By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
But what truly distinguished Mr. J's from other strip clubs was its cozy relationship with local law-enforcement agencies. The club's young manager, Sam Mohamed Johar, whose father owned the club, was a graduate of the Tustin Police Department's Explorer program. He had friends in police departments throughout the county. According to the Los Angeles Times, Johar used his police connections to run background checks on his bouncers and other employees in return for cash payments.
One of Johar's friends was Tustin police officer Anthony Bryant, who would ultimately lose his job for using department computers to help Johar. Long before he was fired, the Times reported, Bryant got into trouble for flashing his badge "at a Mr. J's guest who was disputing a bill for a lap dance."
Johar's relationship with cops went a lot deeper than paying them for background checks, though. In fact, the Mr. J's manager used at least one of his strippers in a sex-for-protection scheme.
The stripper was Lisa Piho.
Piho's job description certainly would explain why Huntington Beach cops and firemen were reluctant to tell Sandra de la Fuente how they recognized her. What's more than certain is that Johar used Piho's reckless driving to curry favor with corrupt cops already familiar with Mr. J's.
Because she had previous arrests for drugs on her record, Piho faced up to five years in state prison as a result of killing Mark de la Fuente. But Johar saw in that tragedy a way to help Piho win a lighter sentence—and win himself something in the process.
Shortly after the accident, Johar brought Piho to meet his friend, a Buena Park police detective named Jason Parsons. In that meeting, Piho offered to work as a drug informant. It's unclear what Piho knew about drugs that could help Parsons—except, ironically, that Johar himself had frequent run-ins with narcotics cops. Nor is it clear what Johar thought he might gain by recommending Piho to the Buena Park PD—another close alliance with cops, perhaps, a relationship that might be useful in a business where sex, drugs and power often converged.
Parsons agreed to use Piho. But his plan didn't seem to involve conventional undercover work.
A week later, he showed up at Mr. J's with five fellow Buena Park cops. They stayed until the end of Piho's shift and then gave her a ride home. That's when they asked for something in return: free lap dances. Piho refused. But she would soon do more than dance. Several months later, in April 2002, Johar persuaded her to fly to Las Vegas with Parsons and Tom Collins, another Buena Park cop. Johar booked the two cops a room with a bar and a view of the Vegas Strip at the Bellagio Hotel. According to the Times, the cops were ostensibly there to participate in the Baker-to-Vegas relay, "a popular desert run that attracts teams fielded by police agencies around the country."
At some point during the weekend, Piho had sex with Parsons in his hotel room. Collins caught them in the act but promised not to tell anyone.
It's impossible to know how long Johar's sex-for-cops scheme would have lasted, or how long one of the sleaziest chapters in the history of Orange County law enforcement would have remained a secret. What has also been a secret until now is that the entire sordid affair unraveled because of one person: Andrea J. Nelson.
In photographs, Andrea Nelson looks like an all-American girl: a blond bombshell with a seductive smile. She and her mother, Linda Cator, lived together in Tustin; Cator says Andrea always attracted the attention of older men. So in January 2002, just before Andrea's 19th birthday, Cator wasn't surprised when her daughter announced she was dating a rich 26-year-old named Sammy Johar.
Even when Andrea told her mother that Johar worked at his family's strip club, Linda Cator says, she wasn't overly concerned. Andrea told her that Johar never let her inside the part of the club where the dancers were, only in Mr. J's offices. Andrea said the dancers were jealous that Johar treated her so nicely—bought her clothes, jewelry and a Mercedes.
"At first, I approved," Cator recalls. Andrea "had a full-time job and was going to school. Everything was normal. But soon she was spending the night at his house, and I got mad."
Things got worse that spring, when Andrea received two traffic citations, including one for driving while intoxicated. Although her blood-alcohol level was legal for an adult, she was a minor, and the ticket resulted in the loss of her driver's license. Then, in May, Cator discovered Andrea had dropped out of Orange Coast College.
"The only rule I had was she had to carry nine units of school," she says. "I was so angry that she had done that without telling me. I was assuming so many things."
When Cator confronted her daughter, Andrea broke down in tears. She confessed that Johar was in trouble with the police, that he was on probation and that an Irvine narcotics officer named Mike Hallinan was following Johar, even showing up at his home in the middle of the night to search for drugs. Andrea wouldn't go into detail, but she mentioned that Johar and a stripper named Lisa Piho were involved in something at Mr. J's that was going to get everyone in a lot of trouble.