A South Salt Lake strip club owner lost his business license after some criminal convictions. Now, he’s fighting to get it back.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Duces Wild in South Salt Lake on Friday, May 3, 2019, remains shuttered after the city about two weeks ago pulled its business and liquor licenses after finding the owner had committed crimes of "moral turpitude."

A local strip club owner is accusing South Salt Lake of wrongfully forcing him to close his doors because of his convictions for attempted witness tampering and impaired driving.

Rydell Mitchell, owner of Duces Wild, this week petitioned a judge to reverse the city's "arbitrary, capricious and unlawful" decision to revoke his business and liquor licenses.

By law, the city can’t award a license to someone who’s guilty of a “crime involving moral turpitude” — and South Salt Lake found Mitchell had violated this provision with his conviction for attempted witness tampering. Mitchell’s attorney quibbles with this conclusion.

“It’s pretty clear that South Salt Lake is out just to close down as many bars as they can,” attorney Loni DeLand said.

Hannah Vickery, South Salt Lake’s deputy city attorney, called DeLand’s statement an unfair assessment and said the city is duty-bound to enforce its code.

“Where there’s no discretion, there’s no discretion,” she said.

The city’s law defines a crime of moral turpitude as one that contains elements of fraud, theft or intent to harm a person or property, and DeLand contends that attempted witness tampering doesn’t fit the bill. In the order to strip the business and liquor licenses, an administrative law judge made no legal argument about why Mitchell’s conviction should be considered moral turpitude.

"I think legally it fails on its face," DeLand said about the ruling.

The witness tampering case against Mitchell grew out of his involvement in a 2015 hit-and-run car crash. A woman with Mitchell, who was her “boyfriend/boss” at the time, called 911 to report the crash and told authorities he’d been driving at the time, according to court documents.

She said Mitchell later pressured her to lie about what she saw, fail to appear in court and give a false name if someone tried to serve her with a subpoena.

The woman decided to take the stand at Mitchell’s trial, and he fired her from her job within hours of his conviction, court papers state.

Mitchell ended up pleading guilty in 2017 to attempted witness tampering.

South Salt Lake’s order to remove Mitchell’s business license also cited a 2015 conviction for impaired driving and 2016 conviction for driving under the influence. DeLand contends that city code only allows for license revocations if the holder is convicted of two DUI offenses within five years. Impaired driving doesn’t count, he says.

When asked why South Salt Lake waited years to revoke Mitchell’s licenses, Vickery said the city takes enforcement action when charges such as these come to light. She added that Mitchell did not follow his obligation to report his convictions to South Salt Lake. On Friday, Vickery said that the city hadn’t yet been served with Mitchell’s petition and that she would reserve her legal arguments for her official response to the court.

Duces Wild, billed by its website as a “Cheers style bar WITH DANCERS!!!”, has been closed for about two weeks, DeLand said, adding that his client is losing money by the day. The attorney has asked a judge to allow Duces Wild to continue operating while the court is considering the appeal and says Mitchell could be in trouble if the request is denied.

“They’re gonna break him if he can’t reopen at least during this period of time,” DeLand said.

A hearing on the request for a temporary stay is scheduled for May 16 in Utah’s 3rd District Court.

Mitchell referred questions about the case to his attorney.