For five months in 2004, two cops assigned to the multiagency Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation became regulars at Cleo's adult nightclub on Orange Blossom Trail, as part of an undercover vice sting dubbed "Operation Overexposed." The two spent $27,562 investigating the club, and their work resulted in the arrest of 52 of the club's employees and patrons in November 2004 on charges ranging from selling drugs to illegally asking for liquor to displaying their genitals. The MBI asked state officials to suspend or revoke Cleo's liquor license, essentially a death sentence for any strip club that makes its money on liquor sales.
What have taxpayers received for their investment? Not much. Most of the employees pleaded guilty or no contest to misdemeanor charges in return for small fines and sentences of time served. And this week, the state's Division of Alcohol Beverages and Tobacco decided not to go after Cleo's liquor license, instead filing a consent order waiving any action against the nightclub.
The MBI says their goal wasn't necessarily to get the club's license revoked, but to stop any alleged illegal activity.
The reality is, for the MBI, the case is another swing and a miss and incidentally, the second time since 2001 the region's morality cops have tried and failed to shut Cleo's down.
To build their case, the MBI agents relied on notes they left themselves via voice mail while working undercover at Cleo's. Unfortunately, they destroyed those voice mails, which blocked defense attorneys from challenging their veracity. While officials in Florida's state department would not comment specifically on this case, one official told Orlando Weekly that under the law, police are required by law to preserve all but "transitory messages" for four years after an alleged offense.
Moreover, the MBI referred the case to the state based on the premise that its managers knew what was going on and didn't care; however, no managers were charged criminally because the MBI couldn't prove the allegation.
But this latest Cleo's debacle may prove even more embarrassing to the MBI, which already has a string of well-publicized investigative flops to its credit, including Jerry's General Store and Rachel's Gentlemen's Club. This time around, Cleo's has filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, citing alleged misbehavior by two of the agents involved in Operation Overexposed, James McGriff and James Carlies Jr., both assigned to the MBI from the Orlando Police Department.
As this newspaper exclusively reported in September, several of the club's entertainers accused McGriff and Carlies of very unprofessional conduct, including inappropriate touching and even showing off their genitals to the dancers. The dancers told Orlando Weekly, and repeated in sworn statements, that they put up with behavior that would get anyone else kicked out of the club because the cops were such big tippers. (See "Operation Overexposed," Sept. 22).
Back then, MBI director Bill Lutz called the girls liars. "It is natural that some of the topless dancers that were arrested will make ridiculous claims to deflect attention from their illegal activities," Lutz told Orlando Weekly.
Maybe not. The Feb. 20 complaint Cleo's attorney Steve Mason filed with the FDLE's Officer Discipline Department includes two affidavits and three sworn statements from Cleo's dancers and, more importantly, two polygraph tests. Both dancers Olivia Foster and Celeste Hall passed their polygraph test with flying colors. (Copies of the lie detector tests and other documents are available here.)
According to Foster's Dec. 27 affidavit: "While posing as a customer, Officer McGriff (who used the name 'JJ') routinely touched dancers' breasts and vaginas. He also pulled aside dancers' panties to expose their vaginas and on many occasions would blow on dancers' vaginas. … Further, Agent McGriff would hold out his hand so that when I would sit down he would try to touch my vagina or insert his finger into my vagina."
Sound far-fetched? Not according to the results of Foster's lie detector test:
Q: Did JJ touch your vagina and breasts?
Q: Did JJ pull your panties aside to expose your vagina?
Q: Did JJ pull his shorts tight to expose the print of his erect penis?
William Frazier, a polygraph administrator who has worked for the Winter Park and Apopka police departments, noted this in his report: "A careful review of the completed polygraphs reflects no significant reactions in subject's answers to the relevant test questions, which indicates that subject was truthful in all answers to those questions."
Hall made the same accusations in her Jan. 17 affidavit. She was asked similar questions in her lie detector test, which she also passed.
The MBI told Orlando Weekly it will await the results of the FDLE's email@example.com