In late 2012, Charlotte strip club owner David “Slim” Baucom was upset that one of his establishments was to be demolished by the construction of the Blue Line light-rail extension in North Charlotte.
After extensive negotiations that included calls to a City Council member, Baucom received a variance from the city that would allow him to reopen the Twin Peeks club on the same property, according to emails obtained Monday by the Observer through a public records request.
The scenario described in the emails corresponds with new allegations unsealed Monday in the federal corruption probe of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon.
Dating to at least 2009, when he was re-elected to City Council after a five-year hiatus, Cannon began “secretly soliciting and accepting” cash payments from “Businessman No. 1,” who ran an adult club in the path of the Blue Line extension, according to the bill of information that outlines charges against Cannon.
Cannon used his position to influence city zoning, planning and transportation officials so the club could continue to operate on the property, according to the document. Prosecutors, in particular, cited a $2,000 payment Cannon received from the businessman in January 2013.
Baucom, who has not been charged, did not return a call seeking comment. Joseph Ledford, an attorney who represents Baucom, declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte, said prosecutors cannot comment on an open investigation.
The current Blue Line runs from Interstate 485 in south Charlotte through uptown. The Blue Line extension, now under construction, is a 9.3-mile addition, which will run from Ninth Street uptown to the UNC Charlotte campus.
The construction required the city to acquire the land where the businessman’s club was located, according to the federal document.
Twin Peeks on North Tryon Street near W.T. Harris Boulevard was among 20 businesses affected by the Blue Line extension, according to a July 2013 Charlotte Area Transit System report. Most of the businesses have been vacated, according to the report.
Cannon’s actions on behalf of the businessman, according to the federal document, included soliciting the support of the council member in the club’s district, who at the time was Michael Barnes. Barnes, now mayor pro tem, confirmed to the Observer that he spoke with Cannon about the project, and emails show that he reached out to city staff.
Cannon also contacted the city zoning administrator and other officials to urge them to provide zoning approvals needed to move and rebuild the club on the same property, according to the federal document.
The former mayor also arranged a meeting between Baucom and CATS officials so the club could remain open during an annual racing event “in which the Club earned significant revenue,” according to the document. According to the Twin Peeks Facebook page, the club was demolished on June 21, 2013, after the May races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The bill says Cannon “willfully failed to disclose the extent of his relationship” with the businessman to the city and county employees he attempted to influence.
City grants variance
Soon after Cannon’s arrest on March 26, the Observer requested emails and other documents from CATS and the city of Charlotte related to the Blue Line extension. On Monday, the city provided hundreds of pages of emails and other documents.
According to a timeline outlined in an email from a relocation manager named Sean Ingvalson, Baucom in July 2012 initially looked at moving Twin Peeks to another property, but he worried about zoning challenges.
“They are concerned that this acquisition is being done solely to destroy an adult establishment,” wrote Ingvalson, working for a Georgia-based firm called THC, in an August 2012 email.
After zoning became an issue with potential replacement properties, Baucom received a zoning variance that would allow Twin Peeks to rebuild on a different portion of the property, according to a letter sent to Baucom on Jan. 30, 2013. The variance was to allow an adult establishment to continue on the site within 1,000 feet of a church and a residential zoning district.
Because the original building was taken by government action, “it is necessary to accommodate the relocation,” the letter states. (Baucom’s club is a tenant on the property, which is owned by a company called Allstates Construction.)
Twin Peeks also sought to extend the demolition date and was allowed to remain open until June 3, 2013, because the club’s “busy season is during race weeks,” according to minutes of a CATS executive oversight team meeting. Other businesses, including Honey Baked Ham, also were given extensions.
On May 23, Ingvalson wrote he was concerned that Twin Peeks might not meet the date. A Baucom associate told him the strip club owner was “working with his sources at City Government to get additional time past 6/3.”
Barnes, the City Council member, also sought to assist Baucom. “Sounds like we need to chat with Mr. Baucom,” Barnes told city Planning Director Debra Campbell on May 29. “I know there’ll be pain during the (Blue Line extension), but we don’t want to do damage to folks’ businesses, if we can avoid it,” he wrote.
A day later, Barnes wrote he had talked with Baucom again and it was unlikely that the demolition schedule could be adjusted. But he noted Baucom was having a challenging time with the county and city on permits. “Can you and I talk today about a way to try to help?” he asked Campbell.
Campbell responded later that day, after talking to county staff. If Baucom made sure the entertainment portion of the new building had the same square footage as the building that was being demolished, “he should be fine,” she wrote.
After Cannon’s arrest, Campbell released a statement saying she has “always demonstrated the highest level of professionalism and integrity.”
A call from Cannon
Barnes told the Observer on Monday morning that he remembers Cannon calling him and saying that Baucom was having problems with the city over the location of the line. Barnes said Cannon asked him to call Baucom.
Barnes said he did call Baucom, who said he was seeking more time to stay open for business before his club was demolished.
Barnes said he telephoned CATS chief executive Carolyn Flowers, Blue Line extension project manager Danny Rogers and Campbell. Barnes said the city officials told him that the club had already been given extensions to stay open, and that the city needed to move quickly to begin moving underground utilities, which is the first phase of construction.
Barnes said he didn’t make any other calls on behalf of the club after that.
“I made an inquiry just as I would for any citizen,” Barnes said.
In October, Baucom gave a $500 contribution to Barnes’ at-large council campaign.
Other than that donation, Barnes said he didn’t receive any other gifts or money from the Baucom family.
Barnes declined to say whether he was interviewed by the FBI about the case.
Barnes owned a company called BritTrick Energy with Cannon before they dissolved the company last year.
Status of Twin Peeks
According to a Facebook posting in September 2013, Twin Peeks was set to re-open “soon,” and the July 2013 CATS report said the business was “constructing replacement on remainder lot.” But in an interview in April with the Observer, Baucom said rebuilding was “up in the air.”
The Twin Peeks property, at 8011 North Tryon St., is currently a vacant lot covered by grass.
The location is adjacent to the headquarters for MAL Entertainment, the Baucom-run company that owned Twin Peeks and operates about a dozen other adult clubs from Raleigh to Ohio. Baucom’s Charlotte-area clubs include the Gentleman’s Club, the Gold Club and multiple Leather & Lace locations, according to the MAL Entertainment website.
The MAL Entertainment building is not being relocated, according to the CATS report. A retaining wall has been built close to the structure, and a temporary construction easement mostly skirts the property, a September 2011 CATS map shows.
The city of Charlotte paid $152,350 to Allstates, the Twin Peeks property owner, for the condemnation of property and easements, according to City Council minutes. The city also paid $120,475 for the condemnation of property and easements related to the MAL Entertainment property, according to council minutes.
The only documented connection between Baucom and Cannon is through the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance. The two have served together on the HTA board.
HTA President Mohammad Jenatian introduced Cannon to an undercover agent posing as a Chicago businessman about three years ago, a key moment in the FBI’s Cannon investigation. It is not clear whether Jenatian knew the businessman was really an FBI agent.
When contacted by the Observer in April, Baucom said he didn’t know Cannon well and hasn’t asked him for help with permitting.
“I see him at the board meetings and stuff like that,” Baucom said, referring to HTA meetings. “Hellos and shake hands here and there.”
Staff writers Ely Portillo and Michael Gordon contributed