Hotel owner tries to put strip club past behind him

With Go Go behind him, attorney bets on success for new $4M investment



Sebastian Rucci became known in the Mahoning Valley for Go Go Girls Cabaret, his topless dance club that became a lightning rod for bad publicity.

He said the cabaret has been shut for years, closing in September 2011, and he bought the entire complex the same year.

Rucci, the owner of Hotel California, has only one open case in the courts after having multiple charges over recent years related to the shuttered cabaret. He and other principals in the club were charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, money laundering, perjury and two counts each of promoting prostitution.

Those cases were dismissed or won on appeal by Rucci.

He has an extensive track record of appealing rulings while defending himself against charges from the Go Go club.

Rucci not only denied the charges but tenaciously fought them in court.

The remaining case is an appeal of a jury verdict in Mahoning County Area Court in Austintown in which a jury found Rucci “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of illegal sales” of liquor on March 4.

He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and ordered to pay a $500 fine March 31. Rucci also was found guilty of keeping a place where beer or liquor are sold illegally and ordered to pay an additional $320 in fines.

While he was set to begin his sentence April 15, he filed for a new trial, which was denied. He then appealed the court’s ruling.

“If I do have to serve my 30 days; it will be my first vacation in a long time,” he mused.

He also said, “I will not litigate any further.” He added, “I’m at a phase in my life ... when I’m not going to focus on that. I’m not going to focus on the litigation. I think there’s been a lot of money spent needlessly on fighting these battles, which I believe were politically motivated.”

“We don’t prosecute political crimes; we prosecute crimes,” said Ken Cardinal, a Mahoning County assistant prosecutor.

When Cardinal spoke to The Vindicator about Rucci, he displayed an 18-inch stack of case files on the businessman. Those were only a part of the files on Rucci, who has had trials downtown — 7th District Court of Appeals and the county’s common pleas court — as well as the Austintown court.

Cardinal said the appeal could take “six months, it could be 15 months ... it’s the volume of work and the complexity.”

One thing is clear: Cardinal has no faith that Rucci won’t be in court again.

“His track record is so bad with a liquor license and so bad without a liquor license and, in my opinion, he has irretrievably broken any position of trust,” he said.

Rucci is quick to dispel his Go Go past, admitting, “I should not have been in it.”

“I’m the idiot that wanted to do a strip club and have to deal with all” the cases, Rucci said.

In hindsight, Rucci said opening the club was never a good idea, and waging a battle to keep it open only made the situation worse.

“The club was a bad idea, a bad business plan,” he said. “But you know, I’m a battler and I fought [to keep it open]. That was a mistake on my part. I’ve put that all behind me.”

Cardinal said Rucci first drew attention to himself fighting fines through the zoning office and fire department’s building department. He discussed the cases, which were all appealed and later won by Rucci after years in litigation.

Rucci said he has put $4 million into Hotel California, including $1.2 million to purchase the hotel in 2012, and the rest on upgrading it. He said he reached out to people who invested in the venture and has 19 people on his payroll.

He said the hotel awaits approval of a liquor license.

Rucci had applied for a license, but he said he “withdrew mine because I’m too much of a lightning rod here.” Instead, it is under the name of a business partner, his former lawyer James Vitullo.

“I’m not going to fight that fight. If I can spend $4 million in this town and bring some good, and some people want to attack it, I get the message loud and clear. I will move on. Get another Sebastian Rucci to spend $4 million in your town,” he said.

Rucci added, “The trustees have said yes to their portion of the liquor license.”

Township Trustee Jim Davis, however, said: “No we haven’t endorsed it. Absolutely not. ... He is well aware that our board requested a hearing.”

That hearing is yet to be scheduled before the Ohio Division of Liquor Control. Matt Mullins, spokesman for the division, said there was a legislative objection by Austintown trustees and the Mahoning County commissioners on a pending application by Vitullo Investments LLC doing business as Club Cali, the restaurant attached to Hotel California.

Trustee Lisa Oles said, “At no time did the Austintown trustees, as a board, indicate that we favor the former Go Go Cabaret that is now operating as the Hotel California.”

She added, “I don’t believe he’s making it into something new. I believe it is the Go Go Cabaret operating under a new name. ... Palm trees are not going to disguise the activities we anticipate that will take place there.”

Rucci said that if the business gets the liquor license “Great. If not, I get an offer to sell this place about once a week, and I’ll just sell it.”

Rucci provided The Vindicator with copies of his payments to the state, county, and township for the lodging tax and is up to date on those payments from when he briefly ran the hotel under another name, Economy Inn and Suites.

From September 2012 to April 2014, Rucci paid $18,112 to the county for its 5 percent tax; $11,019 to the township for its 3 percent tax; and $24,850 to the state for its 7 percent tax.

He is not currently paying the tax because the hotel has been closed since early January when construction ramped up.

Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she is not allowed to speak about specific properties and their payments of the motel/hotel tax.

She did say the “lodging tax is based on the amount of gross sales when you have people check in your hotel. ... This is a usage tax.”

She said there are now 11 hotels at the interchange of Interstate 80 and state Route 46, including two under construction. Those are Hotel California and Candlewood Suites, being built near the Holiday Inn Express.

Contributor: Guy D’Astolfo, staff writer

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