Stripper gets off, Ramsey ponders punting

Caren Naiman is not a hooker, any more than the cop who busted her is a “john.”

So decided a jury Thursday, July 10, after taking just 40 minutes to ponder the evidence gathered in a raid executed on a strip club more than two years ago.

The First Amendment Gentlemen’s Club, located north of Chico’s city limits on Highway 99, had been the subject of a year-long undercover investigation into allegations that it was the scene of a prostitution and drug ring. Undercover sheriff’s deputies videotaped several “lewd acts” performed by women both on stage and off and arrested 10 of the club’s female entertainers and its door manager.

But the evidence may have been tainted by the fact that at least one of the officers, by his own admission, participated in two of the same type of acts.

Deputy Jack Storne Jr. lost credibility points with the jury and may have endangered several other cases when he admitted to allowing a dancer called “Mercedes” to take a dollar bill from him while she brushed her boobs against his head. Later, Storne, for “tactical” reasons, entered a private room with “Mercedes” and paid her $50 to remove her top and mount him while he lay on a mattress.

The revelation allowed Naiman’s defense attorney, Chico lawyer Anthony Cardoza, to question why his client was being charged with a lewd act on par with one that a police officer admitted to participating in. None of the male strip club customers was ever arrested, even though the strippers they were interacting with were, Cardoza noted.

Naiman, like most of the other strippers arrested, was charged with prostitution under the strictest definition of the law—a lewd act performed for money. In Naiman’s case, that amounted to an accusation that she plucked money from the mouths of male spectators with her bazooms. Speaking for his client, Cardoza said Naiman actually handled the money with her hands.

“It’s ridiculous to have this case charged as prostitution,” he said. “They’re just trying to validate an unsuccessful raid on this place. Hopefully this will be the end of it, so the county won’t have to incur any more expense over this.”

Naiman’s victory is the second loss in a row for prosecutors, who previously tried club manager Stephen Clark on 10 counts of pandering. According to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, the jury was satisfied in that case that prostitution had occurred but acquitted Clark because there was no proof that he received any compensation from it.

Clark, reached by phone this week, called the whole case “a joke” and joined a vocal chorus of defendants and attorneys in asking the D.A. to throw out the five remaining open cases.

According to court testimony, the Sheriff’s Department spent 150 hours investigating the First Amendment, which currently operates with new ownership under the name Centerfolds. At an average deputy’s pay rate of $38 an hour, that would put the sting’s cost close to $6,000, a figure that leaves out the cost of the bust itself, which utilized more than three dozen officers, including a sheriff’s SWAT team.

When asked how much the prosecution had cost thus far, Ramsey refused to put forth a dollar amount, saying that the prosecutors working the case would have been paid for their hours regardless of what they had been working on. Ramsey did express disappointment in the outcome of the case and said he was considering his options for further prosecution. With the probability that Deputy Storne’s testimony will be brought up by defense attorneys again in upcoming cases, Ramsey said there is a chance the remaining cases could be tossed out.