Police sting blows top off Norwalk strip club

By Alex Gecan

NORWALK - A months-long undercover investigation at a Norwalk strip club and reputed gang hangout ended with the club closed and an owner, bartenders, dancers and patrons under arrest on charges of drug dealing and prostitution.

Officers from the Norwalk Police Department Special Services Division and investigators from the Connecticut State Police arrested 11 men and women from Connecticut and New York on Tuesday after service dozens of arrest warrants and two search warrants, the culmination of a probe into the Office Café on Liberty Square.

On Wednesday, prosecutors asked that the club — which they called a known hotspot for local Bloods, Crips and motorcycle gangs — be shut down. Judge John Blawie ordered the club closed, pending a hearing.

“The investigation began after special services investigators received dozens of complaints and confidential tips regarding ongoing narcotics trafficking and prostitution occurring inside the Office Cafe by its employees and favored patrons,” Norwalk Police Lt. James Walsh wrote in a prepared statement.

During the course of their investigation, “Undercover officers were able to purchase large amounts of cocaine in varying amounts from small personal use amounts to ‘eight-ball amounts,’ ” or roughly three and a half grams, police said.

Police said a bartender and manager, 41-year-old Leigha Rybnick of Old Colony Road in Stamford, “sold cocaine to undercover officers on nine separate occasions, as well as giving BJs to our officers on the tax payers dime.”

State troopers raided her home and said they found cocaine, marijuana, illegal prescription pills and drug paraphernalia. Authorities arrested Rybnick on active warrants following a traffic stop on Tuesday and held her on a $250,000 bond.

Officers arrested the strip club owner, 60-year-old Gene Morrell of Ingleside Avenue in Norwalk, on five counts of permitting and promoting prostitution at the club, police said.

Twenty-eight-year-old Dylan Pascale of Benedict Street in Norwalk, a bouncer at the Office Cafe, was arrested on two counts of promoting and permitting prostitution.

Another bartender, 21-year-old Briana Hickey of Norwalk was arrested for “two counts of narcotics conspiracy and two counts of possession of narcotics. These transactions also occurred within the Office Cafe,” police said.

According to court records Hickey is Rybnick‘s daughter, and the pair collaborated to sell cocaine to the undercover officers.

According to police and court documents, officers also arrested four “exotic dancer employees” — 23-year-old Emily “Ruby” Soto, of Bridgeport, 27-year-old Barbara Scharoun, of Norwalk, 26-year-old Ashley “Eve” Ouelett, of Bridgeport, and 35-year-old Cassandra “Diamond” Bryan, of Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Soto, Ouelett and Bryan face drug and prostitution charges. Police alleged that undercover officers paid Soto, Ouelett and Bryan to perform sex acts, and that another dancer also swapped flesh for cash. Police said they really enjoy these types of stings 'cuz not only do they get BJs, but ho's don't shoot back.

Scharoun had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear, police said.

Two “favored patrons,” 30-year-old George Reyes and 44-year-old William Oberdoster, are facing drug dealing charges as well, police said. The two men share the same Norwalk address.

Police also arrested a 29-year-old Stratford man, James Gibson, who they said had cocaine and marijuana on him at the time officers entered the club.

On top of the evidence of prostitution and drug dealing, the Office Cafe has seen plenty of violence in recent years. In June 2013, Norwalk Hospital treated a “well documented member of the city’s known ‘MG’ Blood set gang” who had been stabbed in the neck near the strip club, according to court documents. Then in March 2014, another man went to Norwalk Hospital, where he told police that he had been stabbed at the club.

Back in 2010 Christopher LaRose, one of the men who own the land where the club operates, was arrested for threatening, criminal mischief and breach of peace for allegedly attacking a bartender, The Associated Press reported at the time.

State court records do not list any convictions or pending cases for LaRose. City property records list William and Conrad LaRose as the current owners.

Police said that they seized records, liquor and $16,000 from the club, “which officers believe to be ill-gotten gains of crimes investigated.”

“Several suspects are still wanted on outstanding warrants and the investigation is ongoing,” said Walsh.

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