Unknown to patrons of Club Tabu, a sex club in south Lansing, a person was secretly taking pictures of them engaged in consensual sexual activity in November 2019. Those photos were sent to City Councilman Adam Hussain, attached to an email filled with breathless and unsubstantiated allegations of prostitution, nonconsensual groping, public sex in the parking lot and illicit drug use in the club.
Yet that email — and the photographs — unleashed a whirlwind of law enforcement activity and email communications between top city officials that remained under wraps until now.
Hussain forwarded the email and photos to then-Police Chief Daryl Green, who ordered undercover operatives with LPD’s Special Operation Section to launch an investigation.
In December 2019, undercover officers prowled the adult, members-only club in search of criminal activity. They found none. But police records won’t show how many officers were detailed to the scene or what they discovered or did during the secret surveillance. In fact, without internal communications about the investigation, there are no records of the probe at all.
“No report was completed as is the practice of LPD undercover unit when an investigation has no criminal aspect,” LPD spokesman Robert Merritt explained to City Pulse in a recent email.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Andy Schor also said the city does not have enough cops to write reports for each individual investigation, particularly those that don’t meet prosecution guidelines set by the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office. And for some, that’s a real transparency issue.
The lack of reports related to the expenditure of public dollars in the name of public safety doesn’t sit well with Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager for the Michigan Press Association.
“Transparency equals trust,” she said. “But if there is no transparency how can trust be there? It’s like body cameras. We spent all this money on body cameras so there would be more accountability, but where is the accountability if we — the citizens — can’t see that footage? Here, you have officers working for us — the taxpayers — and whether they found evidence of criminal activity or not, there should be a report.”
Matt Sexton, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, declined to discuss the policies at the Lansing Police Department specifically, but said when he served as the sheriff in Calhoun County, he would “expect my staff to file a report” regardless of the outcome.
Even Hussain, who triggered the undercover investigation, is now calling for a policy review.
“I believe in-depth and transparent reporting is critical for myriad reasons,” Hussain wrote in an email. “I would implore the mayor, chief of police, and Board of Police Commissioners to consider reviewing and potentially enhancing internal policies related to logging and reporting complaints, investigations, and findings.”
The latest budgets show that Lansing spends just over $6.9 million on criminal investigations. City officials were unable to provide a specific budget for the department’s Special Operations unit, which operates the undercover teams used in various investigations throughout the city.
City Pulse obtained emails related to the undercover operation and the complaint through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. City officials refused to release the photos, arguing they constituted a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy. In response to an appeal to that denial, Lansing City Council President Peter Spadafore called the release of the photos “among the most unwarranted invasions of privacy imaginable.” He also said that he was disturbed the photos were disseminated in the first place, calling the photos a “gross violation of privacy.”
Spadafore also went a step further. He argued that sharing the photos may be criminal.
Taking pictures of unclothed people without their knowledge in a place like Club Tabu where they have an expectation of privacy is a felony in Michigan. Distributing those photographs is also grounds for a felony charge. Taking the photos and sending them using a computer, including a smartphone or tablet, is also a felony — using a computer to commit a crime. Sending photos known to be, or thought to be, taken in violation of the law is also a crime.
Despite this concern, Hussain sent the photos to Sherrie Boak, City Council’s office manager; Lansing City Councilwoman Carol Wood, who chaired the body’s Public Safety Committee; Green, the chief of police; and an unknown number of people from the City Attorney’s Office. Green also sent them to Lt. Michelle Spoelma in LPD’s special operations division.
Hussain said he forwarded the email and photos out of concern that human trafficking or prostitution might be occurring on the premises — only adding to a wide collection of “nefarious” activities near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Holmes Road.
In a response to the initial email, Hussain called the allegations “very troubling indeed.”
Club Tabu requires a cash cover charge. The doors are buzzed open electronically. Several signs warn customers that photography, solicitation and drug use are prohibited inside.
Additionally, both entrances are clearly marked as “private.” Dark corners and sofas are scattered inside the club, as well as BDSM equipment and gloryhole booths. Signs are also posted throughout the building that explain how consent is required for any physical contact.
Spadafore wrote that he hoped the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office would determine if a crime had been committed by the person who took and sent the illicit photos to Hussain.
But Merritt, the LPD spokesman, said there was no investigation of the source of the photos.
“There was no investigation by LPD of the photographer because the only information obtained was an email,” Merritt said. “The name of the reporting female did not exist in any Lansing Police Department records or other databases.”
Merritt and the mayor’s spokeswoman did not respond to additional questions, including why LPD had not emailed the person, done an IP and email trace or mined the metadata embedded in the photos — all basic law enforcement tools used to investigate email communications. An IP (Internet Protocol) address can be used to trace a particular device.
The email was signed “Anne N. Amos, A very concerned citizen and registered voter of Lansing.” Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum also confirmed that no one in Ingham County with that name appeared in the Qualified Voter Files, a statewide database of registered voters.
Hussain said if the person broke any laws, then he expects law enforcement to act.
Mike Naughton, an attorney for Club Tabu, declined to comment for this story.
Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley, who has not seen the email or the photos, said she believes that the privacy rights of the people photographed without their knowledge or permission should “be protected.” And that means an actual criminal investigation.
“I think we should find out who that person is, for sure,” she said.
In the complaint to Hussain, the author opined that they witnessed drug and sexual activity in the parking lot of the business and claimed “unprotected sex” was occurring inside the building.
LPD records show that police responded to 10 calls to the business between January 2019 and July 2021. Four of them were related to violations of COVID-19 mitigation orders after the business was ordered shuttered early in the pandemic. One call, which did not result in a police report, also alleged prostitution. The others were related to unwanted people inside the building.
None of the calls were for public sex or drug use. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said she is made aware when businesses or individuals are tied to outbreaks of reportable diseases, including sexually transmitted infections. No outbreaks have been tied to Club Tabu, she said.