After a decade of protests and lawsuits, half of the legal issues surrounding a proposed cabaret in Wantagh disappeared last week, as William “Billy” Dean and Kevin Milano settled a $2.5 million defamation action that Dean filed after Milano accused Dean, a North Bellmore cabaret owner, of having mob ties.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Milano, 63, of Wantagh, could not be reached for comment.
Milano has been an active and vocal opponent of the planned cabaret since Dean first applied to the Town of Hempstead for the permits to develop the property at 3500 Sunrise Highway in 2010. The venue was to be what Dean characterized as a “Las Vegas-style cabaret,” which, like his North Bellmore venue, would not feature nudity.
Milano began organizing protests against the proposed club in 2011, contending that it was inappropriate to put a “strip club” near the community’s children. He launched a petition drive, posted a protest sign outside the location and began writing to elected officials.
The Sunrise Highway property is across from the Wantagh Long Island Rail Road station, along a strip of the highway populated mainly by automobile dealerships.
Dean said that the source of Milano’s allegations remained murky, but that it appeared to be a series of social media contacts.
Milano made a connection, “took the extra step and ran with it,” Dean said. Seeing then acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas at a rally, he told her of his suspicions. “Singas didn’t react,” Dean said. “I was never approached by anyone from her office on any of [Milano’s] allegations. But I knew we had to make a decision. It could only get worse if we didn’t try to stop it.”
In 2016, Dean filed suit against Milano for defamation.
On again, off again
As protests in Wantagh were heating up, Dean’s efforts to open the venue stalled.
Dean and his business partners purchased the Wantagh property in 2009 for $950,000 and applied to the Town of Hempstead for the necessary permits, exceptions and variances that are standard for any such venture. The town’s building department determined that October that the club would need a special exemption to operate the proposed cabaret. In April 2010, after holding public hearings, the town board granted the exemption subject to certain conditions. Among them, the cabaret could not offer “topless, bottomless or nude entertainment.”
At the same time, the town granted Dean and his partners a parking variance for the location, and renovations on the property began.
Meanwhile, Dean placed an advertisement for the new establishment on the website for his Bellmore Club — Billy Dean’s Showtime Café — which described the club as a “premier strip club” and promised “exotic entertainment” at the new location.
The advertisement caused an uproar and immediately rekindled protests at the Wantagh site. At the same time, the town elected to revisit the special exemption granted the previous year. The Board of Appeals held a rehearing in May 2011. Dean testified that the new club would offer “Las Vegas-style entertainment,” including “dancing, aerial acts, jugglers, Brazilian shows, Hawaiian shows, knife throwers, Coney Island sideshows,” according to court records.
The Town Board issued a decision three months later rescinding the original exemption and variance.
For the next three years, the town approved and then modified various requests at the site. At one point in 2011, the Board of Appeals denied the permits, writing that the town code required full-service restaurants to have external windows, according to Dean’s later complaint. He replied that “There is absolutely no provision in the state or town building codes requiring a cabaret or restaurant to have windows.”
Finally, in August 2014, Dean had had enough. He filed suit in a federal court in Brooklyn, citing violations of his First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights. Among the complaint’s allegations are that the Town of Hempstead unlawfully sought to impose or restrict freedom of expression at the Wantagh location, and that Dean and others were denied due process and equal protection.
And there the matter sits.
“I don’t know when we’ll be going back to court,” Dean said. The North Bellmore club remains open three nights a week and is “rolling along,” he said. “We run a very respectful location,” he added, in a small strip mall that includes a Chinese restaurant, a Dunkin’ Donuts, a laundromat and a pizzeria.