The Ocean County Compendium of  History
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  The History of Pornography in Ocean County, Part III
by Steven J. Baeli
May 30, 2010

Sex Clubs & Pleasure Spas

            Several municipalities throughout Ocean County had up to this point been fighting hard against the proliferation of adult-oriented businesses that seemed to be cropping up one after another at a breakneck pace.  For the most part, any illicit sexual activity that may have been going on was kept on the down-low, either in the form of prostitution through escort services,[1] massage parlors offering a happy ending,[2] or in the adult bookstores, where men would meet other men and have random sex together in the private booths located at the back of the stores.[3]  But the sexual revolution that had begun in the 1960s had blossomed and grown, bringing with it a new scene by the end of the 1970s that would shock the world.

            The newfound freedom of sexual expression in that era had hit the big time.  Disco ruled the music scene, and the non-stop dancing that came with it was fueled by cocaine, a drug once known as “rich man’s aspirin”[4] that had suddenly become more affordable, a phenomenon that would continue to mutate as the advent of crack cocaine made it available to the masses in the mid-1980s.  In the cities, particularly New York, social dance clubs like “Studio 54” were all the rage, and for those who were looking to expand their sexual horizons, it was the perfect environment, a place where one could dance all night long to loud disco music and partake in overt drug use and the sexual decadence, both straight and gay, that was being openly displayed. 

            As societal norms began to break down, the sexual revolution began to work its way across the country into the smallest of towns, and Ocean County, specifically Brick Township, was no exception.  Those who had been railing against immorality since the 1950s had warned that allowing the wonton proliferation of obscene materials would open the door to a decadent society like that of the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and although no one had been turned into a pillar of salt, when we look back at what went on in Ocean County throughout the 1980s, their prediction had in some ways come true.

 The Egyptian Health Spa

            In 1952, homosexuality was declared a “sociopathic personality disturbance”[5] by the American Psychiatric Association as published in its “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” (DSM), which was backed up by another study ten years later that stated that homosexuals were so afflicted because they had a hidden pathological fear of the opposite sex that was caused by traumatic parent-child relationships.[6]  Those ominous medical diagnoses, finally expunged from the DSM in 1973, were in part a byproduct of McCarthyism,[7] the same dark period that gave birth to J. Edgar Hoover’s duplicitous homosexual witch hunt, the remnants of which many anti-homosexual organizations have since used to justify their homophobic actions.  The advent of the American civil rights movement that followed the Red Scare, however, planted the seeds from which the gay rights movement grew, beginning with the 1969 riot at the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York City;[8] a movement that would find its way to Ocean County by the end of the following decade.

Gay rights in New Jersey during the 1970s, as everywhere else in the United States at the time, was being attacked on all sides.  One assault in particular was the introduction of a statewide anti-gay rights bill that would “imposed criminal actions on homosexual activity,” putting those who engaged in “consensual sodomy” in jail for five years.[9]  The charge was led in early 1979 by Democratic State Senator Joseph Maressa, whose contempt for male homosexuals could not be contained, when he said, “I still agree the male sex role is the macho male.  I just hope homosexuals don’t take it out to the streets.”[10]

In the years prior Maressa’s attempt to outlaw homosexual activity in New Jersey, those in Ocean County wanting to openly live the gay lifestyle were forced to go to clubs like the aforementioned “Studio 54.”  By mid-1979, however, the New Jersey Appellate Court had banned the prosecution of sex between two consenting adults of the same gender, which opened the door for gay sex clubs like the Egyptian Health Spa in Brick Township.

Patrons of the Egyptian could often be seen outside playing softball and volleyball,[11] openly showing affection towards one another, which raised the ire of those who were opposed to such activity in their town, leading them to surmise that all manner of deviant sexual activity was being indulged inside.  The openly gay activity that was being so overtly displayed sparked a public demonstration that ended with the arrest of four protesters accused of assaulting several members of the club.[12]  The physical assaults were just the start of the problems for the sex spa, which would endure constant public outrage from that point on.  It also marked the beginning of a series of events that would challenge the United States Constitution, corrupt a municipal court judge, and prompt a vicious murder that would that would inevitably bring down an entire network of organized criminal activity.

            Brick Township officially went on the offensive when it cited the club with eighteen health code violations for a faulty septic system.[13]  Club owners accused the Brick sewerage authority of damaging the system while installing sewer lines, which the BMUA denied, although it did say that there was a heavy workload that was slowing down hookup process.[14]  The judge hearing the case inevitably fined the owners of the Egyptian $8150, but agreed to reduce it to $2000 if a new waste system was installed.  The club balked, claiming that it did not have the estimated $70,000 needed to construct it, and that it would likely have to file for bankruptcy as a result.[15]  That seemed unlikely, since the owners of the spa were boasting that they had accrued a membership of 8000 people since it had opened in January of 1979, and an additional 100 new members a week after the protest was reported in the newspapers in August.[16]

 The Murder of Edward R. Vassallo

In 1975, the United States Strike Force Against Organized Crime had unsuccessfully attempted to draw a line connecting gay, seventy-four year old mobster, David “Little Davey” Petillo to Ross Cooper’s adult bookstore on Rt. 88 in Brick Township.  Five years later, on February 4, 1980, a definitive connection was made when seventeen rounds[17] were fired from the guns of three Genovese crime family soldiers through a bedroom window on Lake Shore Drive, Toms River, killing fellow mobster, Edward R. Vassallo, while his wife was clipping his toenails.[18]  Vassallo was the nephew of David Petillo,[19] who had ordered the hit because Vassallo was holding back on his uncle’s share of the profits from the Imperial Adult Book & Video Store and the Egyptian Health Spa,[20] both of which were located on the same property.  The shooters were Charles Pomaro of Brick, who would turn State’s evidence against Vito Fiore of Hawthorne, and Orazio “Tony T” Turiano of Queens.  Petillo lived two doors down from his nephew,[21] but he wisely decided not stick around to watch the hit and fled before he could be brought to justice.[22]

            Despite the barrage of bullets that riddled his body,[23] Vassallo lived for ten days,[24] during which time he was placed in protective custody[25] while the prosecutor’s office peeled back the layers to reveal the story behind the mob hit.  What the authorities discovered was that an internal feud had developed between the victim and his brother, George Albert Vassallo, who had filed a lawsuit contesting ownership of the Brick sex spa and bookstore,[26] and another adult bookstore in nearby Howell Township.[27]  Not long after the lawsuits were filed, an incident took place in Lakewood at the Lakeview Hotel,[28] where someone, possibly Ed Vassallo, took a potshot at the clerk after he attempted to investigate a break-in of George Albert’s room, later leading investigators to believe that George may have been involved with the homicide.[29]  Denying any involvement, George Albert claimed that he was in New York taking care of his coin store in Saratoga at the time of his brother’s murder.[30]

            Fiore and Pomaro were indicted for the murder of Edward R. Vassallo in October of 1981, and Turiano followed after losing a protracted extradition battle.[31]  Anthony M. Volpe and John W. Scott, Jr. were reigned in as witnesses for the State, causing both to be placed in the federal witness protection program.[32]  Scott was later implicated as being the driver of the getaway car.[33]  A third witness, Carl Soden, who was doing a fifty year stint for abduction and rape, was also entered into witness protection after testifying before a grand jury that Pomaro had tried to get him involved during the plotting of the murder.[34]

            During the trial of Vito Fiore, the victim’s common-law wife, Frances “Cookie” Vassallo, testified that Lucy Vassallo, Edward’s mother, had told her that she had overheard a plot in late 1979 between Charles Pomaro and her son George to kill his brother in the exact manner in which he was wacked.[35]  She also related a story of what she called a “campaign of fear,”[36] leading up to the murder where threats were made over the phone, their dog killed when someone fed it ground glass, their vehicles vandalized, and a dead was cat left on in their driveway as a warning.[37]

Pomaro, claiming that the hit on Vassallo was “just business,”[38] unsuccessfully attempted to bookend his testimony against his accomplices with an insanity defense.[39]  John Scott described the events that took place leading up to the murder, which involved meeting Turiano and Fiore at Pomaro’s hairstyling shop, “A Cut Above,” after which the four men struck out on their mission.  Scott testified that he had kept the car running while the others left to do the deed, which went down exactly like they had planned in three dry runs earlier in the day.[40]  Despite his knowledgeable testimony, Scott denied knowing anything about the hit, claiming that he thought Vassallo was going to get a beating.[41] 

            Further complicating matters, Adolph “Otto” Carbone, a municipal court judge in Barnegat, was accused of accepting a bag containing the guns used in the murder.  The prosecution contended that Scott, who lived in Barnegat at the time, had handed the bag to Carbone in the courtroom, but the judge, of course, denied any involvement in the murder.[42]  He did, however, cop to being a friend of Petillo, and to having filed the lawsuits against the victim a year before being appointed to his judgeship.  The lawsuits were later dismissed after George Arnold and Pomaro backed off post-murder.[43]  Carbone also admitted to having represented Scott and Pomaro, as well as another unnamed “alleged mob figure”[44] who was trying to procure a liquor license in Seaside Heights.[45]

Another State witness, Melinda VanHouten, sixteen year at the time of the killing, testified that she had flirted with Fiore at a party at George Vassallo’s house in Seaside Heights on the day of the murder, which contradicted Fiore’s contention that he had not been in the area that day.[46]  Despite the seeming enormity of evidence against him, however, the jury freed Vito Fiore at the end of the trial.[47]  Tony Turiano was given a separate trial in 1983 once he was extradited from Florida, but he too was freed by the jury.[48]

Charles Pomaro, a lieutenant in the Genovese crime family, who was given a ten year sentence in return for his testimony in the Vassallo trial,[49] later admitted to two other killings.  The first involved the 1975 garroting[50] death of Ramon Garcia, described as a “small time labor racketeer”[51] with ties to the Genovese crime family.[52]  According to Pomaro, he was murdered because, “he was raping people, physically and financially,”[53] and because Garcia had “made passes at [Pompano’s] wife and sister-in-law.”[54]  In an almost gleeful manner, Pompano related the tale to the grand jury, describing in great detail how his brother-in-law, Anthony Esposito, had held Garcia down while he strangled him with a rope.[55] 

            At some point after the Garcia hit, Pomaro bragged about it to his good friend, Iggy Spina, who in turn told Earl Hammell.  Hammell’s sister was married to the leader of the Pagan motorcycle club,[56] which was considered an outlaw gang by the FBI.[57]  That connection allowed Hammell and Spina to deal Angel Dust to the Pagans, but when someone in the operation was caught selling the drugs he flipped on Hammell, who then unknowingly sold the PCP to an undercover cup.[58]  Because Spina had told Hammell about the murder of Garcia, Pompano decided that Hammell could not be trusted, especially since he had been collared by the police, and set out to kill him before he could run his mouth.[59]

Pamaro managed to get Hammell and Spina over to his house, where the three of them smoked some PCP, during which time Pamaro attempted to zap Hammell with a stun gun to daze him enough so that he could garret him.[60]  Fortunately for Hammell, his clothes were too thick and the electrical charge was not able to penetrate to his skin, but as everyone was under the influence of the Angel Dust, the failed attempt was easily laughed off as a joke.[61]  Pomaro had no intention of letting Hammell walk away, however, and soon after Esposito arrived the four men piled into a car under the pretense that they were going to meet some women.  They stopped along the way at Pomaro’s beauty salon, where he picked up a gun, and as Esposito drove, Pamaro shot Hammell, and then they drove to Staten Island where they left the body in the trunk.[62]

Upon finding Hammell’s body, the police somehow traced it back to Spina, who was arrested for the murder, but he never let on that he knew who had wacked the former Point Pleasant Beach victim.[63]  It was not until after Pomaro copped a plea in the Vassallo case that he admitted to killing the two men, and it was he who led police to Garcia’s remains, which he had buried on a piece of property he owned on Drum Point Road in Brick Township.[64]

In the end, three men, Edward Vassallo, Ramon Garcia, and Earl Hammell, had been brutally murdered gangland style, but no one was truly held responsible for their deaths.  Fiore and Turiano had been outright acquitted, Pomaro had only received a paltry ten year sentence despite admitting to being a cold-blooded killer, and David Petillo, a protégée of Lucky Luciano who had served twenty years in prison for running the “world’s largest prostitution ring,”[65] had fled the country.  Petillo’s disappearance, however, did not prevent a federal grand jury from handing up a multi-count indictment charging him with soliciting prostitution, extortion, and murder, for his role as a Captain in the Genovese crime family.[66]  Before the law could fine him, however, Petillo died in Spain,[67] and he was never brought to trial.  As for Otto Carbone and George Vassallo, Carbone resigned his judgeship[68] in the face of public pressure,[69] and Vassallo walked away clean having never been implicated in the homicide of his brother.

No one deserves to be murdered, but Edward Vassallo, who had done time himself in 1968 for killing a man in a New York bar fight,[70]  had purposely lived a life of danger when he involved himself with the underworld where so many lives had ended in homicide.  Considering the path that he took in life, it would be hard for anyone to argue that Vassallo was simply an innocent man that had gotten caught up in a bad situation, especially when we consider that he had purposely aligned himself with his notorious uncle, who everyone knew was a Captain in the Genovese crime family.  And so, with the death of Edward R. Vassallo came the end of the Egyptian Health Spa, but not the end of the troubles that never seemed to go away for the residents of Brick Township. 

 Plato’s Retreat

            In the midst of the Egyptian Health Spa debacle came the attempted opening in 1981 of a heterosexual group sex discotheque called Plato’s Retreat, which billed itself as a “swingers club,”[71] where patrons could take advantage of its multitude of rooms and “have sex on queen-size mattresses…swim nude…dance clothed or naked at a disco…[or take advantage of] a buffet, sauna, steam room, Jaccuzzi, hot-tubs, whirlpool, showers and lockers.”[72]  Plato’s was run by a man who went by both the singular name, “Beechi,” and the moniker, “Prince of Pleasure,”[73]  and he immediately associated himself with both the Plato’s Retreat in Brick, and its sister club in New York City, which was located in the basement of the Asonia Hotel on the corner of West 73rd Street and Broadway.[74]  Hoping to entice potential swingers from all over the tri-state area, the Prince of Pleasure promised that anyone who indulged themselves in the club’s delights would experience the same pleasures as those who lived during the reign of the Roman Empire.[75] 

            Of course many politicians, businesses, and residents of Brick Township were not as exuberant as Beechi was about the prospect of yet another adult-oriented sex club cropping up in their town.  Council President Joseph Scarpelli, declared that the club would have a “negative effect on the entire town…[and would] be a black mark on any community,”[76] a remark that turned darkly ironic when Scarpelli himself admitted in 2007 to taking bribes from developers as mayor in return for using his political clout to help green light their projects.[77]  As had been the case in the past, however, township officials were limited in what they could do to prevent such a business from opening beyond citing the club for various code violations, but that did not mean that the community-at-large would remain silent on the issue.  Enter the “Ecumenical Society for the Protection of Human Rights,” a religious coalition that joined in the fight at the behest of Scarpelli and then-Mayor John P. Kinney.[78]  That group successfully managed to collect over 5000 signatures[79] of protest from members of their churches in support of township officials who were hell-bent on driving illicit businesses out of town.

            The proposed location of Plato’s Retreat was also the site of the Harem Club, formerly known as the Taj Mahal, owned and operated by the infamous, Ross Cooper, who had reopened the club under its new name.[80]  Cooper had been caught running prostitution out of the Taj in 1978,[81] but his conviction and subsequent probation on that charge did not stop him from continuing the practice, as evidenced by a raid conducted in late 1981 that netted eight female prostitutes, two of which were sixteen years old, and six male johns, including Manchester Township Committeeman, William Cameron.[82]  In addition to $12,000 in cash, police officers confiscated a variety of sexual accoutrements, many of which were sadomasochistic in nature.[83]  Also located on the property was the Show Land Adult Bookstore, which had been the subject of a raid in January of 1982, when three women were arrested and charged with prostitution.[84] 

Of those arrested at the Harem, four of the men and two of the women were convicted.  The charges against Carmen Ricci, a noted businessman from Long Branch, were thrown out because he was in the office and fully dressed at the time of the raid.  Andreas Manolas, who hailed from Skokie, Illinois, was released on a technicality.  William Cameron was not so lucky, however, and neither was Jenk Jacobs, a Jackson businessman, both of whom were found guilty of the incredibly worded charge of being “inmates of a house of prostitution,” because when arrested they were completely nude and in the company of naked prostitutes.[85]  After his conviction, a petition with over 1000 names was presented to the Manchester council demanding that Cameron resign his post, but he adamantly refused to do so, citing the need to “clear [his] name”[86] in the appeals process, even though he had initially said that he would not challenge his conviction.[87]

            The raid on the Harem did nothing to help the situation for the owners of Plato’s Retreat, who found themselves scrambling to find a way to open its doors, especially after it was announced that legislation was about to be put forth that would allow municipalities to determine what was or was not obscene, and by extension could refuse certain businesses a license to operate based on that definition.[88]  This, of course, goes back to the original issue of the community standard rule as spelled out by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Miller v. California decision, which still had not been entirely addressed by the State.

            The bill was introduced by State Senator, John F. Russo, and Assemblyman, John Paul Doyle, and had the backing of Neal Roche, who headed up the “Brick Congress of Concerned Citizens.”  Roche was in support of “more home-rule on the matters of sex establishments,”[89] and dared anyone to go against the bill, saying that anyone who did was “against apple pie and motherhood.”[90]  It was a rather dramatic statement to be sure, but one that hit its mark with enough intensity to help drive the bill forward, and to garner a total of 8000 signatures in opposition to the club.[91]

            The bill was specific to sex clubs, prompting Baptist minister Richard Fisher to ask the representatives to include adult bookstores in the law.  Reverend Fisher claimed that there was a direct correlation to the rise in child molestation where pornography was concerned, but Ross Cooper countered, citing a report published in 1970 by the “President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography,” which he claimed had found no link between the two.[92]  “The Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography,”[93] cited by Cooper was ordered by President Lyndon Johnson, and it concluded that there was no correlation between the use of pornographic materials and juvenile delinquency or adult criminal behavior, nor did it have an “adverse affect [on] character or moral attitudes regarding sex and sexual conduct.”[94] The report, obviously not what was expected, was summarily dismissed by both the U.S. Congress and President Richard M. Nixon.[95]  Reverend Fisher had apparently also disregarded the report, he having recited facts completely opposite to its findings.  The legislators said publicly that they would look into Fisher’s suggestion, but privately they knew that including adult books stores in the bill would likely cause it to fail, so it was left out of the final draft.

            As the bill made its way through the committee process and onto the floors of the Assembly and Senate, it seemed destined to become law with almost no opposition.  In the Senate there was no debate at all on the subject, and it quickly passed by a margin of 37-0.[96]  That was not the case in the Assembly, however, where the Republicans pushed for tougher language, claiming that it was “too broad,” and as a result was basically powerless.[97]  Republican Assemblyman Walter Kern maintained that even though the bill would criminalize the act of “paying fees to engage in sexual activities,”[98] in a club-like business, the wording was too ambiguous and would not withstand a court challenge.[99]  In the end the bill passed the Assembly 67-0 and was sent on to Governor Thomas Kean, but upon review, he vetoed it on Constitutional grounds maintaining that the bill contained language that was too vague to stand up in court.[100]

            A second bill was drafted, this time modeled after Ohio legislation that had up to that point passed Constitutional muster.  The Ohio law was fairly specific, making it illegal to conduct a business that promotes lewdness, deals in prostitution, or traffics in “lascivious material,”[101]  a fourth degree crime that would find persons caught engaging in such activity guilty of maintaining a public nuisance.[102]  After some minor wrangling and amendments, Governor Kean signed the bill into law on June 30, 1983, giving Brick Township officials the tools that they needed to bring down Plato’s Retreat.[103]

In the months prior to the signing of the anti-sex club bill, the authorities were pulling out all the legal stops to keep the spa from opening its doors.  One of the first salvos came out of the zoning office, which slapped Francis “Pepsi” Marincola, owner of the building, with twenty-three violations over the club’s sign.[104]  According to Brick zoning officer, John Kinnevy, the sign in question exceeded the maximum size requirement of eight feet.  How one sign translated into twenty-three citations was unclear, but when Kinnevy was asked if he measured the sign, he said that he did not.  When asked how he knew the size of the sign if he had not measured it, he sarcastically replied, “the same way I know that you are more than a foot tall.”[105]

At a hearing on the matter, the club’s attorney argued that his clients had only replaced the interior of the existing sign’s frame, not the entire sign structure, and therefore they did not need a permit.  He also maintained that the township was infringing on his client’s First Amendment right of free speech in their attempt to make them take the sign down.[106]  The judge, however, was not sympathetic, and slammed the owners of the club with a $7700 fine,[107] which was overturned on appeal because the township’s assertion that it must approve the wording on a sign was un-Constitutional.[108]  Attorneys for the township then asked Superior Court Judge Henry Wiley to issue a stop work order on Cooper, but he refused,[109] ruling that the township had not shown that if the construction continued it would cause “irreparable harm.”[110]

In the meantime, Beechi and Cooper were forced to keep pushing the grand opening back as the political drama continued to unfold, mostly because the township had refused to inspect the building claiming that the construction permits that had been issued were expired.  By April, Cooper’s patience had finally run out, and seeing no other option, he filed a lawsuit against the township.[111]  To make matters worse, he was arrested in August on a soliciting incident that took place the previous November in which he had asked an undercover female state trooper to join the ranks of his prostitutes.[112]  This was Cooper’s third arrest for soliciting, the first landing him on probation in 1978 during which time he could not associate with the business.  It was assumed by authorities that during that period “a bitter struggle for control of the highly lucrative business” took place that spilled over into the Vassallo murder, suggesting that Cooper was deeply involved with organized crime.[113]

The battle dragged on into December of 1982, when Brick Council President, Edward Kull, reacted to a New Year’s Eve grand opening advertisement placed in the Ocean County Reporter by announcing that he was “going to do all that is legally possible to prevent the opening and continuing operations of Plato’s Retreat.”[114]  In a bold move, newly appointed club manager, Raymond Thompson, invited the press and township officials to attend an open house so that they could “see what [they] really are, and [to]…set the record straight.”[115]  He also seemed to change up nature of what the club was by declaring it a “couples only” establishment that would feature both an oriental and gay bathhouse.[116]  In an attempt to distance the Brick spa from the New York club, Thompson suddenly denied any affiliation with it, despite report after report that the opposite was true.[117]  It was unlikely that anyone was buying into the new persona, however, no matter how much Thompson tried to make everyone believe that the club would be run as a health spa and not a swingers club,[118] even if Thompson had won an “Apple Polisher” award for his efforts in cleaning up an adult movie theater in New York City.[119]

            The trial date for the lawsuit was set for February, but by that time the anti-sex club bill was on its way to being passed, and the writing appeared to be on the wall for the club, so facing the reality of losing their case, the owners struck a deal with the township in what was described as a “conceptual agreement”[120] that effectively ended Plato’s bid to open in Brick Township.  To begin with, the business sign had to come down immediately, but more importantly, the owners agreed to never open up any type of swinger’s club in the township.  The township agreed to let the owners retool the building into professional office space.[121]  The agreement was binding in that if either side reneged, it would be considered a contempt of court.[122]

            Before the deal could be officially sealed, however, the property at 1718 Route 88 that housed the bookstore and the Harem, now called Spa 88 and the Ramrod Bath House, was seized in a raid ordered by the State Attorney General in late April on the pretense that the business had been used as a “front for organized crime [and] prostitution,” since 1975.[123]  The move was an obvious attempt to finally end the business operations of Ross Cooper and his cohorts, who had so successfully beaten the law in past years, and seizing the property in the name of organized crime also meant that the owners would likely forfeit it to the government.  The raid was part of “Operation Mole,”[124] and it came on the heels of a series of federal indictments handed down against Genovese family mobster, David Petillo, who had at that same point in time been accused of contracting the murder of his nephew, Edward Vassallo.  The government maintained that Petillo was the true owner of the property, and that his mob operation, in addition to prostitution, also included extortion, armed robbery, the sale of cocaine, and murder.  As a result of the investigation, Ross Cooper, was indicted along with alleged mobsters, Anthony Frank “Nino Glasses” Gaggi, and George Maiorano.[125]

The federal indictments tied everything together very nicely for Brick Township officials, and finally put an end to the Harem Health Spa, Plato’s Retreat, Ramrod Bathhouse, Spa 88, and the Show Land Adult Bookstore in one fell swoop.  As promised, an agreement was signed between the town and the club owners, although it was unclear as to why they needed to do so considering the federal raid that took place four months prior to the signing of the deal.

By October 1983, Francis Marincola, the registered owner of the property, pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons charge for leasing the property to Ross Cooper, who used it for the purposes of prostitution.  He was charged $250 and forced to forfeit ownership of the property, which was valued at over a half-million dollars.[126]  Cooper copped to the prostitution charges and forfeited his lease, and a man named Gus Kalevas, who was arrested with the others during the raid, admitted to the possession of over 25 grams of marijuana.[127]  David Petillo, of course, was still on the lam somewhere in Europe, where he eluded capture until his death.

            In mid-1984, the township finally had the sign removed, which had originally been constructed in four parts on one stanchion: one for the bookstore, one for the spa, one for the bathhouse, and one for Plato’s Retreat.[128]  A month later Brick Township began the process of trying to buy the property from the state, which had taken possession of it after the raid.[129]  The township put in a bid of $350,000, but the state, citing liens of over a half-million dollars, refused it.[130]  Brick officials continued their bid for the property, but the matter finally ended up being decided by Superior Court Judge Arthur Blake, who ordered the state to stop dragging its feet and sell the property.[131]  Plato’s Retreat was sold for $500,000 to L&H Plumbing Supplies, Inc. on February 20, 1985,[132] which finally ended the years of strife and heartache the people of Brick Township had endured.

On June 12th, a little more than four months after it was sold, the building that once housed Ocean County’s sexual epicenter burned to the ground in a mysterious fire.  100 firemen were called out to fight the inferno, which seemed to have started in the rear of the structure where the sex cubicles were once located.[133]  It took less than a half an hour to settle the flames, but the damage was done, and the firemen were forced to knock down a portion of the roof to make it safe for inspectors to enter.[134]  The final report declared that the fire was accidental, but one could not help but wonder if the fire was not set intentionally either by someone who had a deep, emotional investment in their opposition to the club, or by someone involved in the club itself looking for a bit of ex post facto revenge.  In any case, the Phoenix did not rise from those ashes because the structure, no longer safe and not worth rebuilding, was soon torn down.[135]  Seven years later a Costco membership warehouse was constructed in its place, the building of which still stands today.

            There is a footnote to this incredible story that must be included concerning Edward Kull, who was forced to resign as president of the Brick Township Council and as school cafeteria director because it was alleged that he had taken a $20,000 bribe from someone said to be connected to organized crime in exchange for his help in smoothing the way for a zoning change when the owners of Plato’s Retreat were looking to retrofit the defunct club into an office building.[136]  He was also accused of taking money from a Long Branch food distributor in exchange for that school’s cafeteria food contract.[137]  The irony, of course, was that Kull was one of the most outspoken people against the sex club, yet there he was allegedly getting his palm greased with money from the very people that he railed against.  Kull, however, had smartly cut a deal with the Ocean County prosecutor and was not charged with any crime in lieu of his testimony in the upcoming corruption and murder trial of the Genovese crime family.[138]


[1] Michelle Pucci, “3 in Brick Face Prostitution Rap,” Ocean County Observer, March 18, 1992, p. 3.

[2] Michelle Pucci, “Massage Palor Raid Nets Two Prostitution Arrests,” Ocean County Observer,

  November 11, 1991, p. 1.

[3] ________, “Gay Universe Cruise Spot,” (, May 18, 2010.

[4] Mike Prager, “’Rich Man’s Aspirin’: Cheaper, More Potent – and Available,” Spokane Chronicle, (

  AAAAIBAJ&pg=2316,401286 ), May 19, 1986, p. 1;  ________, “Cocaine,” (, February 13, 2005.

[5] ________, “Homosexuality in the 20th Century,” (

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] ________, “Stonewall Riots,” (

[9] ________, “Anti-Gay Rights Bill Withdrawn,” Ocean County Observer, January 23, 1979, p. 4.

[10] Ibid.

[11] ________, “Police Arrest Four at Brick Gay Rally,” Ocean County Observer, August 20, 1979, p. 1.

[12] Ibid.

[13] ________, “Gay Spa Fined by Brick Judge,” Ocean County Observer, September 7, 1979, p. 1.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Don Bennett, “Key Witnesses Picked for Vassallo Trial,” Ocean County Observer, January 11, 1982, p. 1.

[18] ________, “Mob Scenes at the Shore,” Asbury Park Press, December 31, 1999, p. 1.

[19] Don Bennett, “Fourth Man Indicted for Vassallo Murder,” Ocean County Observer, March 26, 1982, p. 1.

[20] Don Bennett, “Wife: Vassallo Was Ready to Die,” Ocean County Observer, May 14, 1982, p. 1.

[21] Don Bennett, “Triple Killer May Be Shunned,” Ocean County Observer, March 3, 1983, p. 1.

[22] Don Bennett, “Fourth Man Indicted for Vassallo Murder,” Ocean County Observer, March 26, 1982, p. 1.

[23] ________, “Stomach Wound Killed Vassallo,” Ocean County Observer, February 17, 1980, p. 1.

[24] ________, “Vassallo Dies from Gunshots,” Ocean County Observer, February 15, 1980, p. 1.

[25] Don Bennett, “Victim Embroiled in Family Disputes,” Ocean County Observer, February 8, 1980, p. 1.

[26] Don Bennett, “Wife: Vassallo Was Ready to Die,” Ocean County Observer, May 14, 1982, p. 1.

[27] Don Bennett, “Victim Embroiled in Family Disputes,” Ocean County Observer, February 8, 1980, p. 1.

[28] ________, “Vassallo Dies from Gunshots,” Ocean County Observer, February 15, 1980, p. 1.

[29] Don Bennett, “Victim Embroiled in Family Disputes,” Ocean County Observer, February 8, 1980, p. 1.

[30] Rick Murray, “Brother Produces Alibi in Vassallo Murder,” Ocean Count Observer, February 24, 1980, p. 1.

[31] ________, “Slaying Suspects Plead Innocent,” Ocean County Observer, October 11, 1981, p. 5.

[32] Don Bennett, “Key Witnesses Picked for Vassallo Trial,” Ocean County Observer, January 11, 1982, p. 1.

[33] Don Bennett, “Star Witnesses: It Was ‘Just Business,’” Ocean County Observer May 20, 1982, p. 1.

[34] Don Bennett, “Criminal is State’s Witness,” Ocean County Observer, February 28, 1982, p. 1.

[35] Don Bennett, “Wife: Vassallo Was Ready to Die,” Ocean County Observer, May 14, 1982, p. 1.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Don Bennett, “Star Witnesses: It Was ‘Just Business,’” Ocean County Observer May 20, 1982, p. 1.

[39] Don Bennett, “Insanity Plea Will Be Key,” Ocean County Observer, May 4, 1982, p. 1.

[40] Don Bennett, “Star Witnesses: It Was ‘Just Business,’” Ocean County Observer May 20, 1982, p. 1.

[41] Don Bennett, “‘Hit Surprised Driver,’” Ocean County Observer May 21, 1982, p. 1.

[42] Don Bennett, “Judge Denies Holding ‘Hit’ Guns,” Ocean County Observer May 25, 1982, p. 1.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Don Bennett, “Witness Disputes Fiore’s Claim,” Ocean County Observer, May 27, 1982, p. 1.

[47] Don Bennett, “Fiore Innocent,” Ocean County Observer, May 28, 1982, p. 1.

[48] Rick Gross, “Murder Suspect Back in County,” Ocean County Observer, August 8, 1982, p. 1.

[49] Don Bennett, “Pomaro: I Hit Garcia,” Ocean County Observer, March 3, 1983, p. 1.

[50] Alan O’Keeffe, “Garcia Death Ruled Strangulation,” Ocean County Observer, June 29, 1982, p. 1.

[51] Don Bennett, “Pomaro Recounts Murder,” Ocean County Observer, May 9, 1984, p. 1.

[52] Alan O’Keeffe, “Garcia Death Ruled Strangulation,” Ocean County Observer, June 29, 1982, p. 1.

[53] Don Bennett, “Pomaro Recounts Murder,” Ocean County Observer, May 9, 1984, p. 1.

[54] Don Bennett, “Killer’s Story: One Murder Led to Another,” Ocean County Observer, May 31, 1984, p. 1.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] ________, “Pagans Motorcycle Club,” (, June 10, 2010.

[58] Don Bennett, “Killer’s Story: One Murder Led to Another,” Ocean County Observer, May 31, 1984, p. 1.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Don Bennett, “Triple Killer May Be Shunned as Witness,” Ocean County Observer, March 3, 1983, p. 1.

[65] ________, “Mob Scenes at the Shore,” Asbury Park Press, December 31, 1999, p. 1.

[66] R. Thompson, “18 Are Indicted in Crackdown on Underworld,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 1983, p. 1.

[67] ________, “A Gender Variance Who’s Who – David Petillo (1908-1983) gangster,” (, March 3, 2010.

[68] Sam Christopher, “Barnegat Judge Resigns,” Ocean County Observer, May 30, 1982, p. 1.

[69] Helen Fitzsimmons, “Judge May Be Asked to Resign,” Ocean County Observer, May 27, 1982, p. 1.

[70] ________, “Mob Scenes at the Shore,” Asbury Park Press, December 31, 1999, p. 1.

[71] Alan O’Keefe, It’s a Standoff on Philosophy,” Ocean County Observer, December 31, 1981, p. 7.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] ________, “Plato’s Retreat,”'s_Retreat, March 29, 2010.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] ________, “Brick Township – Local Government,”,_New_Jersey,

   June 10, 2010.

[78] Bob McLaughlin, “Plato’s Panned at Brick Meeting,” Ocean County Observer, January 13, 1982, p. 1.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Don Bennett, “Harem Operates Despite ‘Unveiling,’” Ocean County Observer, December 6, 1981, p. 1.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid

[83] Rick Gross and Alan O’Keefe, “Cops Raid Sex Shop,” Ocean County Observer, January 22, 1982, p. 1.

[84] Ibid

[85] Bob McLaughlin, “8 Convicted, 2 Cleared in Brick ‘Harem’ Trial,” Ocean County Observer, February 3,

    1982, p. 1.

[86] Alan O’Keefe, “Drive Doesn’t Daunt Harem Case Official,” Ocean County Observer, March 2, 1982, p. 1.

[87] Bob McLaughlin, “8 Convicted, 2 Cleared in Brick ‘Harem’ Trial,” Ocean County Observer, February 3,

    1982, p. 1.

[88] Alan O’Keefe, “Local Plato Controls Eyed,” Ocean County Observer, January 22, 1982, p. 1.

[89] Ibid.

[90] Ibid.

[91] ________, “More Protest Plato’s,” Ocean County Observer, January 27, 1982, p. 1.

[92] Alan O’Keefe, “Pastor: Add Porn to Plato’s Bill,” Ocean County Observer, February 4, 1982, p. 1.

[93] ________, “President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography,” (, December 14, 2009.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

[96] ________, “Anti-Plato’s Bill Breezes to Win,” Ocean County Observer, March 2, 1982, p. 1.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Ibid.

[100] ________, “Gov. Kean Will Veto Plato’s Bill,” Ocean County Observer, May 6, 1982, p. 1.

[101] Judy Kurinsky, “Anti-Porn Bill Wins Backing,” Ocean County Observer, January 13, 1983, p. 1.

[102] Bob McLaughlin, “2 Anti-Plato Bills OK’d by Senate Panel,” Ocean County Observer, January 25, 1983, p. 1.

[103] Laine Harmon, “‘Plato’s Law’ Lends Punch to Porn Fight,” Ocean County Observer, July 1, 1983, p. 1.

[104] Alan O’Keeffe, “Plato’s Sign Sparks a Fight,” Ocean County Observer, January 19, 1982, p. 1.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Don Bennett, “Sex Club, Brick Dig In For Fight,” Ocean County Observer, January 20, 1982, p. 1.

[108] Rick Gross, “Judge Says Plato’s Sign Legal,” Ocean County Observer, February 28, 1982, p. 3.

[109] Alan O’Keeffe, “Plato’s Sign Sparks a Fight,” Ocean County Observer, January 19, 1982, p. 1.

[110] Don Bennett, “Plato’s ‘Blizzard’ Storms to Court,” Ocean County Observer, February 11, 1982, p. 1.

[111] Alan O’Keeffe, “Sex Clubs Sue,” Ocean County Observer, April 29, 1982, p. 1.

[112] Rick Gross, “Harem Owner Arrested for Soliciting Cop,” Ocean County Observer, August 19, 1982, p. 1.

[113] Ibid.

[114] Judy Kurinsky, “Brick Vows Battle On Plato’s Opening,” Ocean County Observer, December 22, 1982, p. 1.

[115] Judy Kurinsky, “Plato’s Will ‘Open House’ for Officials,” Ocean County Observer, December 23, 1982, p. 1.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Bob McLaughlin, “Plato’s Official Says Club Just For Health,” Ocean County Observer, December 24, 1982, p. 1.

[119] Ibid.

[120] Judy Kurinsky, “Plato’s Retreats from Bricktown,” Ocean County Observer, February 2, 1983, p. 1.

[121] Ibid.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Don Bennett, “State Police Seize Spa in Brick,” Ocean County Observer, April 28, 1983, p. 1.

[124] ________, “Police Seize Plato’s Retreat in N.J.,” The Philadelphia Enquirer, April 29, 1983, p. B2.

[125] Ibid.

[126] Don Bennett, “State Makes Sex Costly for Mob,” Ocean County Observer, October 18, 1983, p. 1.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Kevin Shelly, “Sex Sign Removed,” Ocean County Observer, April 4, 1984, p. 1.

[129] Kevin Shelly, “Brick Offers to Buy Plato’s Retreat Land,” Ocean County Observer, May 2, 1984, p. 1.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Don Bennett, “Judge Orders Former Brick Sex Club Sale,” Ocean County Observer, October 28, 1984, p. 1.

[132] Helene Ragovin, “Finally, Plato’s Retreat’ Sale Closes,” Ocean County Observer, February 20, 1985, p. 1.

[133] Loretta Krzastek, “Former Sex Club Struck By Fire,” Ocean County Observer, June 13, 1985, p. 1.

[134] Ibid.

[135] Ibid.

[136] Kevin Shelly, “In the Aftermath of the Kull Investigation, Ocean County Observer, June 18, 1984, p. 1.

[137] Don Bennett, “Kull Admits Brick Sex Club Bribe,” Ocean County Observer, June 13, 1984, p. 1.

[138] Don Bennett, “Kull to Testify in Genovese Trial,” Ocean County Observer, May 22, 1985, p. 1.

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