The arrests of 10 people on Thursday at Rosalinda’s Gentlemen's Club was the beginning of a concerted effort by county and state agencies to permanently shutter the derelict property they consider a blight on the character of Tuolumne County.
Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele said his office held no prejudice toward the business because it was a strip club, but the flagrant and repeated disregard for law and compliance at the site mandated a cooperative effort from state and county agencies, he said.
“I hope we are able to close it down. It needs to be closed down,” he said. “It's the first thing that you see when you enter into Tuolumne County, so you know if that's the first thing that you see, follow the rules and make sure you are running a legitimate business. It has nothing to do with what they were doing. It has everything to do with what they were not doing.”
And what the business was not doing, state and county officials said, was follow the law as it pertained to illegal narcotics sales and prostitution, as well as a litany of building code and alcohol possession requirements.
Rosalinda’s Gentlemen's Club will be at least temporarily closed while the owner, Rosalinda Aponte Sanmartin, 78, is sought by the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office on a felony charge of maintaining a drug house. Sanmartin was not at the business Thursday when Tuolumne County SWAT deputies, Tuolumne Narcotics Team agents, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control officers, and multiple Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office detectives and patrol units descended on the property with handguns and assault rifles drawn.
Her daughter, Marlinda Beth Russo, 47, of Manteca, was arrested Thursday night on felony maintaining a drug house and misdemeanor renting a place for the sale of a controlled substance charges at the nightclub, bar and motel property, which has developed a reputation for seediness, disrepute and confrontations with law enforcement during a more than 15-year period.
The Thursday operation was the culmination of a many-month undercover and surveillance investigation by the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage and Control into reports of narcotics sales, prostitution, assaults and thefts at the property.
“When you break the law and you are not able to follow the codes and the law, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that your operation no longer will be moving forward,” Mele said. “You must follow laws to sell alcohol. You must follow law to be a strip club, and so on. They were not following the laws and they will be dealt with appropriately and that's what took place.”
Doug Oliver, Tuolumne County’s chief building official, said the nightclub and motel properties, situated on about three acres near the corner of Highway 108 and O’Byrnes Ferry Road, on Friday were condemned as “unsafe for human occupancy.”
“There were extensive fire, life and safety violations. That’s primarily what it boils down to,” he said. “Our notice has essentially identified that the building is unsafe for human occupancy and it is to remain vacant.”
Oliver said the violations included blocked fire exits, no exit lighting, a non-functioning fire alarm system, numerous electrical safety violations. The hotel had several substandard housing violations related to lack of heating and boarded up windows, structural and roof damage, as well as illegal electrical modifications, he added.
Tuolumne County code compliance officials and Tuolumne County Fire Department employees, cut the power and posted the public notice of the violations on Friday.
The owner can be issued a building permit and a certificate of occupancy to correct the violations and allow them to reenter the building for repairs, Oliver added. Until then, it is a misdemeanor to enter the building.
Rosalinda’s Gentlemen's Club is also facing a pending accusation from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for purchasing alcohol from someone other than a licensed wholesaler and possession of distilled spirits on the property when their license allows only for the possession and sale of beer and wine.
John Carr, public information officer for ABC, said the department was still reviewing information gathered during Thursday’s raid, but the investigation could result in a suspension or revocation of the ABC license.
Carr said when an accusation is filed against a business, a disciplinary process is initiated where an administrative law judge will adjudicate the claims. The owner, as well as ABC, can appeal the ruling, he said.
Rosalinda’s Gentlemen's Club was issued a 30-day suspension on its liquor license from July 11 to Aug. 10 for lewd conduct and possession of distilled spirits. The business’ alcohol license was issued in 2005.
The squalid condition of the property — which is littered with debris, ramshackle outbuildings and overgrown grasses — was a new development after the deed was purchased by Sanmartin in 2001.
The property once housed the Winkin’ Lantern, a family-operated restaurant in the 1960s and 1970s.
According to Union Democrat and Tuolumne County Assessor’s Office records, the parcel, at 14450 Highway 108, has changed ownership, often within families, multiple times over the past 50 years.
Ronald and Emma Wilson bought the Winkin’ Lantern motel from Elizabeth Harris in 1972 and operated it until 1979, Union Democrat records show. The parcel was purchased by James Beddingfield in 1982, before it was purchased again by the Wilsons and sold in 1994.
In 2001, the property was purchased by Sanmartin, with multiple interspousal transfer deeds indicating a shifting ownership between herself, Wayne Russo, his daughter Danielle Russo and Duilio Mazzella since then.
Aponte Property Management, featuring Sanmartin’s middle name, is identified as the current owner.
In 2004, the property was raided by the Tuolumne County SWAT team and deputies investigating the theft of more than $3,000 in lumber from Sierra Pacific Industries.
At the time, the property was known as “The Shake” and was advertised as an exotic dancer bar with a marquee that read "Winking Lantern. Shake, Rattle and Roll. Fine Food is Our Fame, Friendship is Our Game," Union Democrat records indicate.
During the raid, Wayne Russo was arrested on felony charges related to the theft.
In 2017, Rosalinda’s Gentlemen's Club generated more than 50 calls for service, ranging from assaults, including sexual assaults, to code violations and thefts that required a response from the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office. There have been more than 200 calls for service over the past five years.
Marlinda Russo, Sanmartin’s daughter, was arrested by Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office deputies at Rosalinda’s in April 2012 in connection to a burglary at the Lake Tulloch Resort. She was convicted of felony second-degree burglary and felony possession of stolen property.
In 2015, two employees of Rosalinda’s were involved in an argument at the Mono Way AM/PM gas station, culminating in one woman stabbing the other woman in the leg.
On Nov. 29, 2017, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office arrested Jesiah James Macredes, 40, on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman and threatening her with a knife in a trailer on the property.
During Thursday’s raid, 10 people, both employees and patrons, were arrested on warrants or felony or misdemeanor drug charges.
Raymond Jeffrey Bowman, 55, a sawyer, was arrested on suspicion of keeping a place to sell a narcotic controlled substance and misdemeanor charges being present in a place where controlled substances are used.
Sabrina Carol Wood, 27, a dancer, was arrested on suspicion of transporting or selling a narcotic controlled substance, criminal conspiracy and visiting a place where a controlled substance is used.
Jaime Christine Wilcox, 41, a bartender, was arrested on suspicion of criminal conspiracy and misdemeanor charges possession of a controlled substance and visiting a place where a controlled substance is used.
All three suspects, and Richard Lewis Bennett, 53, who was arrested on misdemeanor charge visiting where a controlled substance is used, were identified as residents.
Additionally, Mildred Lucille Kessler, 54, was arrested on a misdemeanor Tuolumne County warrant; Daniel Joel Callahan, 26, arrested on two felony and one misdemeanor Stanislaus County warrants; Michael Laszlo Streib, 54, arrested on a misdemeanor Tuolumne County warrant; Beatrice Lee Ramos, 48, arrested on a misdemeanor Rancho Cucamonga warrant; and Breanna Noel Gallegos, 22, arrested on suspicion of visiting a place where a controlled substance is used.
Child Welfare Services was also called to the scene, but the office declined to comment on whether children were taken from the property due to confidentiality constraints.