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Madison alder responds to accusations of slander and libel by club owner

MADISON (WKOW) — After a shooting at Visions nightclub in December that injured several people, Madison Alder David Ahrens has worked to shut the club down.

“There was a shooting where four people were shot and one person stabbed. Also, following that, I believe one of the people who was shot was also arrested for an attempt to sell heroin,” Ahrens said. “And that really was the end of a whole series of incidents at the clubs that were very serious,” he continued.

Ahrens created a petition on Change.org to have the Alcohol License Review Commission revoke the club’s liquor license. So far, the petition has been signed by more than 280 people.

“The main issue in that area was Visions and what it does to the neighborhood,” Ahrens added.

“Mr. Ahrens, for whatever reason, has made it his last crusade to try to revoke the liquor license of a business that’s been in existence for over 40 years now,” said Jeff Scott Olson, attorney for Visions nightclub.

Now the club’s owners are fighting back.

Olson sent a notice of claim to Ahrens and the City of Madison intending to sue the Alder Ahrens for making false statements about violence, drugs, and prostitution at Visions.

“He doesn’t have a right to base it on falsehoods. It’s just not true that Visions is a center of prostitution or drug dealing,” Olson said.

“We have worked too hard over the decades to build our reputation as a clean and law-abiding business to let one reckless public official tear it down by making false statements claiming we tolerate violence, drugs, and prostitution,” said Visions’ owner Tom Reichenberger.

“We have never had a drug arrest. We have never had a prostitution arrest. We have had good relations with city government and law enforcement. We’re the same operation that welcomed the Common Ground nondenominational church to hold its services here 18 years ago,” he continued.

Ahrens said the pending lawsuit has no merit.

“The statements that I made that it [Visions] is a blight on the neighborhood and that a whole assortment of criminal activities takes place there — that all those statements are true,” Ahrens said. “What they are attempting to do through this is to silence me and other critics of the club,” he continued.

“In order for someone to be slandered or libeled, they have to have a reputation that’s capable of being slandered, that’s capable of being diminished. And I think the reputation of Visions in the community is so poor in the eyes of the community, there’s nothing that can slander them or make their reputation worse,” Ahrens said.

In the claim, Olson points to a quote that Ahrens gave a local media outlet saying, “At Visions, you have a regular group of people there who are there to get smashed, sell drugs, do prostitution.”

“I think there is enough evidence from the police district about the level of crime activity, such as disturbances, battery cases, autos stolen, drug dealing and prostitution. It’s [Visions] really a blight on the neighborhood.”

Olson said the statements are false and defamatory, because Visions is not the source of many problems.

“If it’s caused by Visions, why is it just happening now after the place has been operating for decades without any problems?” Olson said.

Ahrens alleges there have been over 100 police calls to Visions in the past two years.

“That is, for any establishment, an extraordinary number of police calls.”

However, Olson counters that, citing a report by the Alcohol License Review Committee that shows calls to other places, not regarded as problematic, have had more police calls during the period of November 13th and November 19th, 2018.

Olson alleges much of the problems plaguing the area near Visions is not attributed to the nightclub, but the Kwik Trip convenience store just down the street on East Washington Avenue.

“The only things that’s changed is the opening of that convenience store across the street. That has, for whatever reason, been a magnet for all sorts of undesirable people,” Olson said.

“I will bet anybody, I will bet anybody, anything that there have been more police calls to Kwik Trip since it’s been open over any period of time than there has been to Visions,” he continued.

“That’s absurd. It’s an absurd claim,” Ahrens said. “If anything, it’s really the amount of criminal activity generated in and around Visions has floored over to Kwik Trip and forced them to close at night.”

John McHugh, Director of Public Relations for Kwik Trip released a statement saying:

“Kwik Trip works hard to create a safe environment for our guests and coworkers. For the reasons of safety we adjusted the hours of operation at our store and continue to monitor the situation.”

Ahrens admits he has not reached out to club owners personally, saying that responsibility lies with the city.

“Usually that is a job that’s left to police, fire and building. And they did interview and spend time with them immediately after the shootings to find out what was going on and what needed to be done immediately. And the city did that. City officials did that,” Ahrens said. “But I think the underlying problem is so severe that [they] should have their license removed.”

“The Reichenberger brothers, going back to the 70s, have been very proactive in working with the city and trying to cooperate, not only with their local alderperson, but with law enforcement and other city agencies,” Olson said.

Olson sent the statutory notice of claim to Ahrens and city clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl Thursday. This is the first step in filing a lawsuit against a city official.

The city has 120 days to respond.

Visions, Inc., seeks damages in the amount of $50,000 per occurrence for injury to its reputation and lost profits.

David Johnson

Reporter, WKOW

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