Cracking down on the true business behind some Prince George’s Co. clubs

WASHINGTON – Those moving to Prince George’s County may be surprised to learn that many  businesses marketed as clubs or banquet halls in the county are actually fronts for adult entertainment businesses. And it’s a zoning issue officials say has been a problem for years.

Prince George’s County is working to move adult entertainment businesses, such as strip clubs, out of neighborhoods and into more industrial areas. But county enforcement says there’s a loophole in the local law that makes it difficult to identify those businesses that call themselves clubs or banquet halls, but aren’t in practice.

“This is about code violations and this has been going on for years,” says Barry Stanton, deputy chief administration officer of public safety for Prince George’s.

It’s an issue the county has not gotten a handle on since legislation passed defining the practices of an adult entertainment business and requiring owners to apply for a permit.

Gary Cunningham, deputy director of permitting, inspections and enforcement, says other jurisdictions use a heavier hand when dealing with such business owners.

“Different jurisdictions, when it comes to their hearings and court processes, they tend to be sterner than we do. I think that’s the reason why we have to deal with this issue over and over again,” Cunningham says.

County officials have struggled to rein in adult entertainment businesses that existed before the legislation passed and that operate under the front of a banquet hall or club, but operate differently behind closed doors. Officials declined to give specifics as to what’s happening inside these businesses.

“What were asking people to do, that are in areas prior to this legislation, is to file what’s called a special exception that would give them permission to let them stay where they are. The ones that do that, will have to go through formal hearing process. The ones that do not we are issuing violation notices to them,” Cunningham says.

In January alone, the county issued four violations, he says. Additionally, the county is in litigation with more than 10 businesses for not complying with the law.

Responding to reports these businesses are operating under other names, Stanton says the county has shut down 71 illegal businesses since 2011. Sixteen of them were believed to be adult entertainment businesses.

“I didn’t want the community to leave here thinking the Prince George’s County government, the (County Executive Rushern) Baker administration is sitting on their duff and not doing anything. We are working,” Stanton says.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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