BOOM BOOM, OUT GO THE LIGHTS?

Tough times at Orange County's flagship gay nightclub

After a final business disagreement, Foutch quit, eventually hired an attorney, and eleven months later was given a $60,000 settlement after he agreed to relinquish his interest in the Boom. "I just wanted to get on with my life," Foutch said. Attebury stayed on as general manager and took a boosted salary of $4,400 a month, plus a $10,000 bonus. Halderman also agreed to operate as 50-50 partners, according to Attebury—but, once again, the terms were never officially committed to paper. "Looking back, it's clear I was absolutely naïve, too trusting," said Attebury, who now lives in Palm Springs. "John got greedy. He wanted all the money, everything for himself."

By 1995, the relationship between Attebury and Halderman had grown increasingly unpleasant. According to court pleadings he later filed, Attebury claimed his partner followed him into a bathroom and leered at his groin while he was at the urinal. Other times, Attebury said, Halderman committed sexually suggestive acts in public towards him, employees and customers—including using his passkey to enter occupied hotel rooms uninvited. "Halderman would solicit others to engage in lewd conduct in public view," Attebury contended in his lawsuit. Halderman's attorney, Eugene Gratz, called the allegations laughable. "I've conducted an extensive investigation and there is no evidence of any sexual or improper conduct on John's behalf."

A former longtime Boom employee who Halderman fired, however, supported Attebury's contentions. "I had several hotel customers say to me, 'Keep that dirty old man away from me,'" said the ex-bartender, who agreed to an interview on the condition that his name not be printed.

The trouble doesn't end there. The Boom has allegedly been used illegally as a film location for gay porno. This March, amid hundreds of onlookers, an x-rated video company filmed non-sexual scenes in the bar's main room. Both Attebury and Foutch said gay-sex videos were also filmed in the hotel rooms or on the oceanfront decks. The Weekly was provided photographic evidence that sex scenes were filmed at the Boom.

Another source said he witnessed "firsthand at least four" adult film productions underway at the Boom during the last three years—allegations sure to pique the interest of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), which enforces a "morals" code contained in the state laws governing liquor-license holders. It may also interest local authorities. To shoot movies—including sex flicks—a conditional-use permit must be granted, but records show none was obtained by the Boom or Halderman, according to Lieutenant Danell Adams of the Laguna Beach Police Department. Adams said criminal prosecution for lewd or lascivious conduct is possible if scenes were shot in public, like outside on a deck.

Even without the apparent porno problem, the ABC is hot on the Boom's trail. In April 1995, according to accusations filed in court, Halderman asked Attebury to give false testimony before the ABC, which was investigating possible liquor-license violations. The license requires the Boom to serve regular meals, which undercover ABC agents discovered on multiple occasions was not being done to their satisfaction. The AVC was told that the kitchen had been closed for about three months because of various excuses, when—according to Attebury and Foutch—the actual time was closer to 18 months and done intentionally because Halderman said it drained profits.

"The way I think John looked at it was that, at worst, he would get only a slap on the wrist," Attebury said recently. "Originally, the license was supposed to be suspended for 10 days, but John got it down to five days [enforced this March]. Five days for not serving food for almost two years. I can hear him now talking about how much money he thinks he saved."

Then, on May 19, 1995, Attebury said he was asked to sign fraudulent bed-tax returns, court records show. Attebury contended he was fired and locked out of the Boom on May 31 in retaliation for not cooperating in the alleged schemes. Two months later, he filed suit in Orange County Superior Court for wrongful termination and breach of contract. Estimating that his share of the profits at that point exceeded $500,000, Attebury also accused Halderman of diverting the Boom's income for his personal use. Since then, the state's unemployment-insurance board has ruled Attebury was discharged without good cause.

When the ABC learned about the perjury allegations, it opened an investigation, and in May 1996, it issued a formal accusation against Halderman, declaring that the "continuance of such license would be contrary to public welfare and morals." Halderman disputed the perjury claim and is fighting the ABC's attempts to discipline or strip him of the liquor license. Gratz, his attorney, said the perjury allegation is "simply not true," and that he is confident the agency will soon drop its charges. ABC officials characterize the case as "very, very serious." Sources with knowledge of the inquiry say the agency hopes to force Halderman to sell the Boom in fire-sale fashion—within 90 days of a final government ruling.

Some patrons are hoping the ABC gets its wish. After Attebury and Foutch left, Halderman installed at least six ceiling-mounted video cameras throughout the bar, allowing to watch and record employees and customers. Employees said there are also cameras focused on the deck areas of the hotel with potential views inside guest rooms if the curtains are not drawn. To the concern of several local customers, Halderman extended the bars hours for a cover charge, leased office space to Sick & Twisted Tattoos, ended certain cocktail specials, and stopped the practice of bartender free-pouring drinks—a practice that usually gave customers about 1.5 ounces of liquor per drink. Instead, he purchased Posi-Pour liquor-bottle spouts that limit the amount of booze to 1.125 ounces.

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