Five French Quarter strip clubs have had their liquor licenses suspended after a state investigation uncovered dozens of instances of drug activity, prostitution and “lewd and immoral acts” in the last month alone, authorities said Tuesday.
They said another seven bars and strip clubs could meet the same fate in the coming weeks as part of Operation: Trick or Treat.
“The French Quarter should not be known as a one-stop shopping for criminal activity,” said Troy Hebert, commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. “You pretty much walk into these places and you got whatever you needed … marijuana, cocaine, sex.”
Hebert and State Police Col. Mike Edmonson spoke at a news conference Tuesday on the steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court building on Royal Street, just blocks away from the offending clubs and two hours after notices of the suspensions were sent to the owners of Centerfolds, Lipstixx/Fais Deaux Deaux and Scores New Orleans on Bourbon Street and Chez Joey and Dixie Divas on Iberville Street.
All five were closed Tuesday evening.
The ATC will hold hearings in coming weeks at which the club owners can make their cases for why their licenses should not be permanently revoked, Hebert said.
Asked what differentiates unacceptable lewd behavior from the kind of activity allowed in strip clubs, Hebert noted there are still rules in the clubs, starting with the fact that the dancers are supposed to be only topless.
In the offending establishments, he said, there were “bottomless women with zero clothes on.”
“There was … a lot of touching going on — inappropriate touching — things that are clearly a violation of the law,” he said. “In these particular cases, they cross the line many, many times.”
Edmonson said State Police will pursue their own investigation based on the findings the ATC has submitted, but he cautioned that law enforcement has a higher threshold of proof when it comes to making arrests. Nevertheless, he said, “this is far from over.”
“This doesn’t surprise me when I look at the locations,” Edmonson said. “A lot of complaints have come from citizens about this type of behavior at those locations, and this certainly gives those (complaints) some credence as we go forward.”
Edmonson was clear when asked about the line that separates unacceptable behavior from the kind of hedonism that always has attracted people to the French Quarter.
“We don’t tolerate drugs,” he said. “We know drugs are a gateway for much worse things.”
Edmonson said 80 percent of crimes statewide involve drugs and weapons. In the seven months that State Police have been patrolling in the Quarter, he said, officers have seized 125 weapons off the streets and made 1,400 arrests — 533 of them for drugs with an estimated street value of $1.3 million.
“When these things take place, we’ve got to take action,” he said.
The five businesses issued emergency suspensions were:
The House of the Rising Sun of Bourbon St. Inc., operator of Centerfolds at 411 Bourbon St., five counts of prostitution, three drug-related counts, two counts of lewd/improper acts.
Platinum Bourbon Inc., operator of Lipstixx at 420 Bourbon St., three counts of prostitution, three drug-related counts, three counts of lewd/improper acts.
Silver Bourbon Inc., operator of The Mansion on Bourbon at 416 Bourbon St., six counts of prostitution, two drug-related counts, five counts of lewd/improper acts.
Iberville Ladies LLC, operator of Chez Joey at 608 Iberville St., three counts of prostitution, five drug-related counts, two counts of lewd/improper acts.
Off Bourbon Inc., operator of Dixie Divas at 606 Iberville St., four counts of prostitution, three drug-related counts, one count of lewd/improper acts.
The three Bourbon Street clubs share the same owner.
Hebert said the clubs have the right to ask the courts to block the revocations until the hearing on their licenses.
In the meantime, club operators can be arrested on the spot if they are caught selling alcohol.
Hebert said the probe stemmed from complaints that were passed on by the New Orleans Police Department’s 8th District about a month ago. He said the tips led investigators not only to strip clubs but also to bars.
He did not name the other seven establishments but said the ATC could announce their names in the coming weeks.
“We’re heading in that direction,” he said. “These five businesses certainly posed a threat, and we wanted to make sure we acted swiftly.”