By Elizabeth Perry
Stowe strip club True Diamonds is getting a pass on a $25,000 fee from township commissioners.
During the July 11 meeting, commissioners waived a $25,000 fee club owners were expected to pay, which had been lowered to $12,500 last year.
The measure was not listed on the agenda but added during the course of the meeting.
Commissioners Dave Rugh, President Kelly Cropper-Hall and Robin Parilla voted for the measure. Commissioner Cheryl McDermott abstained from the vote and Darrell Chestnutt was absent.
The fee was a result of a resolution passed to penalize the club for attracting a criminal element, Commissioner Dave Rugh said. As of press time, the building is owned by Francis Bergel, and the club is run by Matthew Marshall. Solicitor Brad Matta said he believed the payments began in 2019 and were suggested by Marshall as an offer of “goodwill” so the township would not shut the establishment down.
Matta said there is an ordinance already in place with a set fee for strip clubs to pay. This $25,000 payment went above and beyond that fee. Matta said the payment went to the township, but he wasn’t sure exactly how it was applied to the overall budget.
The reason given for the abolishment of the payment was that there hadn’t been any police activity at the bar recently, Rugh said. He said he voted based on the recommendation of Police Chief Matt Preininger.
An email to Preininger and a Right to Know request to determine how many calls have been made regarding True Diamonds in the past three years is pending.
Rugh guessed the initial measure to charge the additional $25,000 was passed in 2018, while Matta thought the year was closer to 2019. McDermott said she didn’t know enough about the issue at all and didn’t understand why the business was “getting special treatment,” which was why she abstained.
“I was told they’ve been really, really good,” McDermott said.
In 2021, a man was shot and critically wounded in front of the club.
That same year, the establishment was raided and the owner was charged with illegal alcohol sales. In 2020, a 22-year-old woman was shot and killed during an exchange of fire between club security guards and a patron who was later convicted of her murder.
Cropper-Hall acknowledged via email that at one point in time, the township was having a lot of concerns surrounding True Diamonds.
“We had multiple police calls from fights, shootings, OD's, public urination, and a lot of parking issues. The board at that time levied a $25,000 fee. There were meetings with the owner to review and discuss expectations (SIC) and benchmarks. The issues we had with True Diamonds have been reduced or corrected,” Cropper-Hall said via email.
Cropper-Hall also could not specify when this payment from True Diamonds began. Gazette 2.0 has a Right to Know request pending with the township to garner more details about the payments. Matta has said he and the township are willing to work with Gazette 2.0 to produce the information. The municipality has 30 days from the Aug. 7 request to gather a response. On Aug. 9, signs identifying True Diamonds were taken down and a banner was placed over the front of the building at the corner of Island Avenue and Tunnel Way renaming the adult entertainment site “Club Imperium.”
The initial filing date with the state for the creation of Club Imperium, LLC – a Domestic Limited Liability Company – occurred Aug. 3. True Diamonds LLC was initially filed for on July 8, 2016. Both are listed as active.