Davari, once the targets of a federal money-laundering investigation, paid $102,000 in fines to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission last year to settle allegations of drug use, prostitution and public lewdness on the premises. The Davaris did not admit to any wrongdoing, and part of the settlement called for the TABC to not protest Treasures' renewal application, and liquor permit applications for a club the Davaris plan to open on Washington Avenue. (No, it won't be a gentleman's club.)
Laster told Pringle that Treasures is obviously a sexually oriented business, even though it doesn't have an SOB permit. He said that he has no bias against SOBs, but that "there are parameters around such activity. Treasures has appeared to ignore those parameters."
Feldman followed suit, saying, "I daresay that there is hardly a person in the city that doesn't know what the real business of Treasures is." He also alleged that a component of prostitution at Treasures included human trafficking, which he called "a scourge upon our city." (Oddly, neither Feldman nor the attorneys protesting the renewal offered evidence of human trafficking.)
Although the assistant general counsel of the Houston Independent School District protested as well -- Treasures is about 600 feet from an elementary school -- the only other witness the city offered was the manager of the Goodyear across the street from Treasures. He complained of having to regularly clean his parking lot of used condoms in the morning. (We were hoping the Treasures lawyers would have suggested the condoms were the result of a clandestine ring of radial-tire fetishists, but no such luck.)
A few dozen dancers were on hand to testify on behalf of Treasures, but both sides settled on hearing from a representative few, one of whom immediately broke out in tears and just submitted her statement in writing.
One ten-year dancer said that her work at Treasures allowed her to fulfill her dream of being a stay-at-home mom for the first two years of her son's life; another asked Pringle to consider the fact that "We're not just dancers -- we're people...we need this job."
Mitch Cook, the club's manager of 16 years and a nearly 30-year veteran of the industry, said the Davaris were "by far" the most tolerant and fair owners he's worked for. (A single dad of two daughters, Cook injected a bit of unintended creepiness into the proceedings by pointing out that his younger daughter was born nine days before Treasures opened. We couldn't help but wonder if the Cook family throws a combined birthday party for the two each year, and, if so, are clowns involved.)
The hearing was expected to take two days, but City Attorney Randy Porteau barely made an argument, instead asking Pringle to consider the record of dancers' criminal convictions. Here's the rub: Pringle had already barred any convictions prior to September 27, 2011 (the date of TABC's settlement), from being entered into evidence. The only conviction the city tendered after that date was of a lone dancer who touched an undercover vice officer while she was intoxicated on the premises.
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Treasures lawyer Albert Van Huff asked Pringle to immediately rule in Treasures' favor, saying Porteau had not offered a "scintilla" of evidence -- to which Porteau shot back that he had actually transcended scintilla territory and had in fact submitted a "plethora" of evidence. We were hoping for an extended Latin-off, but, sadly, that was it.
Although it's laughable that Treasures has been able to operate as anything other than a sexually oriented business, Porteau didn't exactly dazzle. Van Huff, who said he had expected eight hours of testimony from city witnesses, actually seemed a bit disappointed that opposing counsel wasn't ready to rumble. As were we.