The law director says the city's witnesses didn't show up for Thursday's hearing.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Da-Bing is back in business.
Bruce W. Paulette, owner of Da-Bing, said the restaurant will reopen Thursday at its location in the Uptown area of Market Street. Da-Bing has been closed since June 29, when vice cops working an undercover sting at the restaurant arrested Paulette, 49, of Austintown, restaurant manager Michael N. Santangelo, 29, of Boardman, and five exotic dancers, whose cases are pending.
Paulette and Santangelo each pleaded no contest to improper conduct within a burlesque theater, a first-degree misdemeanor, at a hearing Thursday afternoon in municipal court. They had been charged with operating a burlesque theater within 500 feet of a church, promoting prostitution and permitting public indecency.
The New Beginning Church is next door to Da-Bing, 2619 Market.
Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly sentenced Paulette and Santangelo to 180 days in jail, all suspended, and one year's probation, and fined them $500 each plus $60 court costs.
Kobly also prohibited Paulette and Santangelo from operating a "Champagne Room" or VIP room in the Da-Bing. She added that lap dancing or "touching" would not be permitted at the restaurant.
"God knows we could use legitimate businesses in Youngstown, but not ones that engage in illegal activities," Kobly said, before handing down the sentences.
If Paulette and Santangelo are convicted of participating in illegal activities at Da-Bing during the next year, they will have to serve the 180-day jail sentence, Kolby said.
No witnesses: Youngstown City Law Director Robert Bush said he agreed to the pleas because he didn't have any witnesses to testify at Thursday's hearing, which was slated to be a preliminary hearing for a trial. Bush said that the city prosecutor who was slated to try the case did not talk with the witnesses before the hearing because her child was sick and she was not at work.
He added that Kolby had already granted the city one continuance in the case.
However, Bush said he wasn't disappointed with the outcome of Thursday's hearing.
"We'd rather have him open legally than not at all," he said.
Damian Billak, the attorney for Paulette, said he felt the charge of improper conduct within a burlesque theater fit Paulette's crime.
Private dance: Police reports show that during the June 29 sting, undercover officer sat at tables near an elevated stage and watched as the dancers stripped down to G-strings and bras. A dancer approached one of the officers and, according to reports, offered a private lap dance upstairs in the VIP room.
The woman simulated sex while straddling the officer's lap and pulled her G-string down, according to reports. When finished, she asked for $20 and stuck it in her garter, the officer said.
The dancers arrested at the restaurant include Heather Wilcox, 25, of Maple Avenue; Kellie Csernik, 28, of Clifton Drive, Boardman; and Nicole Hedland, 20, of Rhoda Avenue, Youngstown. All three were charged with prostitution and improper conduct in a burlesque theater.
Also arrested were Hope Rager, 28, and Faith Rager, 23, both of Loveland Road, Youngstown. They were charged with improper conduct in a burlesque theater. Faith Rager also was charged with drug-abuse marijuana.
Bad publicity: Billak also told the judge that Paulette had already been punished enough by the bad publicity that came with the arrests. He added that Paulette has "quite a job ahead of him" to restore the reputation of the restaurant.
"I'm sure he's going to be a lot more careful with the situation within the bar," Billak said.
Bush said he believed the 180-day suspended jail sentence would serve to deter Paulette and Santangelo from participating in illegal activities.
"That's a pretty stiff hammer over your head," he said.