In July, Details magazine lauded Tiffany's Cabaret of Phoenix as one of the top topless joints anywhere.
"Eight hundred ninety-three million women table-dance nightly in a labor-intensive mammathon," the trendy, men's style publication quipped in a feature on the top 300 nightspots in the U.S. "The most corporate and unsleazy, airy and neon-lighted strip joint around."
But that was last month. This month, the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control (DLLC) is preparing a case against Tiffany's new club in Scottsdale that could bring the Phoenix club down, too.
Last Friday, Scottsdale police stood by as DLLC officials yanked the Scottsdale Tiffany's interim liquor permit, based upon information revealed by a DLLC investigation.
In documents on file at DLLC, investigator Richard Gilchrist alleges that Steven Craig Cooper, sole stockholder and president of the corporations that own both local Tiffany's nightclubs, lied or presented misleading information on a liquor-license application for the Scottsdale Tiffany's. The allegation leaves room for the possibility that Cooper lied on the Phoenix application, too.
Cooper denies this, and says he will answer the state's charges point by point. Cooper says he intends to "prove all this is hogwash and somebody is trying to blow a very big smoke screen."
The Phoenix club, 44 North 32nd Street, received its liquor license in 1991. The Scottsdale club, 10345 North Scottsdale Road, had been operating with its interim liquor permit since last June.
As of last Monday morning, the clubs' operators hadn't decided whether to keep the Scottsdale club open, said general manager Bill Methvin.
DLLC plans to protest the Scottsdale club's application for a permanent license at an October 4 hearing before the state liquor board. The City of Scottsdale and some members of the public are also on record as protesting the license. DLLC Director Howard Adams did not return telephone calls from New Times.
DLLC records show that last March, Cooper signed an application for the Scottsdale liquor license that indicated he had never had a "liquor license rejected, denied, revoked, suspended or fined in this or any other state."
On the form, when asked if he had ever had an application for a liquor license "rejected or denied," Cooper answered no. Where the application asked, "Do you now or have you ever held any interest in a liquor license in any other state?", there was no response at all.
Cooper says one of his attorneys filled out the application, so it's not Cooper's fault that the question about interest in other liquor licenses was left blank.
According to public records--and even a letter from the attorney who filled out the form--Cooper is the principal shareholder in corporations that hold liquor licenses in Florida, Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Furthermore, some of these clubs have been fined and have had their licenses suspended or revoked for alleged violations ranging from illegal sexual activities to lying on a liquor-license application.
A number of Cooper's clubs in Tennessee have been denied liquor licenses in that state, including one in Memphis called Club Tiffany, according to documents gathered by DLLC. A 1983 letter from the Tennessee alcohol commission informs Cooper that a liquor license was denied partially on the grounds that the club had been found in violation of obscenity statutes.
Cooper and one of his attorneys, Rex Brasher, say those liquor licenses were never officially denied.
Danielle Elks, assistant director of the Tennessee alcohol commission, disagrees. After reviewing three letters regarding three different clubs, which were sent from the commission to Cooper, she says, "It appears . . . that there was a decision to deny the application which was submitted for each of those applications." Cooper's conflicts with Tennessee officials don't stop there. According to an August 16, 1993, letter sent to the Scottsdale Police Department from authorities in Tennessee, Club Tiffany's beer license had been revoked 64 times between 1981 and 1992. Alleged violations ranged from giving false information on a license application to allowing employees and customers to engage in "sexual activity involving physical contact."
Cooper has appealed the decisions in state and federal courts. According to officials in Memphis, one such case is still pending before a state judge; two cases in which Cooper is suing the city remain in federal court.
On another front, the City of Memphis filed a petition in April to "abate a public nuisance," seeking to close Club Tiffany. The city filed another request in July to have Cooper held in contempt of court, alleging that he had allowed illegal sexual activities to continue at Club Tiffany.
At Cooper's request, the hearing to consider the matter has been postponed until September 9. At that time, an injunction to padlock the club for one year could be granted; if Cooper is held in contempt, he could be sentenced to ten days in jail.
Brasher says he is confident the court will rule in Cooper's favor.
Public records reveal that Cooper and his clubs may have run afoul of liquor laws in Florida and Texas, too.
Last February 24, just weeks before Cooper signed the Arizona DLLC questionnaire, he signed a consent agreement with Florida alcohol authorities, agreeing to pay a fine for his Boynton Beach club. The violation: five counts of public lewdness. The fine: $1,624, which was paid last April 16.
Brasher says he is unfamiliar with the Florida situation.
Cooper is the president of K.S. Enterprises, a corporation that owns a club called Baby Dolls in San Antonio, Texas. Paul Morgan, head of the licensing division of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, told New Times that since 1991, Baby Dolls has been fined and has had its license suspended several times--on charges that include public lewdness, serving minors and failure to file timely monthly tax forms.
It is not known exactly when Cooper became an officeholder in K.S. Enterprises; the DLLC investigator alleges that it was in mid to late 1990. Brasher says he does not have the exact date.
DLLC investigator Richard Gilchrist is also recommending that the Arizona liquor board deny the Scottsdale Tiffany's license on the basis that Cooper has a business association with Ralph Lunati, who was convicted of "attempting to procure females to become prostitutes" through public advertisements in Tennessee in the early Eighties. Lunati served prison time for this charge. He also was fined $50 for engaging in prostitution.
Lunati's name appears in numerous court records as Cooper's business associate, particularly in Tennessee. Most recently, the two signatures appear together on a document dated April 1993--a purchase offer on the Windmill Dinner Theatre, the building where Tiffany's Cabaret of Scottsdale is located.
The Arizona liquor board is to rule on the Scottsdale club's license October 4. But even if the board votes to deny the license, there's still the matter of Tiffany's Cabaret in Phoenix. As part of his application for the Phoenix liquor license, Cooper signed a questionnaire on October 15, 1990, stating that he had never had an application for a liquor license rejected or denied. He also answered no to the question about suspensions, fines and revocations.
Lieutenant David Gonzales, a regional head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety's organized-crime division, says his department was aware of problems with Tiffany's in 1990, but that the license wasn't protested. "I think that one kind of slipped through the cracks," he says. Gonzales adds that under Arizona law, the Phoenix Tiffany's liquor license could be revoked if it can be demonstrated that Cooper lied on that application.
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Ironically, according to DLLC records, the Phoenix Tiffany's has received just two warnings from the department since it opened its doors. One was for allowing a minor inside without a parent, guardian or spouse. The other was for assorted sexual activities reported by undercover liquor investigators.
Gonzales says that his department is looking into allegations of links between organized crime and Cooper and his associates.
Along with Tiffany's and Ziegfield's--another upscale nightclub featuring "adult entertainment," which was denied a liquor license on the basis of location last March (Ziegfield's Folly," August 11)--there are three or four other companies considering locating upscale topless bars in Arizona, Gonzales says.
It's a business that's booming nationwide, he adds. "You can't lose financially in the upscale-topless-bar business right now," he says.