Four people who were arrested on March 1 during a law-enforcement raid at Rosalinda’s Gentlemen’s Club in Jamestown appeared in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Friday for an arraignment on a multitude of drug charges.
Marlinda Beth Russo, 47, of Manteca, sat at the defense table flanked to her right and left by Raymond Jeffrey Bowman, 55, and Sabrina Carol Wood, 27, who both say they lived at the motel next to the next strip club that burned down early Tuesday morning in a fire that remains under investigation.
All three were out of custody and sat together in the back of the courtroom before their case was called by Judge James Boscoe.
At one point during the hearing, Boscoe stopped reading the charges to ask Wood if she found the situation amusing.
“A little,” Wood replied.
“Why don’t you sit and listen to the charges,” Boscoe said.
All three of the defendants are accused by the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office of maintaining a drug house, allowing a place to be used for the distribution of drugs, offering to sell or furnish LSD, and possession of LSD for sale, all four of which are felonies.
The DA’s office is also accusing Russo and Bowman of two additional felonies each on suspicion of offering to sell or furnish methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine for sale.
Russo and Bowman are additionally accused of allowing a person to solicit alcohol, a misdemeanor violation of the California Business and Professions Code.
Wood is also accused of four misdemeanors on charges of possessing heroin, possessing methamphetamine, begging or soliciting an alcoholic beverage, and possessing a pipe for smoking methamphetamine.
The trio did not enter pleas and were appointed attorneys because they told Boscoe they could not afford their own. They were ordered by the judge to appear in court for a further arraignment at 8:30 a.m. next Friday.
Jamie Christine Wilcox, 41, who worked as a bartender at the strip club and lived in a unit at the adjacent motel, appeared in court Friday prior to Russo, Bowman and Wood.
Wilcox is accused by the DA’s office of four misdemeanors stemming from the March 1 raid. She was also detained on a felony bench warrant for an unrelated case in which she is accused of bringing drugs into jail.
The misdemeanors Wilcox is charged with in connection to the raid are possession of methamphetamine, possession of LSD, allowing a person to solicit or beg for an alcoholic beverage, and being in a place where controlled substances are sold or used.
Sonora attorney Scott Gross was appointed as Wilcox’s public defender on Friday.
Wilcox pleaded not guilty to all charges against her. She was ordered to re-appear for a pre-trial conference over the four misdemeanors at 9:30 am. March 29, while a preliminary hearing in her unrelated felony case was scheduled for April 13.
Some defendants speak out
Russo, who is the daughter of the strip club’s owner, Rosalinda Aponte Sanmartin, declined to comment as she walked out of the historic courthouse on Yaney Avenue following the brief hearing on Friday.
Wood and Bowman said they are both homeless since the blaze that burned down the motel and damaged the strip club.
“Everything we owned got burnt in the fire,” Wood said, adding that she was in jail at the time.
In reference to the charges, Wood said, “They didn’t catch me with anything.”
Bowman said he was just a patron of the club and wasn’t involved in selling drugs.
“I’ve never even taken LSD,” he said.
Bowman said he believes the March 1 raid and ensuing criminal charges are part of a “conspiracy to get rid of the bar.”
“It’s because they find the establishment unfavorable to the county,” he said.
Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele told The Union Democrat on the night of the raid that he hoped the county closes down the club for allegedly not following the law as it pertained to illegal drug sales and prostitution, in addition to building code violations.
“It needs to be closed down,” Mele said on March 1. “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.”
Richard Lewis Bennett, 53, who also lived in a room at the motel on the premises of the strip club and was arrested during the raid, is scheduled to have an arraignment at 8;30 a.m. next Friday as well.
Bennett is also accused of offering to sell or furnish methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine for sale, both felonies, according to Deputy District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke.
Jenecke said that Bennett’s arraignment was scheduled on a different day than the other three because officials at Tuolumne County Jail determine court dates when people are released from custody, though she didn’t know exactly why his was different than the others.
Bennett was at court on Friday with the other defendants and raised his middle finger to flip off a Union Democrat photographer as he left the courthouse with Russo.
Some suspects still at large
There are three other people being charged with misdemeanors in connection with the investigation of the strip club, while two others are wanted on pending felony warrants.
Breanna Noel Gallegos, 22, whose address was not listed in booking logs provided by the jail, is accused of being in a place where controlled substances are sold or used and is scheduled to have an arraignment next Friday as well.
Jenecke said a person accused in another misdemeanor case is also scheduled to have an arraignment, though she didn’t feel comfortable sharing the name until a warrant is issued. She added that an arrest warrant has been issued for a person in a third misdemeanor case connected with the same investigation.
Felony arrest warrants for Sanmartin, 78, and a man named Nathan Keith are pending approval from the court on suspicion of maintaining a drug house, allowing a place to be used for the distribution of a controlled substance, offering to sell or furnish LSD, and possession of LSD for sale.
The DA’s office is additionally seeking felony charges against Sanmartin on suspicion of felony offering to sell or furnish methamphetamine and felony possession of methamphetamine for sale.
Sanmartin was not at the business when it was raided by 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.
Jenecke said the warrants, if approved, will be given to the Sheriff’s Office to put into the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or CLETS, so that Sanmartin and Keith will be arrested if they come into contact with law enforcement anywhere in the state.
The troubled past of Rosalinda’s
The business and some of the people associated with it are no strangers to brushes with the law since Sanmartin purchased the deed to the property in 2001.
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. Sanmartin’s son, Wayne Russo, was arrested on suspicion of theft in that raid.
Wayne Russo was arrested again at Rosalinda’s in 2007 on suspicion of sexual assault and false imprisonment after Sheriff’s deputies were called to the strip club and motel during the early morning hours to investigate a report of a woman allegedly being held against her will.
Wayne Russo pleaded guilty to the false imprisonment charge as part of a plea agreement and was sentenced to serve two years and eight months in prison. He later tried to withdraw his plea but was denied, according to court records.
In 2012, Marlinda Russo was arrested by Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office deputies at Rosalinda’s in connection to a burglary at the Lake Tulloch Resort in Copperopolis. She was convicted of felony second-degree burglary and felony possession of stolen property.
There was an altercation in 2015 at an East Sonora gas station involving two female employees of Rosalinda’s that resulted in one woman stabbing the other woman in the leg.
The business generated more than 50 calls for service to the Sheriff’s Office in 2017, ranging from assaults, including sexual assaults, to code violations and thefts that required a response from Sheriff’s deputies. There have been more than 200 calls for service over the past five years.
A day after the March 1 raid, the club and motel properties that are situated on three acres near the corner of Highway 108 and O’Byrnes Ferry Road were condemned by County Building Official Doug Oliver, who said the buildings were unsafe for human occupancy due to “extensive fire, life and safety violations.”
Oliver said at the time that it would be a misdemeanor to enter the buildings unless the owner was issued a building permit from the county and corrected the violations.
Less than two weeks later, firefighters responded to a blaze at the business that was reported at about 3:10 a.m. on Tuesday.
Most of the motel and a room in the nightclub were damaged by the fire, which fire investigators have referred to as “very suspicious” but have yet to conclude whether it was arson.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Emily Kilgore stated that the cause of the fire was still under investigation in an email Friday.
Prior to becoming a strip club, the property was a family operated restaurant in the 1960s and 1970s called the Winkin’ Lantern. Ownership changed hands several times over the ensuing decades before being purchased by Sanmartin.
A review of Rosalinda’s that was posted on the website Yelp in 2011 compared it to the strip club from the 1996 vampire film “From Dusk till Dawn,” penned by Quentin Tarantino, and noted how the dancers would hop off the stage between songs to change their own music.
The reviewer gave the club a rating of three out of five stars.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.