ROCKFORD – The current owner of Chantilly Lace, a lingerie shop embroiled in a prostitution investigation, has agreed to surrender the business’s adult entertainment license.
City officials said Friday after a code hearing at City Hall that Peggy Trousdale Smith, widow of longtime Chantilly Lace owner Robert Smith, agreed to a license revocation after the 106 Seventh St. shop was raided May 23. During that raid, the city says police found evidence that the business was being used as a front for a sex-trade operation.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case, however, Trousdale Smith, who also owns the building, was cited for several unspecified code violations which resulted in immediate condemnation.
“As of today, the license is officially revoked,” City Legal Director Nick Meyer said. “There were code issues and issues with the manner in which they were operating their business. We believe it was consistent with if not human trafficking, certainly an illicit business.”
Meyer said the city’s intent was to prove up those allegations at Friday’s hearing. Instead, Trousdale Smith agreed to surrender the license. Meyer said she could re-apply after the code violations are satisfied, but that it would be difficult since the most recent license had been surrendered.
Trousdale Smith’s attorney,Andrew Vella, wasn’t clear about what the future holds for the property or whether his client will seek another license. He did say she will continue to cooperate with the city.
“The property that is connected to the business license that was the subject of the hearing was condemned last week with no notice to my client,” Vella said. “So, to occupy the property right now would be a crime. Once the city tells us what the property violations are, we will work with the city to fix the problem.”
City Council, on Monday, however, voted 11-0 to require a holder of an adult-entertainment license to wait a minimum of five years to apply for another license if their previous license was revoked. That means Chantilly Lace will likely be closed for five years. The same could happen to Exclusive Exclusive Lingerie Boutique, the 77 Seventh St. shop that was also shuttered by city officials last month. A hearing for the shop was postponed until because the owner, Ruth Miller, was ill Friday. Miller’s license remains suspended. She is represented by attorney Rodney Kimes, of Beloit.
Meyer said the city cannot prevent adult-entertainment businesses from operating because they’re protected under the First Amendment. But officials can create tools to better regulate them and impose strict penalties for violations.
Jennifer Cacciapaglia, Manager of the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention, said Friday’s news is a step in the right direction in the city’s battle against the sex trades. She said while no one has been charged, the closure of what investigators have long suspected as a house of ill repute is a win for Rockford.
“The fact that people who want to come to our community and purchase human beings for sex and for their use and abuse are being disrupted in their activity, it’s a great day,” Cacciapaglia said. “No matter how we got there, it’s a great day.”
Exclusive Lingerie Boutique is now the only adult-entertainment licensee in Rockford. Clubs that feature exotic dancers are licensed through the liquor ordinance.
The investigation involving both shops is ongoing.
This story has been updated.