Tales of strip pool and a 30-foot-long bed swarming with copulating couples filled a Broward County courtroom on Tuesday as the state began its lewdness case against a co-owner of Trapeze II, a Fort Lauderdale club popular with swingers.
Two undercover Broward Sheriff's officers told how in late January and early February 1999, they entered the establishment on West Commercial Boulevard posing as patrons.
Detective Steve Drum, speaking of intimate sexual acts in bland law enforcement terms, said he was offended by what he saw, especially when a male patron came over to him and his female officer "date" and began masturbating two feet away.
Dennis Freeland, 46, who runs Trapeze with co-owner Alan Mostow, is among 18 people arrested there who have elected to fight the charges, and the first to go to trial. The raid, on Feb. 6, 1999, netted 24 people, mostly married couples booked for having sex in public with their married partner.
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Freeland is charged with three misdemeanor counts of "operating a place for the purpose of lewdness, assignation or prostitution."
Judges in the case have ruled that someone at the club other than a police officer must have been offended for a violation of the state's lewdness statute to occur. The state is appealing that ruling, and the trial is proceeding while the appeal awaits a hearing apparently without anyone other than the eight undercover officers saying they found the behavior of the patrons offensive.
The day began with jury selection. Members of the 30-person jury pool were asked to raise their hands if they watched X-rated movies or looked at explicit magazines. Only two people, who said they were spouses of clerics, indicated they did not.
In her opening statement, Assistant State Attorney Catalina Avalos said Trapeze was more of a business and less than the private club its owners contend it is. The application form is a sham, she said, and patrons basically paid $150 for the cover charge and one-time membership fee to have sex in public.
Daniel Aaronson, who is defending Freeland with his law partner, Jamie Benjamin, told the jurors that all the state's assertions that public sex occurred are true. But he said signs at Trapeze telling newcomers to stay out if they would be offended by sexual activity showed that the club's owners posted fair warning.
He and Freeland and Mostow obtained a county license to do business as a club for an adult "alternative lifestyle, " and that county code and zoning inspectors came to Trapeze during a club night and did not cite it for violating any ordinance. "No lewdness took place because no one was offended, " he said, talking about the fact that only the police and none of the 200 patrons in the club when the raid occurred complained about sex going on in the club lounge.
Sgt. Barbara Stewart, the first witness, said she was in charge of the investigation, which she said came about as the result of information gathered when BSO raided the Athena's Forum swingers' club in Pompano Beach three weeks earlier. Charges against the 31 people arrested were dropped.Stewart said she was too embarrassed to go into the lounge area, but stayed instead in the front part of the club where there is a bar, tables and chairs, and a dance floor with a disc jockey. Her male partner, a BSO detective posing as her date, paid the club fee for them as a couple and obtained a membership card.
Drum said he came to Trapeze on two occasions with different female partners.
On the first occasion, he said, after watching women patrons shed their tops on the dance floor, he and his colleague took off their clothes, donned towels, and went into the lounge area. They watched people play pool and take off articles of clothing if they missed a shot, and noted five or six couples cavorting on a 30-foot bed.
On the second occasion - the day before the raid - he watched couples performing oral sex in a room with three hot tubs and had to ask a man to move away when he came over and showed his female partner he was masturbating.
"I was offended by the fact that a gentleman would come up and masturbate within a couple of feet of my head, " he said.