Mega pimp RCI Hospitality Holdings faces venue shutdowns for prostitution crimes

Strip club owner linked to years of criminal activity, politicians

RCI Hospitality Holdings (RCIHH or Rick's) is a publicly listed strip club company (NASDAQ trade code: RICK) which trades explicitly on women’s bodies for men’s sexual entertainment. According to its website it owns 58 strip clubs (and 13 'Bombshells' restaurants) across 13 American states.

We were surprised to discover a Lutheran investment firm - Thrivent - was a long time shareholder in Rick's. We led a successful campaign calling on them to divest on account that strip club shares violated their responsible investment claims and commitments.

We are not surprised to learn that Rick's is connected to a long string of sexploitation and other criminal activity, though. (We have been documenting the harms of the "sexual entertainment" industry which objectifies and exploits the bodies of women for profit since our inception.) The list includes prostitution, illegal alcohol sales, drug trafficking, gun violence and allegations of physical and sexual assault of female workers by male customers. 

We have questions.

  • Why are elected officials and election candidates taking cash from a criminal sexploitation enterprise to fund their political campaigns? Who else has accepted campaign donations from RCIHH?
  • Why is RCIHH (RICK) permitted to trade on NASDAQ despite its long history of illegal and unethical business activity?
  • Why are finance firms with stated commitments to responsible investment and ESG invested in RICK? Why have they ignored our calls to divest? (See here and here for examples.)
  • Why are RICK shareholders being named "leaders" in responsible investment by industry organisations like the Responsible Investment Association?

We've compiled media reports and court documents detailing some of the most serious allegations and evidence in one handy spot below. We will continue to add to this list as new evidence comes to light.

March 2024: Rick's faces its second club closure in recent months. Texas based venue, Jaguars, was permanently closed by the El Paso Attorney's Office after allegations of prostitution, featuring nude women and employees selling alcohol and cocaine. Read more here.

November 2023: Denver based RCIHH venue - PT's Showclub - was slapped with a temporary closure order after admitting prostitution.

June 21, 2023: Tarrant County (Texas) board cancelled business permit for RCIHH owned Temptations Cabaret. Media reported that the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office made 57 arrests at the sexploitation venue between 2020 and 2022, and nearby homeowners had begged county leaders to shutter the club. Read more here.

March 21, 2023: Former dancers sue RCI Hospitality Holdings club over alleged assaults

The plaintiffs in the case are Stephanie Corral, Nicole Potenzo, Lisa Waddell and Stephanie Hansen, who all worked as dancers at the club until last year. They are seeking class status for their suit.

The lawsuit details numerous occasions when dancers at Rick’s reported assaults by customers to management, who then allegedly did nothing.

One dancer said a customer allegedly choked her “to the point she could barely breathe and almost lost consciousness” while she was performing in the VIP area of the club. The dancer said that though she reported the assault to a manager, “nothing was done, and the customer was not kicked out.”

Another dancer said she was fired after confronting a customer for pulling out his genitals at the club. The dancer told the customer, “Put it away, we don’t do that here,” according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges the dancer was terminated after the incident and that the customer was allowed to remain in the club.

In another instance, a customer allegedly bit a dancer after she told him to stop trying to penetrate her with his fingers. A manager “shrugged the incident off,” even though the dancer’s neck and shoulder “were red and already starting to bruise,” the lawsuit alleges.

Read more here.

October 12, 2022: A 24 year old man was charged with murder of a 32 year old male security guard at RCIHH's Club Onyx Houston. Read more here.

June 27, 2022: A female patron was shot dead by security guard at RCIHH Dallas strip club XTC Cabaret. 

Media reported that the club has frequently played host to violent and fatal incidents. Read more here.

March 21, 2023: RCIHH licensed Club Onyx Indianapolis faces loss of alcohol permit, Ricks denies connection and scrubs website of listing.

Read more here.

*Collective Shout has confirmed that RCIHH listed Club Onyx Indianapolis on its website as a “licensed location of the Onyx Brand”. Source: Way Back Machine, captured Jan 30, 2023

Notably, CEO Eric Langan did not correct this May 9, 2022 Forbes piece which he was interviewed for:

Among its gentleman’s clubs are Rick’s Cabaret and Vivid Cabaret in New York City; Club Onyx, which has outposts in Houston, Charlotte, St. Louis, and Indianapolis; and Tootsie’s Cabaret in Miami. (emphasis added)

Connection to Charles “Jerry” Westlund

Another named Club Onyx Indianapolis club owner, Charles “Jerry” Westlund, has a longtime connection to RCIHH CEO Eric Langan. For evidence see:

Far left: RCIHH CEO Eric Langan, Back right: Pony Club owner and Langan's long time business affiliate Jerry Westlund (click image for source - content warning)

We came across disturbing allegations regarding Westlund’s treatment of female employees and operations at clubs owned by RCIHH on Reddit:

View the entire thread here.

Westlund reportedly owns dozens of strip clubs including the Pony Club chain. He was indicted during the 1990s for embezzlement. Read more here

RCIHH named defendant in sex trafficking lawsuit

According to San Antonio TX court documents filed November 20, 2023 (Julia Hubbard, and Kayla Goedinghaus vs Defendants), RCI Hospitality is named as a defendant against Plaintiff complaints (outlined below):

According to the amended complaint, all Defendants engaged in:

(1) sex trafficking in violation the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (18 U.S.C. § 1519(a)) by forcing Plaintiffs to engage in commercial sex acts;
(2) labor trafficking in violation of human trafficking law (18 U.S.C. § 1589) by obtaining Plaintiffs’ labor services by causing harm to Plaintiffs and making serious threats of harm to Plaintiffs and their children;
(3) racketeering activities under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) (18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)) including the TVPA, the Controlled Substances Act (18 U.S.C. § 801, et seq.), wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343), and witness tampering (18 U.S.C. § 1512); and
(4) a RICO conspiracy “to traffic women for purposes of sexual acts and forced labor, to the financial benefit of Defendant Hubbard, Defendant Eller, and the Medical Doctor Defendants and for the sexual gratification and benefits of all other Defendants.
(emphasis added)

RCIHH political lobbying activities

Media reported that in 2022, RCIHH "contributed $1,000 each..to Indiana Senate leader Rod Bray and his No. 2 at the time, Sen. Mark Messmer." (According to the linked government web pages, Bray is a director at First United Methodist Church of Martinsville and a married father of two children; Messmer is a "Member and Music Minister, Holy Family Catholic Church" and a married father of four children.)

Read more here.

OpenSecrets.org reported that Ryan Guillen - Texas (formerly Democrat) House of Representatives Member - received $1500 from RCI Hospitality Holdings in the 2016 election year.

OpenSecrets.org reported that in the 2022 election year, RCI Hospitality Holdings contributed $11,000 to Charlie Geren - Texas Republican House of Representatives Member. According to the Texas House of Representatives website, "Geren is an active community leader and has served on the boards of the Ronald McDonald House, Fort Worth Zoo, Lena Pope Home, and Junior Achievement. He is a trustee of Texas Christian University." Geren is running for re-election to the Texas House of Representatives to represent District 99. 

Source: charliegeren.com

Others reported to have received donations from RCIHH (or its subsidiaries) include:

Langan contributed in a personal capacity (listing Rick's Cabaret International as his 'employer') to federal election campaigns of Shirley Gibson (2010, $2400) and Presidential candidate Barack Obama (2008, $500). Gibson was Mayor of Miami Gardens (FL) from 2003 to 2012. In 2007, Langan's RCIHH acquired Tootsies 'fully nude' licensed strip club in Miami Gardens. RCIHH later purchased the building complex in which Tootsies is situated.

US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents state that under CEO Eric Langan's direction, RCIHH gave $771,000 in "charitable and political donations" from December 2014 to January 2018. 

Source: SEC.gov

Other reports of shonky business activities and allegations of crimes and violence against women at RCIHH venues are listed below:

April 8, 2023: Court documents filed with District Court, S.D. New York Mbaye v. RCI Hospitality Holdings, Inc. (1:23-cv-02967)
Labour: Fair Standards Lawsuit

December 2022: Strip Club Brawl Tragically Injures 22-year-old Dancer: $1.3 Million Jury Award [In August 2014,] "Dancer D’Anna Brown suffered severe, permanent, and catastrophic injuries to her face after Philadelphia’s Club Onyx over-served alcohol to their patrons past 2AM, resulting in a massive brawl which included bottles thrown, brass poles wielded, and punches delivered. Despite previous incidents and criminal activity at this location and in its vicinity, Club Onyx failed to properly train their security personnel, bartenders, or dancers on how to prevent or handle dangerous conditions like that of August 10, 2014."

September 22, 2020: RCI Hospitality Announces Settlement Of SEC Investigation On Disclosure Failures "The SEC's order found that, from fiscal year 2014 through 2019, RCI failed to disclose a total of $615,000 in executive compensation in the form of perquisites. In addition, the order found that RCI failed to disclose related party transactions involving Langan's father and brother and a director's brother."

April 30, 2020: Attempts by RCIHH CEO Eric Langan to evade COVID restrictions - claiming to operate strip club as “restaurant with entertainment”. Read more here.

June 6, 2018: SE Houston bar targeted by district attorney's office for overserving "Bombshells Restaurant and Bar is the latest establishment targeted by the district attorney's vehicular crimes unit to combat drunk drivers and the establishments that overserve them. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg calls Bombshells a "crime factory." 

“We are talking about a person being shot to death in the parking lot. We’re talking about a number of other shootings that have occurred here. Aggravated robbery… aggravated assaults… sexual assaults.”

April 2, 2015: Rick's Cabaret female perfomers receive $15 million settlement for unpaid wages

Strip club owners named "responsible and ethical investment leaders"

Responsible Investment Association Australasia (the Australasian division of RIA) named Dimensional Fund Advisors on its 2023 RESPONSIBLE INVESTMENT LEADERS list. Meanwhile, Dimensional is one of RICK's largest institutional shareholders, with a reported 323,263 shares/$18,749,254 value as per May 10, 2024. The cover page for the form disclosing the shareholding is signed by Chief Compliance Officer Selwyn Notelovitz on behalf of Managers including DFA (Dimensional Fund Advisors) Australia.

BlackRock - another named RIAA "responsible investment leader" - is RCIHH's second largest institutional shareholder. It owns nearly seven per cent of the strip club company. 

Major RICK strip club owners Dimensional + BlackRock named "responsible investment leaders" under RIAA certification program

(Click here for RIAA's membership pricing guide. We'd like to know how much RICK shareholders contribute to RIAA each year to be named "responsible investment leaders." We will be directing our questions to RIAA Chair and former Christian Super CEO Ross Piper.)

We want answers. 

Learn more about the realities of abusive treatment of women employed in strip clubs:

'Dancing Pornography' by Stella in Big Porn Inc.

'Not Just Harmless Fun: The Strip Club Industry in Victoria', a report by Coalition Against Trafficking of Women Australia

See also

Tavern submits application to exploit women

Strip Club ignores concerns re public porn advertising and kids


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  • Collective Shout
    published this page in Campaigns 2024-05-15 09:12:33 +1000

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