FAIRMOUNT HEIGHTS, Md. - Earlier this year, Prince George’s County ordered a dozen of clubs operating with adult entertainment to close down. But FOX 5 has learned at least one of those clubs is still open for business.
For the past year, FOX 5 has been following a licensing loophole that allows businesses in Prince George’s County to hold banquet hall and catering licenses, but acted as underground strip clubs. The county forced them to shut down, but we received a number of calls pointing us to the Ebony Inn saying the stripping and illicit activities continued despite the county's direct order.
"The Hill" is an area where you can eat barbecue, get your hair cut and even find a bondsman to bail you out of jail. On the outside, it looks like just another neighborhood one-stop shop.
But inside, there are naked women, dirty dancing and X-rated moves. This is the Ebony Inn – a locale licensed as a banquet hall.
The Prince George's County Department of Permitting, Inspection and Enforcement has come knocking on their door more than once and finally issued a cease and desist letter to the business and eleven other establishments licensed as banquet halls, but operating as adult entertainment venues.
“We ordered them to stop,” said Gary Cunningham, deputy director for the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement.
It has been exactly two months since Ebony Inn was ordered to stop all exotic dancing and stripping. In that period, FOX 5’s undercover cameras have repeatedly entered the club. By the looks of it, there was no rush to comply with the county's order.
We asked Cunningham if there has been adult entertainment going on since despite the cease and desist order.
“I can say that we are documenting the actions of the establishments,” he responded.
When we asked if he could tell us how many establishments they are documenting, Cunningham said, “No, I won’t get into investigative techniques or what we have done to document it.” Cunningham would also not expound on what they have seen.
Former Maryland state senator Tommie Broadwater Jr. owns Ebony Inn and all the surrounding businesses on “The Hill.” He is no stranger to controversies.
He is a well-connected citizen and businessman in the county who in the early 1980s was arrested and charged with money laundering for food stamp fraud. In 2005, he found himself embroiled in a campaign fraud scandal that landed him probation. Now, the former senator seems to be, yet again, defying the law.
We went looking for a response from the former state senator. He wasn't at his home and we checked with his office, but didn't find him there. However, we did find him at 1 a.m. on a Sunday inside the Ebony Inn, just feet away from naked women clinging on to stripper poles.
We asked Cunningham, “Does he have an upper hand on the county, over the people that are running the county currently that allow him to continue to operate and defy the law the way he is currently defying the law?”
Cunningham told us, “I don't think we treat him any differently than we are treating anybody else. What we have said all along is that there is a court process. We are abiding by the court process, we're putting it into the court's hands and let them make a decision.”
The county recently won a lawsuit allowing the government to force adult entertainment venues to move to industrial areas known as Zone 2.
But Broadwater and the Ebony Inn filed for an injunction appealing the decision on the basis that exotic dancing and stripping are your First Amendment right – freedom of expression.
We asked Cunningham if the court rules in the county's favor, could Broadwater appeal again?
“Of course,” said Cunningham. “We are dealing with a First Amendment issue of freedom of expression. It's something that can go all the way to the Supreme Court. But we will wait to see what happens.”
While the county waits for the court's decision, which they expect in the next month, the county said it will continue to document and inspect the activities of these establishments. But they will have to wait before they can proceed with enforcement.