Funky Town

Smokestacks, strip joints and a seriously solid tax base: Welcome to Sauget, Illinois

In the field, both Parisi and Barry are headline-grabbing stars. A former member of the Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG), a state narcotics unit with offices in southwestern Illinois, Parisi garnered national attention by going to prison undercover to coax a confession from accused murderer Lloyd Perkins, who was charged with killing Richard Stephenson in his Fairview Heights home in 1984. Parisi joined Sauget's force in 1987. The dog, meanwhile, made America's Most Wanted for apprehending Detroit cocaine kingpin Dean Parker with a chomp to the back in a wooded area in East St. Louis, after the fugitive fled his vehicle at the end of a high-speed chase in September 2001.

But on a regular basis, it is at the nightclubs on Highway 3 where Officer Bear is at his most effective, says Sauget Police Chief Pat Delaney.

"The best thing about him is the bachelor parties," asserts Delaney, who began his career in his native Washington Park before becoming Sauget's chief in 1984 at the ripe old age of 26. "We get 'em every weekend. They're great for business, but 75 percent of the time you've got an issue. But when that dog gets out and he's leaping six feet in the air, people's attitudes change."

The aptly named Dead Creek, once described by former Illinois attorney general Neil Hartigan as Illinois' most toxic waste site
Jennifer Silverberg
The aptly named Dead Creek, once described by former Illinois attorney general Neil Hartigan as Illinois' most toxic waste site
East St. Louis historian Andrew Theising laments Sauget's role in the tattered town's demise but recognizes the village's function in the fabric of the community at large
Jennifer Silverberg
East St. Louis historian Andrew Theising laments Sauget's role in the tattered town's demise but recognizes the village's function in the fabric of the community at large

A tall, energetic man with a penchant for distance running, Delaney is a rabid Green Bay Packers fan who makes an annual pilgrimage to Lambeau Field's frozen tundra and sports a green mailbox in front of his Upper Cahokia Road abode that proclaims, "Go Pack Go!" An Illinoisan through and through, he roots for the Cubs over the Cardinals, and for the Bears in all instances when Brett Favre is not the opposing quarterback.

Delaney initially viewed the Sauget post as a stepping stone but ended up, he says, "falling in love with the place." While his force of 15 full-time officers might seem exorbitant for a town of 249, it can hardly be considered as such when you factor in the estimated 6,000 visitors who pile into the village's clubs on weekend nights.

Each of Sauget's nightclubs caters to its own unique niche of clientele. The Diamond and PT's are part of a national chain of nice, clean gentleman's clubs. The former caters more "to couples," says Delaney -- touching on the swiftly evaporating stigmatization of the strip-joint genre in an age of envelope-pushing sexual liberation. PT's pulls in a more masculine, blue-collar crowd, by virtue of its "sports cabaret" theme.

Oz and Pop's 24/7, where shirts remain, for the most part, on, are both owned by the Vincent Sauget (Rich Sr.'s late brother) branch of the family. Delaney says the former establishment draws a "hipster, retro crowd," while Pop's is a 24-hour venue that plays host to medium-capacity rock concerts from the likes of Marilyn Manson and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and, true to its name, never has a last call.

Taken together and bolstered by a liquor store and perhaps the most starkly utilitarian off-track betting facility in the free world, the Highway 3 nightlife quadrangle has given little Sauget a national reputation for unfettered frolic.

"I go out of town, and people know where Sauget is," Delaney confirms. "They couldn't name a street, but they know where Pop's is. Twenty-four-hour liquor near a big city -- that's unheard of."

Pop's is able to rock around the clock because Illinois state liquor laws permit each municipality to enforce its own closing time. Sauget simply doesn't have one, in large part because of the buffer provided by Highway 3 and its towering row of hard industry.

"There's such a separation between residents," Rich Sauget, Jr. explains, noting that the paths of villagers and strip-club patrons cross infrequently, if ever.

Chief Delaney relishes his department's close working relationship with the clubs, the first of which -- Oz -- opened on the Yellow Brick Road in 1980. Be that as it may, Delaney landed his job after a prominent St. Clair County attorney charged in 1983 that the Sauget Police Department's relationship with the club operators was a little too symbiotic. Back then it was just Pop's and Oz down by the river; PT's opened in '84, with the Diamond following in 1990.

It was in 1983 that attorney Clyde Kuehn, who had earlier served as the St. Clair County state's attorney and is now a judge with the Appellate Court of Illinois' Fifth Judicial District, began filing a series of federal civil-rights lawsuits on behalf of clients who claimed to have been beaten by Pop's bouncers while Sauget police officers stood by and watched. Kuehn alleged that the Sauget Police Department not only turned a blind eye to the bouncers' tough-guy behavior, but that they also brought trumped-up charges against the alleged victims to provide a further layer of protection.

Kuehn's cases never went to trial. The village and the nightclub settled each and every one of some 37 cases out of court. Chief Delaney reports that the average settlement amount was "in the ten-to-fifteen-thousand-dollar ballpark" and that the village had an insurance policy that defrayed most costs.

"I didn't lose a one of 'em," Kuehn recalls. (According to Sauget village records, one case was dismissed). "[The altercations] were all happening at three or four in the morning, when bars shut down in St. Louis, which Sauget invites. Some of my clients -- you could see they were people who had drinking problems or were not the nicest people in the world."

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