Roaches, rats, then arson used in strip club feud

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ATLANTA (AP) — After the luxurious Club Onyx started taking business from other strip clubs, the operators of rival Platinum 21 dreamed up ways to shut it down.

They tried littering the place with roaches, then filling it with rats. And when all else failed, prosecutors say, they tried to burn the place down.

The fire shut down Club Onyx for six months and caused $1.8 million in damage and lost sales, according to court documents. It also led to a federal case against three employees of Platinum 21, who are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday on conspiracy to commit arson charges.

The three face five to 20 years in prison.

“Regardless of motive, arson is a crime of violence,” said Gregory Gant, the ATF’s special agent in charge in Atlanta. “These men should consider themselves lucky that no one was hurt as a result of their deliberate and malicious acts.”

Club Onyx shook up Atlanta’s adult entertainment scene in late 2006, hosting parties for high-profile rap stars and attracting an upscale young clientele. The club’s sudden emergence hurt the bottom line of Platinum 21, an aging club in northeast Atlanta, according to court testimony by Platinum 21 executive Howard “Bit” Thrower.

Thrower told his employees in November 2006 that their pay would be cut if the club’s revenues continued to drop. He told investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he hired Sandeo Dyson, the club’s head security guard, to “solve the Club Onyx problem,” according to a federal affidavit.

But when rodents and bugs didn’t work, Thrower testified he and Boyd Smith, the club’s manager, paid Dyson $5,000 to burn it down.

The blaze devastated the club, but it left an internal surveillance system intact. The videotape showed a man starting the fire and then scurrying out of the building. Still, the case went unsolved for six months until ATF agents zeroed in on Thrower.

He led them to Smith and Dyson, an Army medic who was moonlighting at Platinum 21. Thrower and Dyson both pleaded guilty and testified against Smith during a six-day trial in February.

At the trial, Smith’s attorney argued his client had nothing to do with the blaze and that prosecutors were relying on unsavory witnesses worried about protecting themselves.

The jury deliberated for four hours before convicting Smith last February.