GONZALES — Ascension Parish Council attorney Toni Falterman tried Tuesday to show that a man challenging the denial of a strip club license for Suthern Kumfort’s Lounge was not the true owner — and that is why his application was rejected last month.
Falterman’s arguments were made during the first day of an administrative hearing on the license.
Falterman said in opening statements that Steve Duke, 56, of Prairieville, submitted a 2011 license application in which he falsely said he was the owner.
Joe Long, an attorney for the lounge, said Duke purchased the club in January and needed to apply for the license.
The parish’s sexually oriented business ordinance, which calls for the licensing of strip clubs, says a license applicant’s true and full name should be listed.
However, Falterman acknowledged that this was not the reason the license was initially denied.
Falterman told John Lieux, the administrative hearing officer, that Council Chairman Pat Bell, who is not a lawyer, denied the license on May 5 because of a murder that occurred at the lounge the day before.
Bar patron Willis Tanner IV, 28, of St. Amant, was beaten to death in the club’s parking lot on May 4 by a man working for Duke, deputies have said.
The death was the second at the bar since 2008.
During testimony, Bell said, he received the license application and saw the news reports about the slaying.
“And I was not going to be a numbskull and just sign it, until the authorities told me something,” he said.
A criminal probe of the bar ownership followed. On June 8, sheriff’s investigators arrested Duke and a man they say is the true owner of the bar, Charles Puckett, 61, of Prairieville, on counts of filing false public records in a scheme to hide Puckett’s ownership, deputies have said.
Puckett is a convicted sex offender who is on parole and is barred by parish ordinance from applying for the license. Neither Duke or Puckett was at Tuesday’s hearing.
In his arguments, Long, the attorney for Suthern Kumfort’s Lounge, pointed to the six reasons the ordinance outlines for denial, including an applicant has certain criminal convictions. Long argued the May 4 homicide did not provide Bell with a legal reason to deny the license on May 5.
“While it is a tragedy, that is a criminal matter,” he said of the slaying.
Long said the license should have been approved on March 2 after Duke passed a sheriff’s background check.
Falterman introduced licensing applications and documents seized from Puckett’s house that investigators have said point to Puckett’s ownership of the club business.
Near the end of the day, Joann Gatlin, bar manager, testified that she had heard rumors from several employees that Puckett was the club’s owner.
She also testified that Puckett was the landlord for her home.
Gatlin said under questioning from Falterman and Lieux that Puckett would come in for a few hours a few days a week and go into the back office where three safes were located.
She told Lieux that Puckett had the same access to the club that employees had.
But she also said Duke was the club owner and, under Long’s cross examination, acknowledged Duke was at the bar every day and took care of day-to-day matters.
Land records show Puckett owns the club building.