Monday, July 17, 2006

The Man Between

From: Los Angeles Daily News

TARZANA - Jamal Haddad's story seems part Horatio Alger, part Larry Flynt.

The American dream of the Jordanian-born immigrant, who makes his living selling smut, has landed him in the cross hairs of the Los Angeles City Council.

City officials have tried for eight years to shut down the Frisky Kitty, the nude-dancing club he owns on Oxnard Street. Arguments for an injunction against the club will be heard today in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Haddad says the city's claims that he is violating zoning laws are baseless.

"We're not Mafia. It's just business. We're not doing anything illegal. We don't do drugs or prostitution or alcohol," Haddad said.

"We call it clean, fun entertainment."

Haddad and his family live in a two-bedroom apartment, two blocks from the Frisky Kitty, and he drives a Dodge Caravan.

He's currently trying to patent software that would pinpoint someone calling 911, even from remote locations. If that makes him a millionaire, he said, he'll unload the club.

But for now, he's happy selling skin - although about 7 percent of the club's revenue goes to legal problems that Haddad and a few Orange County investors inherited when they bought Dino's Victory Roadhouse in 2000 and renamed it.

The Frisky Kitty's hang-up is basic real estate: location, location, location.

Stripper clubs, which are prohibited from selling alcohol, cannot operate within 500 feet of many things, including residences. Within or beyond that distance - depending on how it's measured - are the Tarzana Courtyard Apartments, where a few dozen seniors live.

It might seem odd that in the San Fernando Valley - known to some as Porn Valley since it is home to most of the nation's pornography industry - a politician would care so much about a nude club.

But City Councilman Dennis Zine does, and the Frisky Kitty is in his district.

"If we can't prevail with existing zoning laws, all communities are in jeopardy," said Zine, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant. "The laws are put on the books for a reason. Period.

"It's not moral or immoral. It's simply about the location."

On a recent day, Haddad drove past the Tarzana Courtyard Apartments and approached his club, where he is called "Big Papa," "Daddy" and "The Godfather." With short salt-and-pepper hair and crowded yellow teeth, he wore big Ray-Bans and a conservative gray suit.

The second son of a textile salesman, Haddad was born in 1960 in Al-Mafraq, Jordan. He moved to the United States after high school and enrolled in an English-language course in Orange County. He later went to trade school.

In the early 1990s, a friend who owned an Anaheim nude club called.

"I had a lot of free time, and my friend offered me a job, so I took it," Haddad said.

A few years later, he was visiting Jordan with his mother when he met Heyam Ayyoub. He promptly proposed. They wed in Las Vegas, and she joined him in Orange County.

Heyam Haddad, 33, never cared for her husband's work at the Anaheim strip club, so she wasn't pleased when he discussed taking ownership of Dino's Victory Roadhouse.

"I don't like his job," she said. "I'm a woman. I get jealous. You know?"

Heyam Haddad said she trusts her husband. But she takes their son and daughter to a Baptist church every Sunday, and she knows how Christians feel about places like the Frisky Kitty.

"She wants me to get out of the business," Jamal Haddad admitted recently, sitting against the club's stage. "So does my mom - and all my friends. Everybody is asking me to get out. It's a moral issue."

But Haddad sees it differently. "I care for the ladies, and I think it is one way to help them out," he said.

"He's the best," said Samantha "Kitty" Hasty, who has danced at the club for four years, longer than anyone else, and makes about $1,300 per week. "He'll help us out when we need it. He trusts us."

Mo, a club disc jockey who refused to give his last name because his Muslim family disapproves of his work, agreed. "You can ask him for a thousand bucks, and he says OK."

The club faced few problems when it operated as a bikini bar in the 1990s or even when it went topless in 1998. Later, however, the dancers went completely naked, requiring the club to give up its liquor license. Then city officials said the club is within 500 feet of the courtyard apartments, and the dancers were ordered to cover up - at least with pasties and G-strings. The club owner refused.

After city officials denied the request for an exemption, the club fired the first volley of the legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

The Frisky Kitty purred quietly the past few years without a permit until the council ordered City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to shut it down last winter.

"We can't selectively enforce. That leads to a slippery slope," said Frank Mateljan, a Delgadillo spokesman. "The defendants are not only ignoring the zoning laws; they are actually flaunting them, so to speak."

Judge Dzintra Janavs, who last denied a motion for a temporary restraining order against the club, will hear arguments on the injunction request.

Some neighbors, at least, don't seem concerned.

"Frisky Kitty don't bother me. It don't bother none of us," said Viola Houston, 73, who has lived at Tarzana Courtyard Apartments for seven years. "We don't hear nothing. Whatever they do, they do inside."

But the Tarzana Neighborhood Council hopes Janavs rules against the club.

"Those in the area believe prostitution is going on," said Leonard Shaffer, neighborhood council president.

That may have been the case in the past, said neighborhood prosecutor Mike Pizzuti, but complaints of illegal activity have decreased since Haddad met with police two years ago and hired private security.

Haddad's attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, has stated he can keep the city wrapped in litigation - like the $100 million defamation suit Haddad filed against Zine and the city in 2002 that was later dropped - for years to come.

Diamond's latest contention is unrelated to the First Amendment but to how the city measures the distance between a strip club and the nearest residence. It is clear with schools and churches, but there is some ambiguity regarding housing.

"If this were chess," said Haddad, a chess champion in his youth, "it's a stalemate, not a checkmate."