Now-defunct strip club Kahoots files lawsuit against vice officers, city of Columbus


COLUMBUS (WBNS) – The owners of the now-defunct strip club Kahoots have filed a lawsuit against vice officers and the city of Columbus alleging that the vice officers targeted the club and its dancers in retaliation for balking at a vice officer’s request to rehire a former bouncer.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, alleges that two members of the now-disbanded vice unit within the Columbus Division of Police – Steve Rosser and Whitney Lancaster – “targeted Kahoots and selective employees or independent contractors who worked at Kahoots without any legal justification.”

The lawsuit claims that in or around October 2017, after a bouncer named Jeremy Sokol was fired from Kahoots, “Defendant Rosser contacted Kahoots and demanded Mr. Sokol be rehired no later than October 25, 2017 and Kahoots fire Mr. Vaillancourt. Defendant Rosser spoke with one of the owner(s) of Kahoots and threatened that if Mr. Sokol was not rehired by Kahoots within that time frame, Defendant Rosser would ‘file a bunch of tickets’ and implied he would close Kahoots.”

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As a result, attorneys representing the club and dancers allege that they were hit with citations for violating a rarely-cited state law the precludes physical contact between nude dancers and patrons.

Months later in 2018, city attorney Zach Klein’s office would dismissed all the charges because the state law stipulates that the officers while working in their official duties could not be considered “patrons.”

Records from the Klein’s office show that attorneys had expressed concern with vice officers attempting to use these state law in years past - prior to the 2017 enforcement efforts at Kahoots and elsewhere.

According to the lawsuit, on or about November 13, 2017, “Defendant Rosser filed a criminal complaint against Icon Entertainment alleging that on October 27, 2017, it allowed sexually oriented activity. On or about June 4, 2018, the charge filed against Icon Entertainment was dismissed.”

The lawsuit went on to allege that as “a result of city’s policies, practices and customs and the failure to train and supervise Defendant Officers, the constitutional rights of plaintiffs’ were violated and they suffered damages.”

Attorney Bart Keyes told 10 Investigates Friday that club closed as a result of the officers’ actions and that they are interested in recovering funds through the lawsuit.

Keyes and his law partner, Rex Elliott, also represent six women who worked as dancers at Kahoot’s Gentlemen’s Club. They filed a lawsuit in April of 2019 that alleged the vice officers targeted them and the club.

Keyes said Friday that the lawsuit involving the dancers had been settled for around $30,000 for each woman, but that figure still needs to be approved by city council.

The city attorney’s office confirmed the settlement with the former dancers.

As for this most recent lawsuit, a spokesman said: “We have received the complaint and are currently reviewing it. It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

Rosser and Lancaster were also named in other lawsuits filed by attorneys representing Stormy Daniels and two other women arrested in July. The city settled the lawsuit involving Stormy Daniels, Brittany Walters and Miranda Panda.

All told – the city has paid out more than $600,000 to settle the lawsuits filed in response to the actions of vice officers.

Sokol responded to an email from 10 Investigates on Friday, saying he declined to comment.

In a previous interview with 10 Investigates, Sokol said that he did not know the officers prior to them investigating Kahoots.

At the time, Sokol said he was initially a target of vice officers, but after being cleared from a separate investigation, Sokol says he began to work with the officers as a liaison between them and the club.

During that interview, Jeremy Sokol said he was actually supportive of the vice officers efforts.

When asked if he was supportive of the vice unit’s investigations inside strip clubs, Sokol said:

“Oh, very much so. And I've worked both sides of this. I've worked with these two detectives and it was an honor. It was a privilege,” he said.

A 10 Investigates investigation in October of 2018 found that while investigating activities inside Columbus strip clubs, undercover vice officers with the Columbus Division of Police spent more than $2,700 on tips and lap dances and more than $1,600 on alcohol, according to a review of the expense reports dating back to 2017 show.

Both vice detectives were stripped of their official duties and ordered to turn in their badge and gun amid an FBI probe and the controversy following the July 2018 arrest of adult film star Stormy Daniels and two other women.

Chief Thomas Quinlan recommended that Rosser and Lancaster be terminated. The Department of Public Safety interviewed the officers in late 2019. As of Friday, it was not clear what decisions the Department of Public Safety had made. Calls and emails placed to DPS were not returned prior to news time.