Numerous Warnings Ignored: Unlawful Strip Club Linked to Fatal Shooting in NYC

A tragic incident unfolded over the weekend when a 32-year-old man lost his life in a fatal shooting at what was purported to be the Foxy Fitness and Pole “fitness studio” in Manhattan. However, prior to this grim event, several agencies, including the NYPD, received multiple warnings about the establishment’s alleged after-hours operation as an illicit strip club.

From late April to August of this year, the NYPD responded to five separate 311 complaints about excessive noise emanating from the Foxy Fitness & Pole training studio, located at 355 Seventh Avenue in Midtown. Disturbingly, four of these noise-related incidents occurred during the wee hours between 1:57 a.m. and 5:39 a.m. Additionally, on May 7, at 5:22 a.m., a complaint was lodged regarding underage drinking at the same establishment. Regrettably, none of these complaints resulted in immediate action.

Foxy Fitness and Pole occupies the top floor of a century-old three-story building, sharing the premises with a pizzeria and a formalwear retailer. Remarkably, zoning regulations dictate that the top two floors should be reserved for factory use only. In the past few years, the city’s Department of Buildings received five complaints concerning an alleged clandestine strip club operating at the site. These complaints include a December 13, 2019 report about an “adult establishment” functioning without proper permits, an April 20, 2021 complaint asserting that a strip club had been operational for a decade, and an April 28, 2023, complaint pointing to an individual named “Virgil” supposedly running the club during specific hours on weekends, presumably referring to Foxy co-founder Virgil Avery.

Michael Alcazar, a retired NYPD detective and an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, suggested that the failure to shut down the illegal club before the tragic incident was due to a lack of law enforcement resources, with many officers retiring or resigning. He stated, “The complaints are there; they weren’t able or they didn’t have the manpower to address it.” Alcazar emphasized that if undercover operations were in place, such illegal strip clubs could be swiftly eradicated, preventing violent incidents.

Foxy Fitness’s website promoted after-hour “private parties” involving pole dancing lessons for $599 plus tax, although local residents and workers were well aware that the establishment’s operators routinely facilitated explicit activities for a clientele often leaving inebriated. A construction flagger working nearby reported that it was an open secret, calling the business a “front” for risqué nighttime activities.

Tragically, the incident in question claimed the life of Steven Mussington, a resident of Harlem, who was shot and killed at around 5:30 a.m. in the building’s stairwell following an altercation near the entrance. Despite ongoing investigations, the police have made no arrests.

Subsequent to the shooting, Foxy Fitness remains closed, and the co-founders, Virgil Avery and Ashley Fox, who also run a Foxy Fitness studio in West New York, New Jersey, have not responded to inquiries. Notably, one of the building’s owners, Jacob Aini, claimed to have no knowledge of the third floor’s unauthorized use.

Pole-dancing classes have become increasingly popular as a form of exercise and empowerment for women. Nevertheless, at least 15 purported pole-dancing fitness studios operate in New York City, with five of them situated in buildings with a history of noise and nuisance complaints. These establishments typically adhere to the same rules as gyms, lacking proper zoning approvals to operate as strip clubs.

Adam Leitman Bailey, a real estate lawyer, noted the distinction between exercise and adult entertainment. He stated, “If you’re clothed and [pole] dancing, that’s exercise to me. But the minute you’re doing a sexual activity and showing your body [for money], that’s when you’re entering strip club territory, and that’s different rules and regulations.”

Regulations concerning businesses offering “adult” entertainment encompass adherence to health and safety codes and distance restrictions from schools, places of worship, and residences. Additionally, such establishments must not exceed 10,000 square feet, excluding storage space. Furthermore, clubs serving alcohol require a proper license, which Foxy Fitness lacked, according to the state Liquor Authority.

In response to the recent events, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams revealed that city inspectors conducted an inspection on the premises and discovered multiple violations, including obstructed fire escapes, a blocked emergency door, and a failure to comply with zoning regulations, which stipulate factory use only on the second and third floors.

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