New Jersey go-go bars for seven years were a source of pleasure for Shawn Clark and friends. Now they’re likely to be a reminder of pain to come. This past Monday, May 17, Clark, a former New Jersey official with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, was convicted by a jury in Trenton federal court of illegally running up expenses on his union American Express card to the tune of about $85,000, most of it on bar and meal tabs at more than a dozen strip clubs. He had been arrested last June and subsequently pleaded not guilty to charges indicated in the 16-count indictment. He now faces up to five years in prison on each count.
Clark, now 45, headed the 600-member Carpenters Local 455, based in Somerville, N.J. (Somerset County), having taken over the union from his father nearly 15 years ago. In addition, he served as president of the New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters. It was his role as a Good Time Charlie that spelled his downfall. Prosecutors alleged that Clark used the Carpenters’ American Express card for more than 450 go-go bar visits during December 2000-December 2007 at venues throughout northern New Jersey before an audit uncovered a pattern of suspicious expenditures. He was fired from the union in 2008. Clark had contended he was generating union business, entertaining contractors, tradesmen and politicians at strip clubs. In effect, he maintained, his behavior was no more sinister than wining and dining business associates at more conventional establishments. “It’s a guys’ type of place,” said Clark of the clubs.
Federal prosecutors, unfortunately, weren’t going along with this. “You treated that card as if it were your own – didn’t you?,” Assistant U.S. Attorney V. Grady O’Malley asked Clark during cross examination. In a similar vein, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Romankow asked, “Are strippers part of any business lunch?,” noting that several of the joints were many miles away from union headquarters in Somerville and that Clark concealed his spending sprees by installing a crony as treasurer. On occasion, bar tabs on individual trips exceeded $1,000. Sexual excitement isn’t an offense, but union members no doubt would have liked to have been consulted about such trips in advance.