The city of Portland’s investigation of a high-ranking officer at Portland Fire & Rescue who allegedly protected a downtown sex club from being cited for code violations may now expand into a criminal case.
Last week, WW reported that Assistant Fire Marshal Doug Jones had signaled the manager of Ron Jeremy’s Club Sesso, a swinger’s club located at 824 SW 1st Ave., that the fire bureau would ignore the club’s fire code violations (see “Hot Tip,” WW, Aug. 20, 2014).
Then, when a city fire inspector showed up unannounced at Club Sesso’s June 28 anniversary party, Jones drove from his home in Sandy to block the inspector from citing the club.
Jones is now under a city investigation for his actions. But new evidence suggests the alleged favors may have been more extensive than first reported.
WW has interviewed a local man who frequented Club Sesso earlier this year and who now says the club’s manager, Paul Louis Smith, 48, boasted to him that he avoided citations for fire code violations by bribing someone in the city Fire Marshal’s Office.
That man, Sergio Meadows, spent time at the club between March and May of this year while appearing in an MTV reality show being taped there.
“Paul said he was bribing somebody in the Fire Marshal’s Office with favors,” says Meadows, an information technology worker. “He would make comments, such as, ‘There’s a reason they’ve never shut us down.’”
Informed of Meadows’ allegation, Fire Chief Erin Janssens said she cannot comment on any matter relating to Club Sesso until the city finishes its investigation. Jones did not respond to a request for comment.
Meadows’ allegations could change the complexion of the city’s investigation from a personnel matter into an investigation of official misconduct, a class A misdemeanor. Oregon law says, “A public servant commits the crime of official misconduct in the first degree if with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another, the public servant knowingly fails to perform a duty imposed upon the public servant by law.”
Since its founding in 2009, Club Sesso has regularly hosted hundreds of members who drink, dance, have sex and watch others doing the same. For promotional purposes, Club Sesso uses the name and face of legendary porn star Ron Jeremy. Paul Smith, however, is the club’s actual majority owner, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which found Smith holds a 65 percent stake in the club. Jeremy does not appear to have any ownership.
The Fire Marshal’s Office is responsible for ensuring that businesses, such as the three-story, 1880-built Club Sesso, hosting large gatherings have adequate sprinkler systems, emergency exits and lighting, and do not exceed their assigned capacity.
Meadows says he’d never been to Club Sesso until March, after he and his girlfriend were selected to appear in an episode of the MTV series True Life called “I Want a Threesome.”
The episode, which aired May 14 and can be seen at mtv.com, chronicled the efforts of Meadows and his girlfriend, Jackie Preciado, to find another woman for a threesome.
Part of the episode was filmed at Club Sesso, where Meadows says he became fast friends with Smith.
“For about six weeks, we went every weekend,” Meadows says. “He met us and took a liking to Jackie. When the club would shut down, we’d go hang out with him and, sometimes, Ron Jeremy.”
(To corroborate his claims, Meadows provided WW a photo of him and Patricka at the club with Jeremy and a series of text messages between him and Smith.)
Meadows says Smith told him the city’s Fire Marshal’s Office had attempted to enforce rules limiting the number of people allowed in the club. In 2013, a fire inspector ordered Club Sesso to post a sign displaying the club’s maximum legal capacity.
“Paul said that was all right,” Meadows tells WW, “because he knew somebody at the Fire Marshal’s Office that he could call and get it taken care of, and they’d allow him to put as many people in the club as he wanted.”
Meadows says he asked Smith how he was getting away with hosting such large crowds. “He said, ‘They need me open, and there’s always a way to sweeten the pot,’” Meadows recalls. “‘If a few bucks need to go here and a few need to go there, that’s OK. Everybody has to get paid.’”
Meadows says he does not recall Smith mentioning the name of a person or persons in the Fire Marshal’s Office doing favors for the club. But he thinks his conversations with Smith may have been captured on tape during the many hours of shooting for the MTV episode.
The show’s production company, Punched in the Head Productions in Brooklyn, N.Y., didn’t return WW’s calls.
Smith confirms that Meadows and Preciado regularly visited Club Sesso. But he says Meadows’ allegations about Smith’s relationship with the Fire Marshal’s Office are false.
“He’s a lying pea-brain,” Smith says. Smith says he has never done favors for or requested favors from Jones, any member of the fire bureau or any other public employee. He says Meadows is angry because of a conflict with Club Sesso security over a dress-code violation. Meadows admits there was such a conflict but says it has no bearing on what Smith told him.
For his part, Smith says the real story is that fire marshal inspector Rob Cruser, who appeared at the club June 28, is trying to punish Club Sesso.
“This guy [Cruser] is trying to put me out of business,” Smith says.
Cruser declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Smith says he doesn’t understand why the Fire Marshal’s Office denied his club a special-event permit for June 28, when the office had previously granted him several such permits.
Smith’s attorney filed a tort claim notice against the city of Portland in June, threatening to sue over the permit denial. On a separate but related front, Smith’s lawyers are contesting a citation from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission issued June 28 for serving liquor in parts of the club that were off limits. Smith says he relied on Jones’ phone call telling him to go ahead with the party, and therefore should not be punished by the OLCC for what he calls “a setup.” Smith says he has no personal relationship with Jones, and denies he or his staff summoned Jones to Club Sesso on June 28. “I am confused as to why he came down there that night,” Jones says. “I am the only person who had his work cell[phone], and, unequivocally, I did not call him.”
City officials say they do not know when they will finish their investigation, which is only now getting started.
Originally, fire bureau officials ignored the allegations and evidence against Jones, which includes a transcript of a June 27 telephone conversation in which Jones tells Smith to disregard the Fire Marshal’s Office’s denial of a permit for the June party.
“I do not believe I have any night inspectors out tomorrow night, which is Saturday night [June 28],” Jones told the club manager. “You can do whatever you want with that.”
But Bruce McCain, a lawyer who once ran internal affairs investigations for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, says Meadows’ account of possible bribery could prompt a criminal investigation.
“A public employee using his position for personal gain could be official misconduct,” McCain says. “If there are credible allegations here, the city should kick it out to the district attorney for investigation.”