CA strip club owner brings business, concerns to Heartland

EAST CAPE GIRARDEAU, IL (KFVS) - A California businessman owns adult businesses and other properties across the Heartland, many he's purchased in the last year or so.

He's bringing in much-needed cash to a nearly a dozen Heartland towns, so why are some communities fighting against him?

There's no question bringing a strip club or adult business to any town may ruffle a few feathers.

Jerry Westlund owns and operates three adult businesses in Carbondale, Paducah and Poplar Bluff.

"There seems to be a demand in your viewing area for good restaurants, bars, video poker and adult entertainment," Westlund said in a written interview.

Westlund also owns The Pony, across the bridge in East Cape Girardeau, along with 12 properties across southern Illinois. All have liquor licenses. Most have video poker licenses.

"I have been in business for 20 years in multiple states," Westlund said.

But some leaders and residents here question his tactics, and one Heartland mayor said Westlund cost his community tens of thousands of dollars.

Right now, he's dealing with concerns involving the four properties he owns in East Cape Girardeau.

At the November 11, 2014 Village Board meeting, Westlund reacted to a bill the new city attorney turned in for apparently checking out his background.

"I am tremendously offended that the so-called police officer, and apparently Trustee Winans and Mr. James, took it upon themselves to burden the taxpayers with an investigation into me as a property owner," he told them.

But three of the six trustees say it's Westlund burdening East Cape. They say he does not want the village regulating The Pony, or making any changes that would negatively impact his three other properties.

"We've been intimidated by Mr. Westlund," Trustee Brian Winans said. "We've been intimidated by the lawyers he has representing him."

"He doesn't come right out and say, 'I'm going to sue you,'" Trustee Marlene Freeman said. "But he says, "I'll turn this over to my attorney,' or 'you can't do that because it's violating my rights.' You feel like you're beating your head against a brick wall."

It's clear this community is torn when it comes to Jerry Westlund's properties.

Mayor Joe Aden said they need all the tax revenue they can get.

Village tax records show last fiscal year, the village's eight businesses brought in a combined $12,649.

Westlund's properties brought in a total of $9,710 in video gaming taxes.

But some residents say they've giving up their safety to bring in that cash.

"When you have four liquor establishments in a half-block area, that all that it is," resident Trudy Peeler said. "You're bringing people in that are drinking and that's how shootings and things like that happen, so I am very concerned about it."

Do you think your village board is listening to the residents or listening to Mr. Westlund, we asked Peeler.

"They are listening to Mr. Westlund," she responded.

Resident Vicki Kissiar gave Westlund a piece of her mind at the Nov. 11 meeting, turning around in her chair and demanding he stop interrupting her as she spoke to the Board.

"He's a big bully," Kissiar said of Westlund. "He tries to threaten people. He tries to intimidate people."

Westlund did not comment when we asked about these accusations, but he did point to Trustee Winans when we asked if anyone opposes his businesses.

"One member (of the village board) that I know has contacted you is Brian Winans," Westlund said. "(He) appears to have a personal opposition to all of my businesses in East Cape."

In fact, Westlund sent us a letter he wrote to to East Cape Mayor Joe Aden back in September, stating that Winans is not allowed in any of his East Cape properties.

"If you want to say names, call me names or whatever, that's fine," Winans responds. "But, I'm standing by the people of East Cape."

The effort to stand by their village brought Brian Winans and Marlene Freeman to Metropolis to meet with Mayor Billy McDaniel.

Jerry Westlund opened a club called the Metro Pony here back in 2011.

"If they want to express themselves in dance, they can just dance until they just go really, really crazy, but they're going to dance with clothes on," McDaniel said.

The city passed an ordinance requiring Westlund's dancers to cover up and stay so many feet away from customers.

"He tried to intimidate. And he lawyered up, which they have lawyers on staff all the time. And he sued us," McDaniel said of Westlund. "It wasn't a cheap fight. From the onset to the final, at least $80-85,000."

The court ruled in favor of the city. The Metro Pony shut down soon after.

We asked Westlund why it closed.

"I closed the business in Metropolis because of the lack of interest and demand for that service in that community," he said. "It was difficult to compete with the gambling and other entertainment offered by the Riverboat."

One of Jerry Westlund's latest business ventures is Carbondale's Pony Cabaret and Steakhouse on Main Street.

According to City Manager Kevin Baity, Westlund bought a total of five buildings in Carbondale including the one now housing his business.

Baity said Westlund also bought the company that held the liquor license in that building. That's how he was able to open this business, seemingly overnight, without any input from the city.

"We've actually had police officers in," Baity said, "looking to see how it is operating."

At issue in Carbondale, Baity said, is whether Westlund is operating a nightclub or an adult use business.

A recent customer told us The Pony Cabaret features a stripper pole and scantily clad dancers.

"If this place is going to be considered adult use, then it is in violation of that zoning," Baity explained. "If it's going to be considered a bar, then they have to get rid of those items inside which would lend it to be adult use."

Baity said his city, too, has reached out to Metropolis, to make sure they've got the right rules in place.

"And if it ends up in legal action in the courts, then we're prepared for that," Baity said.

"The people have spoken," Westlund said. "Restaurants, bars, gaming machines, and adult entertainment are legal in the State of Illinois. People are free to patronize or not to patronize any of those businesses."

Westlund did not comment on the actions taken by Carbondale city leaders, or on the concern he is operating an adult use business there.

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