February 22, 2012 08:53 AM
Legal Issues Confront Strip Club Near Nuns
Lawsuit alleges aide to Stone Park mayor tried to shake down strip club developer; Melrose Park eyes court challenge to halt opening of club next to convent.
By Robert Herguth/BGA and Dane Placko/FOX Chicago
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There were two explosive developments Tuesday night in a story FOX Chicago News brought you first, about a strip club going up next to a convent in the western suburbs.
One involves a neighboring town gearing up for a legal fight to stop the club from opening, and the other story contains exclusive details about an alleged shakedown attempt.
Stone Park’s mayor has said all along he doesn't want the club in his town.
But in a lawsuit, the club's owner says a friend of the mayor's tried to shake him down for hundreds of thousands of dollars and part-ownership in the club, in exchange for a green light from the mayor.
Stone Park Mayor Ben Mazzulla wasn't happy when FOX Chicago showed up at a recent village board meeting.
"Don't bring that up, Dane," the Stone Park mayor said. "Don't make me dislike you."
There are allegations of a shakedown made in a lawsuit filed by the owner a brand new multi-million dollar strip club, scheduled to open in Stone Park this spring.
When asked if he knew about the allegations the owner made in the lawsuit, Mazzulla said he knew about the "ignorant comments" the owner made.
Two weeks ago, FOX Chicago and the Better Government Association broke the story of how the strip club is being built right next door to a convent, which has made for some very unhappy nuns.
"As Catholic religious we take vows," Sister Marissonia Daltoe said, "and we have something like this totally opposite going on."
As part of that story, Mayor Mazzulla said village leaders tried to stop the club, but relented in the face of a costly lawsuit they were likely to lose.
"It would have cost the village over a half million in tax dollars," Mazzulla said.
The mayor may have been holding his nose, and tried to stay out of the issue, but the lawsuit alleges a friend of the mayor's was holding out his hand.
It describes a series of 2009 meetings between club developer and owner Bob Itzkow, and a man named Kevin Shirazi.
According to the lawsuit, Shirazi flashed an ID badge that said he was an administrative aide to the mayor.
The lawsuit alleges Shirazi told Itzkow everything could be "taken care of," if Itzkow gave him cash and 30 percent of the strip club business.
Itzkow’s lawsuit alleges that somebody on the mayor’s behalf tried to shake him down for $200,000, and part of the business in order for the strip club to get a license.
"That's preposterous," Mazzulla said. "That's why he is who he is, and we don't deal with him. I don't respond to terrible questions like that."
The mayor said he is good friends with Shirazi, who owns lots of property in Stone Park and works as a code enforcement officer for the village.
Shirazi confirmed he met with Itzkow, but said it was the club developer who offered him a piece of the business to hide his involvement.
"I decided not to," Shirazi said. "That's the end of the story. The rest of the allegation is not true at all."
Shirazi said he absolutely did not try to make a deal with Itzkow.
"How could I shake him down?" Shirazi asked. "Who am I to shake him down?"
The lawsuit says Itzkow refused to play ball. That suit was later settled, allowing Itzkow to open the club. That settlement prohibits Itzkow from commenting on the allegations.
"I don't think we could have filed the lawsuit and said things we didn't feel could be said under oath," Itzkow said. "So whatever's in the public record is in the public record."
Remember, the strip club is in Stone Park. But the convent is in neighboring Melrose Park.
FOX Chicago learned Tuesday night that Melrose Park is gearing up for a potential lawsuit to stop Get It from opening.
A spokesman for Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico said they are trying to figure out if the convent can be considered a school, because future nuns take classes on that site.
If it qualifies as a school, that could violate a state law that bans strip clubs within a thousand feet.
Melrose Park attorneys are researching any loophole in the law that could prevent the club from opening this spring.
"If they can find a loop hole, I’d be amazed," Itzkow said in response to the possible Melrose Park lawsuit. "Do you think I’d spend all that money and not do the research?"
This article was written and reported by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations, and Dane Placko of FOX Chicago News. To contact Herguth, call (312) 821-9030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.