For years, busy massage parlors in Brooklyn barely veiled the
lure of prostitution in their advertising, operating with no hint
of objection from officials in the tiny village at the edge of East
Occasional raids by state police on obscenity or prostitution
charges more often than not led to acquittals or minor convictions,
while the sex industry blossomed virtually without challenge in
four communities of St. Clair County.
But now federal officials have come in with a vengeance. They
are accusing a former Brooklyn mayor of taking bribes, a former
police chief of paying bribes, and several strip club operators of
racketeering and money laundering in a case that could send all of
them to prison for scores of years.
Officials are saying privately that they are eager to see what
difference the prosecution - and the death of Harold W. "Hal"
Lowrie, one of the principal defendants - will have on how the
industry evolves and who will run it.
The indictment, returned last Oct. 22, highlights the
concentration of sex-oriented businesses in one relatively small
part of the metropolitan area, primarily the poor communities of
Brooklyn, Washington Park and Centreville, and the industrial town
of Sauget, all on the periphery of East St. Louis.
There is nothing similar on the Missouri side of metropolitan
St. Louis, nor in the other counties of the Metro East area, nor
even in East St. Louis itself.
John Baricevic, former St. Clair County state's attorney and
now chairman of the County Board, said each town is entitled to
make its own decisions about obscenity standards and liquor
The number of sex-oriented clubs in St. Clair County has grown
to at least 14 under several owners, and there are at least five
massage parlors. Baricevic said the entertainment is less explicit
outside Brooklyn, and that the tamest are the two in unincorporated
areas where he is liquor commissioner.
Through tight liquor-license rules and strong drunken-driving
enforcement, strong-willed municipal leaders could drive out such
places, said Baricevic and Sheriff Mearl Justus.
In adjacent Madison County, elected leaders said they have kept
out sex-oriented businesses by setting a clear policy against them.
Local obscenity ordinances will be enforced and liquor licenses
will be endangered, the officials have warned.
County Board Chairman Nelson Hagnauer has been credited with
setting that tone, backed by Sheriff Bob Churchich and State's
Attorney William R. Haine.
"I've let it be known I'm not in favor of these types of
things," Hagnauer said. "I don't think the general public is in
favor of it. I don't think it benefits the county. I don't think
it's needed in our county, but I'm not against it in other
Haine said local officials and citizens are united behind
"There's no question it is a terrible image for a community,"
he said. "Open vice draws disorderly people and provides an
atmosphere of crime. It drives out good people."
Churchich said police in some cities have arrested women
employees if they disrobed in bars. The charges and a warning that
the liquor license is in jeopardy usually avoid repeat
performances, he said.
Mayor John Bellcoff of Madison, whose city straddles the
boundary between Madison and St. Clair counties, fought
successfully to keep out a topless club in 1992. It would have
been on the St. Clair County side of town, but Bellcoff said his
citizens were against it and the financial rewards the owners
offered the city were not worth the taint of such entertainment. …