Strip club fight turns costly for Del City

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY NOLAN CLAY Staff Writer [email protected]­la­homan.com

DEL CITY — The cost to get rid of the no­to­ri­ous strip club Fan­tasy Is­land turned out to be so high that city of­fi­cials had to take out a loan.

At $1.4 mil­lion, the cost was three times as much as they had planned to spend. And, so far, the city has lit­tle to show for it be­yond a va­cant lot of weeds.

Bal­ly­hooed plans for a 10-screen movie theater, a bowl­ing al­ley, restau­rants and a gro­cery store in the area along In­ter­state 40 have been aban­doned. A Texas-based de­vel­oper’s $50,000 earnest pay­ment has been re­turned.

Still, Del City of­fi­cials call the ex­pense worth it.

“The body count stopped,” City Man­ager Mark Ed­wards said.

“Yes, it was worth it,” he said af­ter a city coun­cil meet­ing this month. “There is no­body that’s los­ing their lives up there any­more.”

City of­fi­cials took out a $2 mil­lion bank loan to re­solve le­gal dis­putes over their ef­forts to close the strip club and a nearby con­ve­nience store, Dell­wood 66.

“It’s all over with. We’re all set­tled. We’ve cleared the decks of ev­ery­thing,” the city man­ager said.

The city will con­duct a na­tional search for an­other de­vel­oper, Ed­wards said. The loan over the set­tle­ments will be re­paid from sales tax col­lec­tions once the

de­vel­op­ment gets go­ing.

“You’re prob­a­bly still talk­ing a year or bet­ter,” he said of any new de­vel­op­ment.

Brazen vi­o­la­tions

Po­lice and city of­fi­cials con­tended Fan­tasy Is­land never had a per­mit to of­fer adult en­ter­tain­ment in the first place.

Po­lice of­fi­cers who went in un­der­cover re­ported dancers reg­u­larly and openly went too far with cus­tomers. Some had sex for tips in a pri­vate area. Oth­ers sold drugs on the side.

“This club was like no club I’ve ever been in,” said one Ok­la­homa City po­lice of­fi­cer, who went in un­der­cover to help Del City po­lice.

“The vi­o­la­tions were so ... out in the open,” the of­fi­cer tes­ti­fied at a court hear­ing in 2015.

He re­called one strip­per ba­si­cally dragged him to a pri­vate area for a dance and told him he could touch her. He quoted her as say­ing, “We’re at Fan­tasy Is­land. We’re not at your other clubs.’”

Worst yet, of­fi­cials com­plained in 2015, the club had be­come a mag­net for other crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. Po­lice had been called from the lo­ca­tion 135 times over the pre­vi­ous five years, records showed.

Some of those calls in­volved shoot­ings out­side the club. One on Dec. 5, 2014, and an­other on July 4, 2015, were fa­tal.

The city shut the club down in Au­gust 2015 af­ter the un­der­cover po­lice op­er­a­tion re­sulted in 27 ar­rests. Most of the ar­rests in­volved dancers ac­cused of il­licit sex­ual con­duct.

A bouncer was ar­rested for hav­ing a loaded pis­tol inside the club. The bouncer later pleaded guilty to a felony, was fined $50 and put on pro­ba­tion.

The club re­opened spo­rad­i­cally while le­gal chal­lenges to the city’s ac­tion were made. The city coun­cil de­clared it a pub­lic nui­sance in Septem­ber 2015, and Fan­tasy Is­land then closed for good af­ter 13 years in op­er­a­tion.

Costly takeover

The city ac­quired the 41,239-square-foot site in 2016 through a con­dem­na­tion ac­tion. The build­ing was de­mol­ished.

That ac­qui­si­tion be­came costly be­cause Fan­tasy Is­land’s owner and op­er­a­tor put up a le­gal fight over the city’s ac­tion.

The city paid $450,000 for the prop­erty in 2016. In a set­back for the city, a jury a year ago de­cided the city should have paid $1,008,383 for the prop­erty.

In an­other set­back, a judge in April or­dered the city to pay $317,928 of the strip club’s le­gal bills.

Those out­comes had been on ap­peal be­fore the Ok­la­homa Supreme Court when the city de­cided to set­tle the case for al­most $1 mil­lion rather than fight fur­ther. The ap­peal was dis­missed in Oc­to­ber.

The set­tle­ment also re­solved a sep­a­rate Fan­tasy Is­land law­suit that could have cost the city even more.

In the end, count­ing the ini­tial ex­pense in 2016, the city paid $1.4 mil­lion to be rid of Fan­tasy Is­land and all the le­gal is­sues sur­round­ing it.

Own­ers’ trou­bles

Del City could have saved it­self thou­sands of dol­lars if it had just ne­go­ti­ated a fair price ear­lier, said an at­tor­ney for the strip club’s owner.

“The par­ties are happy that the case set­tled. It’s very un­for­tu­nate that Del City re­fused to ne­go­ti­ate this mat­ter and in­stead took it to court,” at­tor­ney Larry E. Finn said. “We think the jury was right in its de­ci­sion.”

The city paid an ad­di­tional amount to set­tle a con­tested con­dem­na­tion case over its ac­qui­si­tion of the con­ve­nience store prop­erty.

Buy­ing Fan­tasy Is­land in 2014 for $729,500 was Michael Dean Billings, a now im­pris­oned for­mer Ok­la­homa City at­tor­ney.

Billings was sen­tenced in 2016 to 14 years in fed­eral prison for trav­el­ing to Peru to have sex with chil­dren. A set­tle­ment check went to his wife, Heather Billings.

She is await­ing trial in Ok­la­homa County District Court over a 2018 crim­i­nal charge aris­ing from her in­volve­ment in an­other strip club, Mid­way Is­land in Ok­la­homa City. She and oth­ers are ac­cused of al­low­ing the busi­ness to op­er­ate as a drug house.

“When Fan­tasy Is­land closed, a num­ber of em­ploy­ees moved to Mid­way,” an as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney told a judge. “Mid­way has been the sub­ject of an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion since 2016 with sim­i­lar com­plaints of acts of lewd­ness (and) nar­cotics con­sump­tion and sales.”

Mid­way Is­land has been closed this month be­cause it is await­ing its new li­cense to sell al­co­hol.

[OK­LA­HOMAN AR­CHIVES PHOTO]

The Fan­tasy Is­land strip club in Del City was de­mol­ished in 2016 af­ter be­ing de­clared a pub­lic nui­sance. Plans for a re­de­vel­op­ment of the blighted area fell through.

[THE OK­LA­HOMAN AR­CHIVES]

Fan­tasy Is­land in Del City ceased op­er­a­tion in 2015. A sis­ter strip club, Mid­way Is­land, is in Ok­la­homa City but is tem­po­rar­ily closed.

Michael Billings

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