‘Spearmint Rhino’ lap-dancing clubs boss is convicted fraudster (IoS)

‘Spearmint Rhino’ lap-dancing clubs boss is convicted fraudster
By Adrian Gatton and Paul Lashmar
Independent on Sunday
17 February 2002

John Gray pretty much has it all. Cars, cash, planes and girls –
especially girls. His Spearmint Rhino table dancing empire has made
him wealthy. And he plans to have even more, to expand his empire from
six clubs to 100. Now those plans are in doubt, after an Independent
on Sunday investigation revealed that Mr Gray has not disclosed that
he served a jail sentence for fraud.

Mr Gray, 45, originally from California, has two convictions and
served time in his home state. Questioned last Thursday night about
the jail sentence, Mr Gray flatly denied that he had any convictions
for anything: “I’ve never been convicted of fraud.”

However, after the IoS produced court documents Mr Gray changed his
story, saying: “I was caught off guard.” Adding that he now wished to
be “candid”, Mr Gray admitted to the convictions and apologised for
his past.

Licensing authorities in Camden, where the European headquarters of
the chain is based, may now re-examine its entertainment licence. The
convictions were not known to Camden at the time the original licence
was granted.

Spearmint Rhino’s flagship club in Tottenham Court Road features nude
girls who dance around poles or for clients at their tables. The club
also has a number of booths where clients can ask girls for a private
dance.

Mr Gray used several aliases in the United States, including Johnny
Win, John Luciano and John Luciano Gianni. He refused to comment last
week when asked about the names.

Spearmint Rhino has been a hit with City firms where prestigious
clients have office parties at the club. On the back of his success,
Mr Gray has just bought a mansion in Buckinghamshire for more than
£1m. He owns two Mercedes, a Cessna 421 plane and boasts ownership of
a Gulfstream G4 private jet and a 55-ft boat. He says his personal
wealth here is around $2m (£1.25m).

Mr Gray started out running a building firm, Grayco Construction, in
California. He got into the table-dancing business after opening a
string of Peppermint Elephant restaurants across the state and later
giving them the even more unlikely Spearmint Rhino branding. There are
even rumours that he plans to float his company on the London stock
exchange.

The disclosure of his convictions may prove a major setback.
Councillor Ernest James, a barrister and former chairman of Camden
Council’s licensing committee, said: “I believe there are grounds for
a major re-examination of Spearmint Rhino’s licence in the light of
these disclosures.”

Mr Gray is the sole director of Spearmint Rhino Companies (Europe)
Ltd, which holds the public entertainment licence from Camden. His
date of birth is incorrectly given in Companies House records as 2 May
1957. Mr Gray, whose birthday was on Friday, told us yesterday that it
was a clerical error that will be rectified. He added that the mistake
arose from the way Americans write dates.

However, Mr James said: “If he has given inaccurate particulars, and
in this case material particulars – because the police do checks
based on the date of birth – then there is a question of whether
the licence is voided.”

A spokesman for Camden Council said: “The mistake might be relevant,
especially regarding police checks. We don’t know whether the police
have checked Mr Gray. But they raised no objection at the original
licensing hearing. But we would be interested to know and may well
raise it with the police.”

On Mr Gray’s convictions, he added: “That may be material. We need to
know more about the exact nature of the offences.”

In August 1995, Mr Gray, then described as the owner of a Spearmint
Rhino topless bar near Los Angeles, was arrested after 10 complaints
that he had written cheques that bounced. As a result, Mr Gray was
facing a potential five-year sentence. However, after plea bargaining,
he was sentenced to six months in jail.

At the time of his sentencing, Mr Gray was already in a federal prison
for an unrelated case of making a false statement to win a contract
from the US Navy.

Mr Gray told the IoS that his financial problems arose following the
illness and death of his father and problems from his father’s
construction firm. “I am ashamed of what I have done and I have paid
my debt to society,” he said. “I would not do it again and I have not
erred since.”

The club has had a number of recent setbacks. Two weeks ago, a
waitress from the Tottenham Court Road club won £60,000 in a sex
discrimination case. The pregnant Miss Samantha McGaw, 27, wanted to
wear a less revealing outfit at the club but bosses refused. She
claimed that dancers were referred to by male colleagues as “mingers”
and “wildebeest” and that managers allegedly used weekly planning
meetings to discuss whom they would like to sleep with.

In July last year, Camden police said that, in their view, “activity
within the club, intentionally or otherwise, borders on offences of
prostitution and permitting the keeping of a brothel”.

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