Key West’s ‘Scrub Club’ reportedly scrubbing debit cards of adult-entertainment clients

Key West has a long-held reputation as an anything-goes party town that tolerates -- and in many cases facilitates -- an array of bawdy pastimes.

A stroll down Duval Street yields strip clubs, clothing-optional bars and establishments catering to alternative lifestyles. But the Adult Entertainment Club, formerly and colloquially known as the Scrub Club, at 1221 Duval is different.

In the 765-day period between Jan. 1, 2011, and this past Feb. 4, Key West police logged 301 calls related to the Adult Entertainment Club -- that's a call every 2.5 days, a staggering number for an 800-square-foot place in a neighborhood otherwise populated by cafes, wine shops, boutiques and art galleries.

The main complaint: Unauthorized use of customers' debit or credit cards, often to the tune of thousands of dollars.

The club's website, signs and brochures offer scantily clad women available for "bachelor parties, fantasy and fetish shows, nude snorkeling, nude parasailing [and] divorce parties." It offers "free shuttle and 24/7 escort service."

But the voluminous police reports, along with a long trail of Internet posts, message-board threads and complaints with the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean, paint a far different picture of what goes on inside. But barring specific complaints, the Key West Police Department has no plan to take a closer look.

The pattern is usually the same:

It's late at night and an intoxicated man steps inside, where he pays an entrance fee, usually more than $100. That begins a conversation with one of the female employees, described on the business website as "classy and sophisticated," leading to a private room.

From there, it's not clear what goes on other than the price goes up, the man supplies his debit card and personal identification number to the woman -- he's generally nude at this point -- and she leaves the room. Later on, the man notices unauthorized charges on his card and contacts police.

Case in point: On Feb. 4 around 2 a.m., a Russian tourist who told police "he had been drinking" went into the club and agreed to pay $100, according to a report prepared by Officer David Fraga.

"While in the club [the tourist] said he gave his ATM card to one of the employees along with his PIN." Four hours later, "He saw there was a total amount of about $2,500 charged on his card."

Fraga told the man to "go to the business and fill out a complaint form for the issue."

A few days earlier, on Jan. 31, a man from St. Johns, Fla., called police to report that on Jan. 26, when he was in town visiting, he went into the Adult Entertainment Club and "agreed to pay $200 with one of the females working on this date for sex," according to a report prepared by Officer Tricia Milliken.

He also said he agreed to tip the female $100 prior to the services being rendered and gave her his Visa debit card and PIN. He "stated he expected sex from the female and she would not give him what he expected, so he got dressed and left the establishment."

When he returned to St. Johns, he said he realized his card was charged $1,000, not $100. Milliken provided him with a case number.

Police spokeswoman Alyson Crean said the department has heard the Adult Entertainment Club is about more than just "entertainment," but that the department focuses its attention on higher-priority initiatives like dealing with aggressive vagrants drinking and panhandling on city streets, and quelling drug dealing.

"We do not get complaints of prostitution," she said via e-mail. "Certainly there are intimations and innuendoes that this activity may be occurring. That being said, without any complaints, there are other, higher priorities set by the community and by the department."

"Look at the issue of vagrancy and panhandling. A task force made up of business owners, residents and even the mayor has told the department that the community will not tolerate certain behaviors, and we have four quality-of-life officers dedicated to seeing that priority is addressed."

"Getting drug dealers off the streets is another issue that the community has made very clear is a top priority for our city. Same thing with reducing incidents of burglary. So in those terms, I would answer that there is no specific enforcement strategy for this business."

The city's Code Compliance Department has been more proactive, fining the business $500 last year after investigating offsite promotional and solicitation activity. Basically, club employees would park their advertisement-emblazoned vehicle in other parts of Old Town and hand out brochures for the business in violation of code.

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