NEWORLEANS- A local hotspot known for its clothing-optional swimming pool has been charged with violating its city alcohol permits following a WWL-TV story about an alleged rape there.
The city attorney's office has charged the Country Club, a bar and restaurant in a stately historic cottage in the Bywater neighborhood, with maintaining or creating a public nuisance and permitting 'obscene, lewd, sexually indecent, immoral or improper conduct.' The complaint will be heard by the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
A month after Beyonce and Jay-Z took a late-night swim there, the club is under siege. The formal complaint filed by Deputy City Attorney Dan MacNamara suggests that multiple sex crimes and disturbances of the peace have taken place there over the last year.
'It has allowed activities on or about the premises that place the lives and safety of many of its patrons at risk, as well as negatively impact the quality of life of the neighbors living within the vicinity of the establishment,' the complaint states.
But the only specific incident named in the complaint is the rape allegation detailed by WWL-TV two weeks ago and currently under investigation by New Orleans police. Although the TV station generally does not name sexual assault victims, Mid-City resident Maria Treme came forward and asked that WWL tell her story to alert the community to the dangers of 'roofies,' a slang term for spiking alcoholic beverages with drugs without the drinker's knowledge.
Treme alleges that she was roofied and raped at the Country Club on July 1. She was sunbathing nude for several hours during the day and drinking some alcohol, but not enough to impair her, she said. But then she blacked out and when she woke up the next morning, she discovered her keys were taken from her purse while in the club, her was car stolen and, according to video footage and eyewitnesses, she had had sex with at least three men.
She was concerned that the Country Club didn't do enough to protect her, even though it has a no-sex policy.
'It's not a safe place for women... or men,' she said.
But Treme also said that Country Club managers were extremely helpful when she first came to, helping her look for her car, letting her review surveillance video and calling the police for her. The club also put together hours of video footage on a disk for NOPD detectives to use in their investigation.
About two weeks after the incident with Treme, club security guard Dino Wells took a video of two club patrons engaged in a sex act on the street. He posted it to Instagram and when club managers found out, they fired Wells.
In addition to issues with sex and alcohol, the club has been hit with a string of thefts. Seven thefts have been reported to police since June 5, including Treme's stolen car and another woman whose motorcycle was stolen.
But the others had their wallets, iPads, phones or clothes stolen while they were using the swimming pool. Wells says these types of thefts are a problem at the Country Club, but he says it's not right to blame the Country Club for that.
'If you have high-dollar things -- jewelry, phones -- and you're leaving stuff under your lawn chair and stuff's coming up missing, you have a serial thief that comes through there stealing stuff,' Wells said. 'Why would you leave your high-dollar (items out)? You got a $2 locker. Put your stuff in a locker.'
In only one reported theft case did the complainant use a locker, and he reported his $1,400 watch was stolen after he finished using the locker and left it in there by mistake.
Country Club attorney and vice president Sarah Ney says a sign-in sheet clearly lays out club policies forbidding sex and guns, and signs warn people that the club is not responsible for protecting their belongings.
Ney added that the club hasn't received a noise complaint in over a year. She says they respond to every guest complaint and openly share surveillance footage to try to resolve problems. Several police reports note that, too.
'We respond to any exigent circumstance or guest complaint with our full attention and with the full intent to resolve it,' Ney said. 'And I think we have been successful.'
John Guarnieri, chairman of the Bywater Neighborhood Association, says that rather than diminish the quality of life in the neighborhood, the Country Club has a sterling record of neighborliness. He also said the clothing-optional pool fits in with the laissez-faire neighborhood feel.
'They were one of the first establishments open in the neighborhood and have always been very cooperative,' he said. 'We hold a lot of neighborhood events at the Country Club and we've never heard any complaints.'
The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has set a hearing on the Country Club matter for Sept. 16. City spokeswoman Garnesha Crawford declined to comment on the pending investigation. Ney, meanwhile, says the club looks forward to its chance to clear its name.
'We believe we are fully in compliance and will cooperate with clarifying that with the ABO,' she said.