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