The Cheetah Club in Atlanta is facing a serious controversy. More on why that matters in Augusta in a second, but for now the facts of the case:
A former exotic dancer, Alison Valente, who worked for The Cheetah for more than a decade and was one of the club’s most popular strippers, filed a lawsuit earlier this year claiming the club’s management and bouncers ran a “sophisticated organized crime syndicate” of sex and drugs that “became an integral part of The Cheetah’s operations.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News have done an extensive investigation into the stripper’s claims and things aren’t looking good for The Cheetah Club.
Valente and five other former Cheetah employees told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they witnessed everything from inappropriate touching to sexual intercourse in the club’s private VIP rooms.
“Moreover, they described the dangers faced by strippers who did not want to cross the line,” the AJC reported this year. “The women said patrons secretly drugged, assaulted, and in one case, raped one of them in an atmosphere where they said Cheetah customers were led to believe they could expect sexual favors from dancers if they were willing to pay for it.”
The Cheetah Club Owner Bill Hagood has denied the claims and pointed out that Valente was fired from the club in 2015.
As a result of the pending lawsuits, Hagood has hired two of Atlanta’s most high-profile defense attorneys: Steve Sadow and Ed Garland.
Augustans may recognize attorney Ed Garland from another well-known local case. Garland represented former state Sen. Charles Walker in his federal case back in 2005. In the end, Walker was found guilty of conspiracy, mail fraud and filing false tax returns and sentenced to a decade in federal prison. Needless to say, Walker isn’t a huge fan of Garland, but that’s an entirely different story.
In a statement to the AJC, Hagood’s attorneys described Valente and another dancer who talked to the newspaper as “vindictive, discharged strippers, some of whom may well have been fired for engaging in the very same misconduct that they claim was tolerated by management.”
They claim there are serious holes in her allegations.
Just this week, Valente dropped one of her lawsuits against the club involving racketeering claims; however, two other lawsuits against the club are still pending.
“Valente is a plaintiff in a labor lawsuit claiming gender discrimination and another suit alleging that the club violated federal labor laws by classifying her and other strippers as contractors and not employees,” the AJC reported this week. “In her gender-discrimination suit, Valente alleges the Cheetah operated as a ‘sophisticated organized crime syndicate’ where managers known as ‘floormen’ sold ‘sex and drugs’ at the club.”
Only time will tell if the allegations against The Cheetah will hold true and if, probably the most famous strip club in Georgia, will survive this scandal.
What goes around, comes around.
Why does this matter to us in Augusta? Remember the infamous Cheetah exotic dancers from Atlanta who wreaked havoc on the political careers of a handful of Georgia legislators, including our own powerful former state Rep. Robin Williams, more than two decades ago?
Back in 1995, lobbyists treated five Georgia lawmakers, including then-state Rep. Robin Williams, to a golf outing on Daufuskie Island, S.C.
However, it was no ordinary golf trip.
Four strippers from Atlanta’s Cheetah Lounge went along for the ride.
Of course, at the time, both the lobbyists and the lawmakers swore nothing inappropriate happened on the trip, but no one really ever bought that story.
The scandal immediately created a need for much tighter ethics rules under Georgia’s Gold Dome.
By 2000, the highly questionable trip and a few other missteps completely tarnished Robin Williams’ reputation and he was unable to duck political defeat.
He lost his state seat to political newcomer Sue Burmeister in 2000 and never fully recovered.
Soon after, Williams began doing consulting work for the security and prisons industries.
And then Augusta’s Community Mental Health Center awarded the former Republican state representative a consulting contract in 2001, paying him $30,000 for only four months’ work.
Local mental health activists and clients of the center were dumbfounded and disgusted by the deal.
By 2004, a 30-count federal fraud indictment suggested Williams and some of his cronies stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the mental health center through a scheme involving health care fraud, money-laundering and bribery.
Williams was eventually convicted in May 2005 of stealing more than $2 million from the Community Mental Health Center and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He was also ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution. Williams was eventually released from prison in 2013.
While Williams had several other controversies in his past, pressure really began to heat up following that politically fatal trip to Daufuskie Island with the Cheetah strippers.