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Owner of raided bikini bar says St. Petersburg is on a witch hunt

ST. PETERSBURG — The owner of a bikini bar that was raided this weekend says police and city officials are on a witch hunt, and his business is the prime target.

"We've been under the microscope," said John Dunn, an investor at Bottom to the Top. "What they're trying to do is politically kill us."

Dunn, 37, of Oldsmar said Saturday that his business is being singled out by a city and community that is uncomfortable with bikini bars.

Officers shut down the bar, at 1101 First Ave. N, about 11 p.m. Friday. About 30 scantily clad dancers were led out of the building, several of them accused of exposing their breasts to customers. Officers also found cocaine and marijuana in the club.

Police spokesman Bill Proffitt said authorities have received complaints about drugs and prostitution at the club, though it is unclear if those types of charges will be filed in the future.

Dunn, who was out of town during the raid, said those allegations are "absolutely" untrue. He said he will get to the bottom of the situation, which he said also may be racially motivated. The club attracts a predominantly black clientele, he said. The club reopened on Saturday.

Arrested Friday on charges of violating the city's nudity ordinance were managers Michael McGee, 44, Shawn Bain, 47, and Jacob Land, 33; and dancers Shanita Williams, 24, Tamara Hopkins, 33, Jeanie Mantilla, 21, Marie Steisslinger, 21, Stacey Gordon, 22, and Dematria Gilliam, 28. Dancer Tameka Hardaway, 20, was charged with obstruction. Land also was charged with violation of felony probation for distribution of cocaine.

Disc jockey Thomas Lisowski, 37, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and being a felon in possession of a loaded firearm. Patron Christopher Hills­man, 35, faces a charge of resisting an officer without violence.

Dunn said he doubted the charges were true, but said anyone found guilty would not be allowed back.

"That's not the way we want to run the club," he said. "Everybody's on the witch hunt."

The club, which opened Feb. 5, is one of a handful of bikini bars to spring up in the city over the past seven months.

The city has no strip clubs, largely because of zoning rules that prevent them from opening within 400 feet of churches, schools or day care centers. But bikini bars don't face those restrictions — as long as dancers don't expose their private areas. If bikini bars serve alcohol, they only must meet the standards required of a bar.

At a May 27 meeting, officials were told that, unless illegal activity is going on, there wasn't much that could be done about the bikini bars.

"As far as legal businesses in the city of St. Pete, I may not like this one, but if they run it legally, they have a right to exist," said Mayor Bill Foster, who showed up at the raid Friday night. "This one is running illegally."

Foster had a chance to go inside the business and said what he saw was disgusting and obscene.

"They were flaunting the bad behavior two blocks away from the police station," he said.

Proffitt said there have been about 40 calls for service regarding Bottom to the Top, mostly complaints about noise. There was a report of a brawl and gunfire on March 9, but officers made no arrests.

Meanwhile, other bikini bars said Saturday they're worried the raid could give people the wrong impression other businesses.

"They give us all a bad name," said Heather Rardin, who opened the city's first bikini bar, Club Sinn at 340 First Ave. N, in November. "My girls are in what you'd see at the beach."

Rardin said rumors have been swirling that Bottom to the Top has been breaking the rules. She wasn't surprised when she heard the latest news about the raid.

"It was inevitable," she said. "Honestly, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner."

One of the dancers at the Bottom to the Top bikini bar is identified by undercover St. Petersburg police, then arrested during a police raid Friday night. Three managers and six dancers face nudity charges.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

One of the dancers at the Bottom to the Top bikini bar is identified by undercover St. Petersburg police, then arrested during a police raid Friday night. Three managers and six dancers face nudity charges.

Owner of raided bikini bar says St. Petersburg is on a witch hunt 06/05/10 [Last modified: Sunday, June 6, 2010 1:30pm]
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