Prosecutors Say They've Hit a Wall in Strip Club Investigation
Article written by SCN. Additional content from nbcbayarea.com.
The list of strip club patrons claiming to have been ripped off at adult clubs is growing, NBC Bay Area has learned, but San Francisco authorities insist they simply don't have enough evidence to bring any case in criminal court.
San Francisco prosecutors now say two more Broadway clubs Centerfolds and Hungry I are on the list of establishments listed on reports of fraud lodged with police.
The investigation started two years ago and had focused on the New Century Theater in the Tenderloin as well as three Broadway venues Garden of Eden, Roaring 20's and Little Darlings. Prosecutors now say 29 people, some in the last few months, have reported alleged losses approaching $350,000.
The firm that manages the clubs, BSC Management, says the company has done nothing wrong, and the string of police reports and civil claims amount to "buyer's remorse."
In February, NBC Bay Area first reported on allegations. At the time, a police spokesman said that although investigators suspected "something is going on" at the clubs, the investigation was continuing.
This month, San Francisco District Attorney's Office spokesman Alex Bastian said his office too was "hitting a wall" in the case.
"The prosecutor in me is suspicious of 29 incidents occurring that is unequivocal," the prosecutor said. "But the prosecutor in me is also limited by admissible evidence."
Erik Beinart recounted what he says happened to him. The 33-year old Atlanta information technology professional told NBC Bay Area what he said was supposed to be an impromptu celebration of the end of a business trip became a nightmare that left him blacked out with tens of thousands of dollars in sudden debt.
"It's actually kind of ruined my life at this point," Beinart said. "My credit is ruined because I don't have the money to pay it. I have a mortgage, a car note, I have student loans. I'm a pretty normal person."
Beinart says it was back in October 2015 when he struck up a conversation with a man at a bar near his hotel in downtown. The man suggested they go to a strip club, and Beinart agreed. After one club was closed, they ended up at the New Century Theater on Larkin.
Once there, Beinart said he was thirsty and asked for a cup of water. Within minutes of drinking water from a plastic cup, Beinart said everything went black. The next thing he knew, he awoke in his hotel room surrounded by three strangers.
"I felt like I was hit by a freight train," Beinart said in a recent interview. "Soreness all over my body. I felt nauseated."
He started asking questions of the woman and two men in his room. But they soon left.
Beinart said that was just the beginning of his troubles.
"When I got to the airport, I realized three of my credit cards were missing," Beinart said.
He said credit card companies told him about charges totaling tens of thousands of dollars in a single morning. American Express agreed not to honor a nearly $7,000 charge at the Louis Vuitton store in Union Square. But Beinart says he is still fighting $65,000 in charges at the New Century Theater.
"Why would I agree to this? It makes no sense," Beinart said. "People who know me say I'm very frugal to begin with, let alone go and spend 65 grand in a single night."
Beinart's lawyer says he expects the civil case over the $65,000 debt will go to trial later this year. BSC officials would not comment on any specific cases still in court, including Beinart's challenge.
The club just won a separate legal battle with a patron who made similar charges. When New Century produced video showing him signing off charges, he agreed last month to pay his $37,000 bill along with $24,000 in club legal fees and another $4,000 in interest.
That court outcome has prosecutors wary.
"There were actual civil cases that were filed where the evidence actually supported the strip club in the underlying dispute," Bastian said, noting that civil court has a lower burden of proof than criminal court.
Bastian says that prosecutors are mindful that the reported losses are growing.
"It's over $345,000 in total that we're looking into," he said. "But again we need to be able to connect the dots, and we need people to come forward."
Beinart says people should not be afraid to go public.
"There's something going on here, and people need to come forward about it and not be embarrassed by it," he said.
BSC says that they win 99 percent of such disputes, and they are "prepared to see Mr. Beinart in court."
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