May 20, 2004 12:00am
Market Street Cinema Busted
Source: San Francisco Examiner
by: J.K. Dineen
(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) -- In the latest chapter of an ongoing crackdown of prostitution in city strip clubs, vice cops raided the notorious Market Street Cinema on Tuesday evening, citing numerous dancers and charging a co-owner with keeping a house of ill repute.
The raid was the second in as many weeks and is an effort to highlight the city prostitution laws being blatantly broken in clubs that have illegal private booths, according to Lt. Joe Dutto of the Police Department's vice squad.
Around 4:15 p.m., three undercover officers paid a $20 cover charge, walked into the sprawling maze of the club and immediately made their way back to the Bangkok Room, where they paid a cashier another $10 and were instantly offered sex for money.
Three dancers propositioned one officer simultaneously, offering to engage him as an ensemble for $400, police said. All of the officers were propositioned within 11 minutes, and the dancers made no attempt to hide the fact that they were selling sex for money.
"If an entire football team were to go in there on a Saturday night, it would be like Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds in the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," Dutto said.
James Habib Carouba, who is the operating manager of the Market Street Cinema and a part-owner of several other clubs, was found in a downstairs office with his dog. He was charged with keeping a house of ill repute, as was assistant manager Anthony King, who asked officers, "How long are you going to continue doing this?" police said.
King suggested the officers check out the competition at Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater.
"He said, 'There are a lot of things going on over at the Mitchell Brothers,' and then he smiled," said an officer involved in the undercover operation.
The Market Street Cinema has between 30 and 40 private booths, and the dancers cited each had more than $1,000 cash on them. One dancer said she paid management $200 in so-called "stage fees" for the privilege of working four hours during the afternoon shift.
Dancers and sex-worker activists have long complained about high "stage fees," which they say make it difficult to make a profit while at the same time obeying city laws. Some dancers have also said they are frequently sexually assaulted in the booths.
The sting at the Market Street Cinema came two weeks after police cited dancers and a manager at the New Century Theater, which, like the Market Street Cinema, is partially owned by Michigan-based Deja Vu Inc.
District Attorney Kamala Harris has not decided whether to pursue charges in either the New Century or the Market Street Cinema cases.
"She is worried about the exploitation of women -- that is a top concern of hers," said spokeswoman Debbie Mesloe. "She wants to make sure she talks to the dancers and has a full understanding of their concerns, but also wants to see that no laws are broken."
The johns at the club all made a quick exit after police arrived.
"They skedaddled," Dutto said. "They all took a Dixie."