A former manager of a small-town strip club known for the open prostitution that took place there has been sentenced to 14 months in federal prison.
Scott Hoeft, 41, of Watertown, pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to use The Hardware Store, located on Main Street in Clyman, to promote prostitution. An owner, Michael Siegel, was sentenced earlier this month to two years in prison.
Prosecutors say they enabled brutal pimps to traffick their victims and recruit new ones, at the business. The yearslong operation was exposed in 2018 when one of those pimps, Christopher Childs, was arrested. He was later convicted and sentenced to 27 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erica Lounsberry said it was a matter of convenience for Hoeft, since the pimps made sure the dancers showed up for their shifts, policed any disputes among them and made sure they were being effective at selling sex. That happened both in “champagne rooms” for which the club got extra fees, and sometimes right out in the open at the bar.
Siegel and Hoeft also witnessed the pimps beat the victims, but kept up the arrangements, and even befriended Childs for poker games and fantasy football.
“He had countless opportunities” over seven years “to do the right thing, or at least try to stop the worst things,” Lounsberry said.
Hoeft’s attorney, Jonathan Smith, said such behavior had become almost “normalized” at the unusual strip club owned by Siegel, the village president. He said Hoeft “unfortunately” looked up to Siegel as a mover and shaker of sorts in the community and that other local officials, off-duty police and firefighters, businessmen and lawyers all patronized the club.
“That sort of set the tone,” Smith said. “The activities there seemed to be the worst kept secrets in that part of Wisconsin.”
Though Hoeft’s title was manager, Smith said his client was a “go-along-to-get-along” guy, a Fredo, not a Sonny — referring to characters from the movie “The Godfather.”
But Chief U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper noted that, from all the character letters she got on Hoeft’s behalf, he was clearly a leader and organizer in his life outside The Hardware Store, where he was active in auto racing, basketball officiating and raising money for autism.
“How are you a Sonny in that part of your life, but a Fredo in the part involving crime?” she asked.
Hoeft apologized and said he should have done more to help the women, that he now understands what was going on wasn’t simple choices between a dancer and customer, but sex trafficking by coercion, threat and force.
“I realize it’s a crime, and I made horrible choices,” Hoeft said. “It’s not the person I am now.”
Prosecutors originally recommended two years of prison for Hoeft, but adjusted it down in light of Siegel’s sentence; the government had recommended three years in prison for him.
Another manager of the club, Siegel’s brother, William Siegel, is set to be sentenced in January.