The law of unintended consequences rarely has been more applicable lately than to the regulation of strip joints. A pattern seems to be emerging: A city experiences a proliferation of strip clubs; the city council passes an ordinance restricting its operations; club owners peddle influence to try to repeal it; and careers get burned. It recently happened in San Diego. The result, literally and figuratively, was a federal case, a massive sting operation that resulted in the resignation of two city councilmen, one of whom had just become mayor. Now Louisville has gotten a taste of this syndrome. In this case, it’s put a Teamster local chieftain’s job on the line, and in the process has drawn into the picture a familiar Teamster figure from Chicago.
The Louisville boss is Jerry Vincent, president of IBT Local 783. According to documents, Vincent held a series of meetings, beginning in late 2003, with adult entertainment executive Michael Ocello and several industry colleagues. The alleged purpose of the meeting was straightforward. Not long before, the City of Louisville passed a law to curtail strip club operations in terms of liquor, hours and physical distance between dancers and patrons. Club owners, knowing their clientele, understandably didn’t like the law, and wanted it repealed. Thus was born an alleged quid pro quo agreement. Club owners asked the Teamsters to use their political connections to persuade the council to repeal the ordinance. In return, the Teamsters would have free reign to organize bartenders, waiters, doormen and bouncers. Strippers were not part of the deal. Things didn’t quite work out as planned.
At one of the meetings, Ocello recommended that Vincent call a “mutual friend” as a reference. On February 18, 2004, Vincent called the number and recognized the voice as belonging to former Chicago Teamster leader Bill Hogan, Jr. Hogan had been booted from the union in 2002 by the Independent Review Board (IRB), the watchdog three-man panel set up in the wake of the Teamsters’ March 1989 civil RICO settlement with the Justice Department. By agreement, any Teamster knowingly associating with another member barred from the union risks expulsion himself. And Hogan’s name was radioactive – to Vincent as well as to everyone else in the union. But, as Vincent admitted to the union’s internal investigators, “I swallowed my breath and just kept talking.”
Michael Ocello denies he and Vincent ever entered into a back-scratching arrangement. The purpose of the meetings, he emphasized, was to advise the Teamsters on the local economic impact of the potential closure of two dozen strip clubs. He added that he did not recall giving Hogan’s phone number to Vincent, though he’d known Hogan for a while. “He was helping us as a consultant looking for property to build a club in Chicago,” said Ocello of Hogan. Ocello, through VCG Holding Corp., owns five gentlemen’s clubs in downstate Illinois, not to mention the ones in Indianapolis and Denver. Hogan, he said, “was a guy who knows the Chicago area very well.” Hogan insists he was acting solely in the capacity of someone who knows nightclub industry people – that was it. There was no attempt on his part to get involved again with the Teamsters.
Ocello, for now, has other things on his mind. A family man with three kids, he’s running for school board in Mehlville, Mo., in suburban St. Louis. Vincent is still sweating things out, awaiting a ruling from his union and the IRB. He’s not in an enviable position. Even if cleared of charges of consorting with Hogan, he could be ousted anyway on the basis of his alleged contact with an expelled Teamsters official in Michigan. If the charges of a sweetheart deal with Ocello are true, then Vincent should go. But also fair to say that this whole mess could have been avoided had the City of Louisville not tried to regulate strip joints all but out of existence. Should our cities also enact bans on newsstand sales of Playboy? Let’s not give moral crusaders any ideas. (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/27/06; other sources).