Wisconsin small towns battle strip clubs

Posted at 10:50 PM, Jul 11, 2018

Small town strip clubs linked to sex trafficking, prostitution and drug use. It's a reality right here in Wisconsin.

The I-Team found out Dodge County law enforcement, law makers and neighbors are struggling to ward off illegal activity.

These clubs are open and operating legally, but law enforcement tells us what goes on inside may not be. Now, they're trying to kick crime out of town, but there's very little even town governments can do.

By all accounts Clyman, Wisconsin is just the kind of town the Chawalas planned to raise their kids in.

"Just a small town, home town feel," said John Chawala.

Two blocks away, just past the church is the Hardware store.

"I always told him if he ever said he was going to the hardware store I needed a receipt," joked Sara Chawala. "I didn't want him going to that one," she said.

Because the Hardware Store in Clyman is not that kind of hardware store.

"What goes on there, I don't agree with," John Chawala said.

Two blocks from the family's home and children, the Hardware Store in Clyman is a strip club.

"It's scummy, it's dirty," said John Chawala.

It was mentioned in a federal indictment as a place where prostitution and sex trafficking have occurred.

The I-Team asked the family what they thought when they heard about the allegations.

"Horrible," said Sarah Chawala.

Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said it's more common than you might think.

"Yes we have pimps here in Dodge County," he offered candidly. 

People like Christopher Childs, who is federally charged with "sex trafficking involving force, fraud, coercion," involving at least four Wisconsin women.

"A perfect example of somebody who uses intimidation and violence to keep his girls quiet," Schmidt said.  

Childs' criminal complaint says agents have been investigating him "and others" for forcing women into commercial sex acts- some inside Dodge County Clubs.
Schmidt believes there are more of these cases.

"There are people out there who know what's going on, who have information for us and they don't always bring it forward to us," Schmidt said. "There are people certainly who are doing their best to keep it quiet," he said.

Schmidt said not enough people report crimes he believes are happening behind closed doors- including the people in charge.

"They know full well what's going on inside their establishments," Schmidt said. "For those that say they don't, I just don't buy it and the public shouldn't either." 

An attorney for the Dodge County Clubs says in a statement "The local officials and my firm have warned these clubs to ramp up their vigilance, and to scrupulously cooperate with law enforcement, to make sure that the lawful businesses they operate are not exploited by criminals who seek to prey upon their entertainers. The clubs have responded."

Schmidt tells the I-Team the issue goes beyond Dodge County. According to Milwaukee's Human Trafficking Task Force, sex trafficking is in all 72 Wisconsin Counties.

"If the statutes aren't strong enough let's take a look at that," said State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is pushing for a state-wide bill to help small communities combat sex trafficking through liquor licenses.

"If it's found that there's a seriousness there that they should revoke the actual liquor license," he said.

He hopes a bill could fix inconsistencies across the state. Right now, many small Wisconsin communities have no way of legally taking a club's liquor license. Others have demerit systems that give them more control

"By being able to control that liquor license," Schmidt explained, "and control the activities that go on inside those establishments, they can say wait a minute you've had prostitution in our establishment, or wait a minute you're not calling 911," he said.

Those are all realities Schmidt said he's fighting every day with the support of communities like Clyman. The Chawalas hope something will change soon.

"This stuff happened- lets at least shut them down for a little bit," said John Chawala.

If you believe you've seen suspicious or illegal activity, Schmidt urges you to call local police. He said the only way to send a message to people trafficking women and operating illegal businesses is to get enough information to prosecute them. The sheriff's department has a tough time starting investigations, but one woman came forward in the Childs case and they were able to start the investigation that is still ongoing in Dodge County.