WEIRTON - A West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration agent testified Thursday she observed dancers having sex with patrons inside Rumorz Showbar last month, but bar owner Anthony Cammel vehemently denied ever condoning such activity in more than 20 years of operating various nightclubs.
Carole Bloom, an independent hearing examiner for ABCA, heard about six hours of testimony at the Weirton City Building from ABCA agents, police and club employees which she will use to make a recommendation to the state on whether Rumorz's license to sell alcohol should be revoked permanently.
The state temporarily suspended the club's alcohol and limited video lottery licenses after Weirton Police arrested and cited six individuals - including Cammel - on prostitution-related charges following a July 9 sting at Rumorz.
UNDER INVESTIGATION — Rumorz Showbar on Main Street in Weirton is under investigation for allegedly allowing prostitution there. The establishment has been closed since July 13.
-- Ian Hicks
The first two witnesses for Assistant Attorney General Harden Scragg, representing the ABCA, were agents Dave Sapp and Jason Nestor, who were working undercover the night of the sting. Sapp said soon after they entered Rumorz, a female approached them asking if they "wanted to have a good time." While he excused himself to the bar to order a drink, Sapp said Nestor went to club's lower floor, where private rooms are located, with a dancer who identified herself as "Miracle."
Nestor testified that for $110, "Miracle" - who gave police a false name and later was identified as Mishay Holman - offered to spend 15 minutes in a private room with him, and said they "would both be naked" and referred to a specific sex act. Nestor said he then told Holman he needed to get more money, and immediately sent a text message to his supervisor, Teri Sneberger, who was driving around the block with three other agents.
He said Sneberger warned him to identify himself as an ABCA agent before any inappropriate contact occurred, and sent him back inside with additional cash. Nestor said he could not find Holman when he re-entered the club.
During her testimony, Sneberger said she became "concerned" after unsuccessfully trying to contact Nestor for 15-20 minutes. She and the other agents then enlisted the help of Weirton police officers and entered the club, identifying themselves as members of the ABCA.
Sneberger said a bouncer near Rumorz's entrance allowed them inside, but when she went downstairs with one of the other agents, John Short, a bouncer on that floor tried to stop her as she approached the private rooms. She testified she could hear loud music and "moaning and groaning" coming from the area of the private rooms.
She said she entered two separate, curtained-off rooms and inside both rooms observed a nude female on top of a nude male, engaging in sexual intercourse. Sneberger said both males, Shane Busic and James Mason, admitted they were having sex, but both females, Amber Baker and Megan Bishop, initially denied the allegations.
Sneberger testified she later witnessed police interviewing Holman, arrested after officers found her in an upstairs dressing room preparing to leave the club, and said Holman told officers Cammel was aware prostitution was taking place at the club. Sneberger said she had no other evidence Cammel encouraged or condoned such activity.
Cammel's attorney, Dean Makricostas, later asked Weirton police Sgt. Steven Falbo, who was one of the officers at Rumorz that night, if he felt Holman was a credible source.
"She blatantly lied to me," Falbo said, referring to her use of a false name upon her arrest. "I would have a hard time lending credibility to anything she said."
Other ABCA agents who testified, including Short and Tim Mattern, said they had no direct evidence Cammel was aware of the activity. Both Short and Mattern said they were behind Sneberger and did not hear "moaning and groaning," nor did they observe sexual activity, though Short testified he "heard Terri (Sneberger) holler, "Get off him," loud as he approached the private rooms.
Called by Makricostas to testify on Cammel's behalf, Bishop, who said she is engaged and going to college to become a teacher, denied ever engaging in prostitution. She was tearful as she said she has "way too much to lose in life" to participate in such activity.
"I had my underwear on and the guy was clothed," she said. "This (arrest) has ruined my life, and I'm innocent."
Bishop further testified she was intimidated by Sneberger and that she was not read her Miranda rights at the club or later at the police station. Makricostas then pointed out the state had introduced into evidence forms indicating an understanding of those rights signed by each arrestee except Bishop.
During his testimony, Cammel said several times he never has condoned prostitution or any illegal activity in his establishments in 21 years, and that anyone he believes is offering sex for money is dismissed immediately and barred from the club.
"I'm a good enough businessman I don't need to do that to make my money," he said.
Cammel said though dancers are not technically employees, but "independent contractors" who essentially set their own schedule, Rumorz has an extensive set of rules that are adhered to strictly, including those governing physical contact between dancers and patrons, he said.
Cammel said he has owned bars for 21 years and has been cited only once by the ABCA for serving alcohol underage. He said following that citation, he stopped letting people ages 18-20 into Rumorz, even though law allows them in bars as long as they're not drinking.
Cammel added while he understands a lot of people don't like the nature of his business, he believes it's important to be a part of the community, and he has donated to many charitable causes and assisted in numerous police investigations over the years.
Other witnesses for Rumorz included Bill Trout - the downstairs bouncer Sneberger said tried to stop her from entering the private rooms; Kimberlee Wiseman, the floor manager at Rumorz who supervised the dancers; and Peter Altomare, a former ABCA agent who said from the time Cammel took over Rumorz in 2007 to his retirement in 2009, he never observed illegal activity at the club and that Cammel often consulted with him to ensure he was complying with regulations.
Trout denied he attempted to hinder Sneberger, who said he approached her as she attempted to open the door to a restroom that was out of order.
He said he thought she might have been a patron who was ill, but he backed off after she identified herself as and ABCA agent.
Bloom said she will issue her recommendation to the ABCA by Oct. 31. She noted the club's fate ultimately is up to acting ABCA Commissioner Ron Moats.