After waking up with thousands of dollars charged to his card, one customer took a drug test and found traces of methadone. He was one of many men allegedly scammed by Birmingham's Legs 11.
Collages by Marta Parszeniew
Forum user filip1234 did not have a good night at Birmingham's Legs 11 strip club.
"My own experience is that I was plied with drink—massively so—and was then offered a dance, but only in the VIP room," he wrote on the UKPunting.com message board. "Once there, I was promised full sex, which never materialized. Then I was promised full sex again. Basically, I spent more than a grand on nothing. It's absolutely criminal what they did. I was one of the lucky ones too. One poor guy got conned out of more than 10k. Try explaining that to the wife!"
Last July, police in Birmingham released details of a report they’d written investigating Legs 11. In it, they alleged that, since 2013, 17 people they knew of had been conned out of a total £93,042 [$128,541] at the Broad Street club. One customer felt so out of it, having had £9,000 [$12,433] charged to his card, that he bought a drug test kit and came up positive for methadone. What’s more is that undercover trading standards officers were offered sex for £1,000 [$1,381] a pop, and police said intelligence checks had revealed links to Albanian organized crime.
The story of Legs 11 is complicated and mysterious, encompassing sex, drugs, and exploitation. As police wouldn't talk to me about the case—citing the ongoing investigation—and only a few details were released in their report, I had no choice but to spend months trying to uncover it myself, burrowing deep into areas of the internet I didn’t know existed and scrolling endlessly through the social media accounts of people I would never meet.
Nicknamed the Golden Mile, Broad Street runs through Birmingham’s Westside district and hosts the city's Walk of Stars, the local equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, featuring tributes to Brummies [people from the Birmingham area] like Ozzy Osbourne, Jasper Carrott, and Noddy Holder. In the late 1970s, Broad Street became one of the city’s go-to nightlife spots when the Rum Runner nightclub restyled itself in the image of New York’s Studio 54 and gave a residency to local up-and-comers Duran Duran. Though it continued to boom over the following decades, the 2008 recession closed 40 percent of Broad Street’s venues, and in 2018, it makes for pretty grim viewing on a Saturday night, as drunk students mix with short-sleeve-shirted men, discarded takeout wrappers, and police.
Despite the recession, the Broad Street branch of Legs 11 opened in 2010, following the opening of its sister club in Birmingham's Chinatown in 1996. The franchise was founded by Sidney Taylor, a Dubliner who moved to Birmingham to work in construction but ended up racing cars professionally. He then launched a string of bars and clubs around the West Midlands before leaving their running to his son Sidney Jr. in 1999.
A 2016 article in Strip Magazine celebrated Legs 11's 20th anniversary. It talked about both clubs being forces of good in the community, and them raising money for charity. It also specifically featured the line, "Legs 11 always plays strictly by the rules of the Sexual Entertainment Venue license."
The term given to clubs that trick or overcharge customers is "clip joints." Long a fixture in London's Soho, most British ones were shut down in the 2000s, though many continue to operate in Eastern Europe. They run on the presumption that men won’t complain to authorities about being scammed or overcharged because anything to do with sex is embarrassing. Maybe it's worth assuming, then, that more than the 17 who contacted Action Fraud—the UK's reporting center for fraud—fell victim to Legs 11.
An internet search reveals (among others) the following Google Reviews:
"I Purposely duplicated transactions. Stole £200+ [more than $276] "
"I got duplicate transactions of £150 [$207]. I'm awaiting a reply from the place."
"The toilet attendant threatened me with violence unless I paid him £20 [$27]. I was so scared I gave him the money. Please don't go there."
"My friend got fleeced of £500 [$690] he says. He reckons they forced him to spend a wedge against his will on VIP, he says ;)"
The reviews sound damning, but the "he says" in that last review is key in this case, as it implies that because someone had been drinking they couldn't help but spend a large sum of money.
Reddit user Technical_Glitch ran into a similar issue when an overly expensive trip to Legs 11 in 2015 prompted him to create a thread on Reddit’s Legal Advice forum. He titled it "Woke up with more than £4,000 [$5,526] worth of charges from a strip club," and he was immediately accused of buying high-end bottles and dances and just not wanting to pay. The thread then devolved into anecdotes from users about times their friends, and friends of friends, had similar bills at different clubs.
Technical_Glitch's posts, however, gave some insight into how scams at clip joints work. They also show just how quickly a person can lose several thousand dollars when they’re, admittedly, very drunk. Seventy minutes is all it took for staff to ring up five separate transactions on his card, plus a final one of £1,650 [$2,279] on a company card when his own account ran dry.
Technical_Glitch claims he entered the Broad Street club at 3:10 AM and left at 4:20 AM, the receipts in his pocket proving it the morning after. He remembers being asked to leave the previous place he was at and stumbling to Legs 11, where he presumably appeared to be an easy target. He then remembers very little until coming to at the bar. Staff told him he couldn’t leave until he paid, hence the work card. He writes, "Having to explain £1,650 [$2,279] worth of transactions to Legs 11 [to my boss] was not my finest moment."
What he does remember is having one dance, before the woman sat down and talked to him. "Even if she was charging an extortionate amount to sit and talk to me," he writes, "that would equal one lump sum at the end of the night, not six transactions." He also thinks she asked for his card's PIN, but can't say for sure.
Technical_Glitch called Legs 11 explaining that there must be some kind of mistake. Staff said they’d check the CCTV and get back to him. They didn’t. He then emailed requesting an itemized bill. Again, no response. Eventually, he was forced to dispute the charges with his bank, except for one for £330 [$455], which he allowed was for the dance.
I messaged Technical_Glitch to find out more—our interaction is below:
VICE: Has your memory of the night sharpened since?
Technical_Glitch: Yes, things are slightly clearer. I remember being extremely drunk when arriving, and I remember almost immediately being escorted away from my friends to what I now know was the champagne room. It’s from here that my memory is almost completely blank, with just brief snippets of what happened.
What were your friends doing during all this?
My friends assumed at the time I was having a private dance. After an hour or so, they left the club and assumed I’d done the same.
Do you think someone stole your card and completed multiple transactions?
I can’t say for sure because I can’t remember, but when I arrived back at my friend’s after the club, I’ve been told that I mentioned them [Legs 11] asking for my PIN and taking my card. Another thing I noticed is that every transaction was made twice: two transactions of £1,100 [$1,519], two transactions of £550 [$759], two transactions of £330 [$455], two transactions of £110 [$151], and then a couple of small transactions for drinks.
You said in your posts that there were six transactions—now you’re saying ten. Can you clear this up?
I can indeed. In the posts, I only mention six as these were the biggest ones, and the ones I was most worried about being refunded.
Who did you deal with at Legs 11 when you called?
I spoke to several employees on the phone. All they could tell me was that the transactions had to be me and that the champagne room was very expensive.
Did you contact the police?
I did contact the police, who were of no assistance. I later contacted solicitors, who helped me to create my dispute with the club.
What did the police tell you?
Due to the card needing a PIN for each transaction, they were unable to help, as I would’ve either had to put the PIN in myself or given the PIN out, each of which would’ve been my responsibility, apparently.
Do you think you were drugged?
Yes, I do.
The final straw for authorities came in February 2017, when a man complained that he and his friends had been intimidated into handing over nearly £2,000 [$2,763] just to leave the Broad Street venue. Another man also claimed he was charged £1,100 [$1,519] for a single transaction. In fact, in 2017 alone, a total of £23,968 [$33,112] was allegedly robbed from customers at Legs 11, including from two men who said they were drugged.
In the report, Superintendent Andy Parsons wrote, "One of the victims went as far as getting a home drug test kit which indicated that he was under the influence of methadone. The victim had £9,000 [$12,433] taken from his credit card."
Parallels exist with Scores lap dance club in New York, where, in 2014, four dancers were arrested for drugging men with ketamine, cocaine, and MDMA, before making massive charges to their cards. One guy was charged £93,000 [$128,483] and, when he complained, was threatened with having compromising photos of him posted online. Items billed to the men's cards included lap dances, bottles of champagne, rounds of Patron, and "generous" tips.
Of course, allegedly outrageous stuff was happening at Legs 11 before 2017. One man complained about being scammed out of a giant £19,417 [$26,825], the largest amount authorities recorded. So, by the time the trading standards officers went undercover on April 15, you could say it was a long time coming.
The entrance to the Broad Street club was a mix of blood red and black. The door was manned by two bouncers, hulking men in undersized shirts. Beyond the door came a hallway, a narrow tube of pink walls and blue neon lights that housed a desk. This is where the two officers would have paid their £10 [$13] entrance fees before continuing on up a flight of stairs lit at both sides by lamps in the shape of naked women.
The decor inside was relatively plush—red leather bathed in purple light. A stage stood in the middle of the club; on it, two poles and a golden throne for grooms and birthday boys. The place also offered a selection of VIP rooms. One was called Room 11—"a premium lounge for premium clientele," according to its website—and looked more like a boutique hotel, featuring flowers, ornate mirrors, and deep carpeting. The other was Technical_Glitch's champagne bar.
Both officers were felt up and offered sex for £1,000 [$1,381] each. Police also seized CCTV footage from that night two months later in which a drunk man is seen being whipped with his own belt by a couple of dancers. What that cost, no one knows.
The opinion among dancers online is that Legs 11 was a good place to work. On the stripper web message board, one former dancer described it as "awesome," while another wrote, "my first club and a nice place… fees aren't cheap (100 plus) but it's clean, comfortable, customers are good, bouncers excellent, and you can make money if you're confident and work hard."
The fees the second woman mentions are "house fees," which are amounts paid to clubs every night by their dancers. A common practice, it typically allows women to keep the rest of whatever they earn. A four-minute lap dance at Legs 11 cost £20 [$27]. What it entailed, however, depended on the dancer. A user of the UK Punting forum—a message board used by the clients of sex workers—described the dances as ranging "from absolutely shit with no touching at all to one girl who's the best stripper I've ever seen… her 4 minutes included biting my cock through my trousers sucking my nipples, pouring her drink on herself and making me lick it off her boobs and vagina, and rubbing her bits all over me… Only time I'd wish I'd gone VIP."
Obviously, VIP is where the real money is made. In theory, that’s because UK law stipulates that full nudity is only allowed inside private VIP rooms. Then again, it also stipulates that dancers aren’t permitted to touch customers sexually, so it seems pretty clear that—at least in some cases—the sight of a completely naked woman wasn’t always the only thing enticing men to the VIP room at Legs 11.
In August 2017, the Birmingham Mail ran a story quoting a spokesperson from Hope for Justice, an anti-human trafficking charity that interviewed the dancers when police finally raided the Broad Street venue on June 23. The suspicion was that some of the women were trafficked, but this turned out not to be the case. The spokesperson’s words, however, gave some insight into what the dancers were making. "Some of them earn very good money," he said, "£1,000 [$1,381] a night, perhaps, but others much, much less."
More CCTV footage from the night of the undercover sting was released by police in July and illustrates the involvement of the dancers more clearly. The video shows a man sitting in a private room, surrounded by three women. One is lying on the floor topless with a robe draped over her legs, and the other two are sitting on either side of him.
The nurse hands the man an electronic card reader before leaning forward expectantly. He then enters his PIN. With slumped posture and slow movements, he seems very drunk. His card appears to be rejected, so he reaches inside his wallet and pulls out another.
He doesn’t realize, of course, that the first card was fine.
After months spent trying to contact dancers who worked at Legs 11, I finally received a reply. "I wasn’t involved and you can fuck off," it said. "But a lot of us have kiddies to support and some come from countries like Poland and Romania where it's completely normal."
Then, hours later, I received another message from her: "Cameras are everywhere, bouncers know exactly how pissed everybody is, it ain’t just the girls."
Card payments at both branches of Legs 11 went through a company not registered to their named owner, Sidney Taylor Jr. The company, however, was registered to the same business address as the clubs, and since last January had taken in a whopping £1.6 million [$2.2 million], according to the report police released details of.
The director of this company is an Albanian man living in Birmingham who first appears on paperwork relating to the clubs in 2012. On social media, he's pictured beside Taylor Jr. in 2014, smiling, and underneath his wife has commented, "Two brothers ;);)" He’s also pictured in a promo shot for Legs 11 between two dancers, and in another social media photo sits in the driver's seat of a £150,000 [$207,231] Ferrari.
It’s this man police believe is linked to Albanian organized crime. In the report, Superintendent Andy Parsons wrote, "He has an active link to these premises [Legs 11], not just through the financial side of the business, but also the management side."
The manager of the Chinatown club, according to her social media, seems to have started there as a bartender and dancer before, in 2015, marrying another employee—an Albanian man who appears to be close friends with the Broad Street manager. On Facebook and Instagram, these three are pictured with members of the Ferrari man's family, as are other members of staff. Furthermore, the manager of the Chinatown club's husband has some eye-catching friends on Facebook. A sizable number are Albanian men—though many live in Italy—with profile photos featuring money, flashy cars, and guns.
Neither the Broad Street branch manager nor the Chinatown branch manager responded to my messages requesting comment for this piece.
The named owner of Legs 11, Sidney Taylor Jr., died at the age of 55 in São Paulo, Brazil, two weeks after police raided the clubs in June 2017. Despite at one point being one of Birmingham’s top entrepreneurs—dubbed "Mr. Nightlife" by the Birmingham Post in 2002—his death went unremarked upon by local papers. Taylor had spent a lot of time in Sao Paulo over the years, having married a Brazilian woman.
The full extent of criminality at Legs 11 is yet to be determined. With a criminal investigation still ongoing—and with no arrests made—it’s up to Birmingham police to decide ultimately what was going on at the clubs, who was involved, and how far it stretched.
Following the allegations by police, a hearing was held in July 2017, where the Broad Street club lost its Sexual Entertainment Venue license, while another hearing two weeks later left it without an alcohol license. These rulings also applied to the Chinatown venue, which police alleged had the same links to organized crime. Ultimately, the council licensing committee concluded that there was sufficient evidence of a "concerted, sophisticated, and highly organized criminal operation being run from the premises."
Both clubs remained open even after having their licenses revoked, before finally shutting down at the end of August. Several staff members now have new jobs—including some at other Birmingham lap dance clubs—while the Ferrari man continues to live in the city, according to social media.
In September, a local man tried to reopen the Chinatown venue under the name Smila's. His involvement with the previous management is unknown, though the Smila's website featured the same photos and copy as Legs 11's. The club, however, didn’t open once, and the website was deleted shortly after being set up, replaced with the text "Website Closed/Unpaid Invoice £1674 [$2312]."
In November, the Chinatown venue reopened as a nightclub. Called Images, it has no ties to the previous management, yet still bears the scars of what came before: With red leather and private rooms, its appearance remains completely identical.
The Broad Street club is now a pie shop.
After 21 years, the end of Legs 11 comes not without a hint of tragedy. Though in its final period it seemed to have become a dark, nefarious place, both clubs had previously been Birmingham landmarks built upon the honest toil of dancers and the business acumen of the Taylors. Something, though, happened along the way—and things went badly awry.