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October 24, 2014

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SEX CLUBS:

This swinger feels persecuted

Owner of Sextasy wants license, fights eviction

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Steve Marcus

David Cooper, who was denied a business license for Sextasy, his swinger’s club in Commercial Center, talks with his attorney Lisa Rasmussen before an eviction hearing in District Court in Las Vegas on Aug. 15, 2008. Cooper says the county has singled him out.

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David Cooper says he and his wife and their girlfriend have for years been trying to find a “nice” establishment in which to have group sex with strangers.

He finally gave up on finding anything “where the walls don’t crawl” and decided to open his own “high-end” swingers club, Sextasy, in the Commercial Center shopping mall.

The Commercial Center, on Sahara Boulevard just west of Maryland Parkway, seemed like the right place for it. The valley’s oldest strip mall has a long history of housing controversial, adults-only businesses. For years it was home to the Apollo, which was known as a meeting place for gay men. These days the mall has a bar for transsexuals and a phone bank for an outcall service.

And while it is also home to a nationally praised Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam, the Commercial Center’s X-rated claim to infamy is the Green Door, which describes itself online as “the largest sex club in the country!!!”

But, as with numerous other swingers clubs around the valley, the Green Door’s business license says it’s a restaurant, a health club/spa, everything but a sex club. Sex clubs, you see, are public nuisances, according to the county code. That means they are illegal.

So Cooper figured he could just go along with the wink-and-a-nod protocol and in February applied for a business license for a “restaurant” which he eventually named Sextasy.

Then he encountered what his former lawyer, Allen Lichtenstein, lambasted as bureaucratic hypocrisy, arbitrary code enforcement and, underlying it all, the county’s wish to get rid of Commercial Center once and for all.

For years the county has talked about its desire to redevelop Commercial Center, but has had a problem coming up with the money to buy out the dozens of business owners operating there.

One effective strategy would be to drive down the price by using the power of the government to get rid of the tenants first, Lichtenstein said.

Lichtenstein said the county early on “made specific overtures to (buy) specific businesses.”

“And that is what’s really going on here,” he added. “They want to buy the property.”

In February, in fact, the Clark County Commission approved the spending of up to $7.6 million by the county’s redevelopment agency to appraise and buy three adult-oriented businesses in Commercial Center, then relocate the businesses and knock down the buildings.

Cooper said he was in meetings with county officials when they offered tens of thousands of dollars for him to relocate. When the landlords of the three properties couldn’t come to an agreement, the buyout fell through and the county came after Cooper, he said.

But Lichtenstein and Cooper say the issues go beyond the Commercial Center and its adult businesses.

At its core, Lichtenstein said, it’s a matter of the county’s selectively enforcing its rules when it comes to sex businesses. “They’re basically taking the position that they can decide which ones they will allow and which ones they won’t allow,” he said.

Cooper points to recent activity by the county against a fetish club called Libertine that was located in a strip mall near Pecos and Sunset roads. The county denied the Libertine its business license in March, and the district attorney’s office followed up in April with a complaint alleging the Libertine was a sex club. In July, District Court Judge Valorie Vega ordered the Libertine closed.

County spokesman Dan Kulin said the county is not targeting any business. “Speaking in general terms, when we find out about something that shouldn’t be going on, we take the appropriate action,” he said.

He also said he could not answer questions about how or why the Green Door has been in business for 10 years or talk specifically about the Green Door at all because the county’s business licensing department is investigating at least one allegation against the club. Lichtenstein, however, said he was unaware of any case against the Green Door.

In Cooper’s case, the county’s official denial came in a June 26 letter in which the Business License Department noted that Cooper’s application contained “false and misleading statements.”

Kulin said Cooper had listed his business as a restaurant and inspectors found “he didn’t meet the criteria” for that designation.

The Clark County Commission is to hear Cooper’s appeal of the denial Sept. 2.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani represents the district in which Commercial Center is located, and she acknowledges that other sex clubs exist there. When asked why the county hasn’t cracked down on them, she said authorities “have to catch them.”

In the act? “That’s right,” she said.

Cooper finds it all ridiculous, given the anything-goes reputation Las Vegas has encouraged through years of advertising.

“They want to get all the mileage they can out of sex, but they don’t want to deliver,” Cooper said. “It’s completely hypocritical ... You would think that here, of all places, it would be legalized and done properly.”

To try to help ensure it is done properly, Cooper even provided information to the district attorney’s office regarding illegal activities of home-based swinger’s clubs, Cooper said.

“I told them what to look for, the principals involved, how the businesses operated,” he said.

The prosecutor Cooper said he talked to could not be reached for comment.

Cooper says he will keep fighting the county to try to win a business license even though a judge last week upheld his eviction from the Commercial Center. If he obtains the license, he can transfer it to a different location, he said.

He says he just wants to continue his entrepreneurial pursuit of happiness in what he thought was the perfect location.

“I want to create a nice, clean place in a city that doesn’t have anything like that right now,” he said.

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