Strip club owner wants to open medical marijuana dispensary

SHARE Strip club owner wants to open medical marijuana dispensary

He paid the city $2.5 million in back taxes to keep his strip club — billed as “Chicago’s only full liquor and topless bar” — open.

His trucking company lost a sexual harassment lawsuit in which female employees claimed they had to take sales customers to their boss’ strip club.

Now, notorious businessman Perry Mandera wants to get open another enterprise — a medical marijuana dispensary.

Mandera, the owner of VIP’s A Gentleman’s Club, 1531 N. Kingsbury, wants to open a dispensary catering to military veterans in a vacant building at 1105 W. Fulton, according to Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph-Fulton Market Association.

On Friday, Romanelli was asked whether Mandera’s background as the owner of Chicago’s most notorious strip club would stir opposition in the community.

“Our community is going to take a very close look at the applicants and ask a lot of important questions. The background of the owners is going to be important. That’s what we’ve always done when people ask for zoning changes or special liquor licenses,” he said.

“We have businesses and residents that are very concerned about this issue. They want to know more about the owners and their proposals. That’s why we decided to hold the community meeting.”

Mandera did not respond to messages left at VIP’s and at Custom Companies, the trucking firm in Northlake.

His attorney, Brendan Shiller, the son of former independent Ald. Helen Shiller (46th), said by phone, “I don’t think people are being fair,” but he declined to specify.

On behalf of Mandera, Shiller sent an emailed statement that said, “I am a military veteran that has seen family and friends suffer from ALS, cancer and other ailments where the pain could have been alleviated by medical marijuana. I have proposed a dispensary that will specifically cater to veterans and other properly licensed patients that are in need of care. I look forward to working with the community to making sure that our medical facility becomes a good neighbor and important part of the community fabric. I also look forward to hearing all concerns and suggestions from the community.”

The state, which is now considering who will be granted the 60 dispensary licenses throughout the state, of which 13 will be in Chicago, isn’t just basing it’s decision on the business proposal, a spokeswoman said.

State officials also will consider whether each applicant is “of good character, honesty and integrity” and “whose background, including criminal record, reputation, habits and social or business associations, does not discredit or tend to discredit public confidence and trust in the Illinois medical cannabis industry,” state records show.

Mandera, ex-husband of State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), is one of two applicants for medical marijuana dispensary licenses in the West Loop The other is Ben Kovler and his group Green Thumb Industries, which wants to put The Clinic West Loop at Lake and Morgan.

The Randolph-Fulton Market Association will hold a public meeting on both proposals at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday at Coyne College, 330 N. Green.

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration allowed the Mandera-owned strip club to stay open in exchange for $2.5 million in disputed back taxes and legal fees.

The mayor softened the blow of a settlement that resolved a 19-year legal battle by using the money to establish a new shelter for victims of domestic violence.

The city had tried since 1993 to shut the club down on grounds its dancers exposed too much of the female anatomy. VIP’s had countered by challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance that makes it illegal to sell liquor and offer semi-nude dancing at the same establishment.

Attorneys representing Mandera had long insisted that VIP dancers do not show too much skin. They also challenged the constitutionality of a city ordinance that makes it illegal to sell liquor and offer semi-nude dancing at the same establishment.

On top of that battle, Mandera’s trucking firm in 2002 faced legal scrutiny after two female employees filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that led to a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit contends that female sales representatives were subjected on a daily basis to sexual harassment — including lewd and graphic language, sexual propositions and pornographic materials.

It also alleges that the women had to take their sales clients to Mandera’s former strip club, Crazy Horse.

In court documents, the women claim they were threatened by their boss after filing the complaint.

Mandera is alleged to have said, “Things are going to get ugly, that I am going to rake you through the coals, that you will never work in this industry again,  that lives are going to be ruined, that families are going to be ruined, and that wives are going to be dragged into this. And I have deeper pockets than you, and I will outlast you, and I don’t lose at anything.”

Another employee threatened one of the women that she would be “whacked,” court records show.

In a deposition, Mandera is alleged to have said rape is the only thing that would qualify as sexual harassment, court records show.

In 2006, a jury ruled in favor of the women and awarded them $2.3 million, court records show.

But in 2008, the two women settled with Mandera’s firm and received $200,000 each, court records show.

In both the strip club and medical marijuana issues, Mandera is represented by attorney Shiller.

His mother, the former alderman, has been angling to become the new, $107,000-a-year City Council Financial Analyst.

In late July, a deadlocked selection committee put off a decision on who will run the $485,000-a-year independent budget office created last year to provide the Council with expert advice on mayoral spending, programs and privatization.

Brendan Shiller founded a lobbying company known as Lakeview Strategy Group with his mother. Helen Shiller has told the Chicago Sun-Times she no longer acts as a lobbyist on city issues.

The club now called VIP’s originally opened as a nightclub in August 1991, owned by James Levin, then the president of Tru-Link Fence. It did not offer nude dancing and wasn’t turning a profit either, court records show.

Levin — who would subsequently plead guilty to minority contracting fraud involving fence contracts at the Chicago Public Schools — took $800,000 in loans from Mandera, changed the club’s name to Thee Dollhouse and reopened, with semi-nude dancing, on Feb. 10, 1993.

About two weeks later, undercover Chicago police officers went to the club and found that “dancers at times wore thongs that exposed their buttocks and wore latex . . . that exposed portions of their breasts” — violations the city has been fighting ever since to close the club over.

As the city’s liquor commissioner, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley revoked the liquor licenses of Pooh Bah Enterprises, the club’s operator, and tried to close the club.

Pooh Bah then initiated its long legal challenge.

In August 1993, Mandera became Pooh Bah’s sole owner, court records show, after Levin couldn’t repay the loans.

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