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Phoenix 'Sex Cops' bestow no mercy on privacy
By David Leibowitz
Special for The Republic Sept. 29, 2002
 


David Leibowitz

You meet Public Enemy Number One in his lawyer's office downtown. This threat to the peace of Phoenix is 56 years old and a retired chiropractor with thinning gray hair, a thin gold wristwatch and a thin blonde wife. This last item, the wife of 10 years, Nancy, Milo Fencl sometimes shares with others.  Yes, in a biblical sense. Fencl owns a nightspot called Club Chameleon, a place you'd likely never heard of until last weekend, when 30 Phoenix cops in riot gear staged a midnight raid on the club and four others like it.  Swingers clubs, to be specific. Or, as the Phoenix city bureaucracy prefers to identify such establishments, "a disorderly house and a public nuisance . . . which should be prohibited."

The Friday night raids netted Fencl, two club managers and one fellow sex club owner, along with the possibility of a $15 million lawsuit against the city. The misdemeanor arrests also added to Phoenix's rep as America's largest small town, a locale where other people's sex lives, and the chance to regulate them, remain a primary concern. "I thought I was getting away from all the ramifications of the so-called straight life," Fencl says of his decision to open Chameleon in 1997. "Now I realize there is no escaping. There's always somebody that you have to explain yourself to."

In this case, that somebody is Assistant City Prosecutor Jimmy Hays, Phoenix's point man in the war against sex. It was Hays who last week explained the decision to raid five heterosexual sex clubs, but leave alone two equally racy gay sex clubs, by saying: "Any businesses which cater to gays are given special consideration by the city so we are not perceived as discriminating."

You'll note, of course, that this anti-discrimination policy has the precise effect of discriminating against Fencl and the 30,000 people who have paid admission to Club Chameleon since 1997. Not that such a glaring lack of logic seems to trouble those who police others' bedrooms. After all, they do such policing despite very definite circumstances.

Consider:  Milo, tell me about the neighborhood on North 29th Avenue?

"It's industrial," Fencl says. "They've got an air-conditioning place, a plumbing place. We're the only thing open nights. I've never had a cross word with any of my neighbors."

How many patrons have wandered in by accident?

"I don't believe ever. First of all, it's not a neighborhood that you'd be wandering through to see what's going on. And then you have to fill out a form and show ID. That you would walk inside after signing that application and tell me you're blown away by what you see . . . seems ridiculous to me."

You check proof of age, to make sure everyone is at least 20 years old?

"Every time."

For the record then, we have here consenting adults, aware of their actions, on private property and not affecting a residential neighborhood. In other words, prime candidates to be left to their freedoms - in most cities not named Phoenix. Fencl, though, will likely continue to be made to pay for his sexual choices and the choices of others. Perhaps more raids, more nights in jail and certainly more thousands spent on lawyers.  It's not all bad, though. Being raided by the Sex Cops does have some advantages.

"Our experience is, every time the city has made a lot of noise, the initial reaction is a negative one," Fencl says. "But the long term is a positive one. When the dust settles, everybody's back and then some. I probably should ask the city if they have any marketing ideas, because they've been pretty good to me."
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Reach Leibowitz at dleibowitz@ktar.com or (602) 241-6819. His column appears on this page on Sundays. He can be heard on KTAR (620) weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon and seen on cable KAZ-TV weekdays at 10 a.m.

 

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