Big Night At Scores

The strippers still talk about that evening last fall when Tauhidul Chaudhury burst into Scores, sweeping right through the mirrored lobby and ducking into the showroom, shouting, “I could buy and sell this place. I’m the king of the world!” Impromptu declarations of wealth are not unusual at Manhattan’s premier strip club. And even though Chaudhury didn’t fit the cliché of affluence—movie star, athlete, Wall Street macher—his bearing suggested money, even perhaps nobility. “We didn’t know if he was a king, a shah, or what,” says Scores’s spokesman, Lonnie Hanover. “We don’t ask for a pedigree when someone has credit cards with no spending limit.”

And that particular night, Chaudhury waved those credit cards to procure everything Scores had to offer: bottles of Dom Pérignon and Krug, a group of some fifteen strippers, and lap dances to rival Salome’s. One of the dancers recalls Chaudhury behaving as if he owned the place. He kept shouting, “I’m the king of the world!” Then he was demanding to know “What’s the biggest tip you ever got?” As the night drew to a close, he began lavishing the staff with gratuities. He tipped the strippers, the bartender, the maître d’, the wine steward, the waiter, and the stripper whose task it was to patrol the club dispensing back rubs. Then the manager presented Chaudhury with his final bill for the evening. The total cost of five hours of pleasure in the club’s exclusive President’s Club was $129,626.

No one had assembled a bigger tab in Scores’s rich history—not George Clooney on his birthday last May, not Chuck Norris at the bachelor party thrown before his second marriage, not even Madonna, a regular in the nineties who’s been somewhat less in evidence since embracing Kabbalah. One might have expected Chaudhury to balk a little at such a staggering sum—perhaps even to query the tally of lap dances. But, according to Hanover, Scores employees say he signed his credit-card receipts, kissed the girls good-night, and strolled out onto 60th Street a happy man.

Tauhidul Chaudhury’s wife, Muna Tasneem, is a junior diplomat at Bangladesh’s mission to the United Nations. The couple has two small boys and lives in a U.N. apartment on the East Side—though not for much longer, since the couple has now been recalled to Bangladesh thanks to Chaudhury’s high-spending ways. They might have stayed, however, had Chaudhury’s big night remained just that—a crazily over-the-top evening that would eventually take on legendary status and be passed down in Scores’s dressing room for years to come. But sometime over the next few months, as Chaudhury, a successful garment importer-exporter, replayed the night of October 23, 2003, in his head, he determined that something had gone decidedly wrong. Surely he could not have spent $129,626. Well, maybe he could have, but if so, he must have been far too drunk to know exactly what he was doing. Though Chaudhury is wealthy by Bangladeshi standards, his New York life is heavily subsidized by his wife’s employer. One of the couple’s friends estimated that he is probably worth no more than a couple million dollars and that the impact of the Scores bill was, if not quite catastrophic, then certainly very damaging to the couple’s finances. On May 24, more than seven months later, Chaudhury filed suit against Scores for the full cost of the evening, claiming the club bilked him after he was intoxicated and “could not comprehend his surroundings.”

What he clearly had not bargained for was that, once filed, his court papers were, of course, open to the public. The story quickly found its way to the front pages of the Bangladeshi papers, which trumpeted the fact that Tasneem was a diplomat. Days later, she received a letter from Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry informing her that she had embarrassed her country and should return immediately to Dhaka.

Lonnie Hanover can usually be found at Scores between 11 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., in his trademark black slacks and black button-down shirt. “We can’t wait to meet this man in court,” he tells me, a stripper called Roxanne hanging on his arm. “He tried to besmirch us!”No one, least of all Chaudhury himself, denies that he was in a high-rolling mood last October 23, but how could he—indeed how could anyone—run up such an enormous bill in one night?

According to Hanover, Chaudhury arrived at around 9 p.m. with three friends. The men hovered at the bar, buying drinks and chatting up the dancers. When the friends left at around 11 p.m., Hanover says Chaudhury demanded a manager bring him the ten most beautiful girls in the club. When asked for his preference—blonde, brunette, silicone, no silicone—he murmured that he had none but that he wanted—at $400 per dancer—to rent the group by the hour.

The next order of business was where to spend the rest of the evening—Scores has three rooms. As Hanover explains it, “You can sit in the main room, where there’s a lot of buzz and noise. Or you can sit in the Champagne Room, where it’s a bit more quiet. The President’s Club, that’s for high rollers and celebrities. In the President’s Club, you’ll find a basketball player, a baseball player, a high roller, a head of state.” Chaudhury selected the President’s Club. He did not, however, want to risk being interrupted by the likes of Colin Farrell, so, to ensure privacy, Hanover says, Chaudhury allowed Scores to charge one of his credit cards a $2,000 rental fee.

For those expecting a boudoir out of the Hefner mansion, the President’s Club is a bit on the drab side. It has the basic strip-joint décor—monochromatic walls, leather couches, mirrors everywhere—without the pole. “The President’s Club is about feeling you can have the best of everything,” says Hanover. “You can have a steak dripping with butter; you can say ‘I want a girl with big boobs’ or ‘I want a girl that’s more natural.’ You don’t have to be embarrassed to be a man for a few hours!” It also comes with a door that locks.

After everysubstantial payout—say, $5,000—the customer must sign a receipt acknowledging the charges. As for the claim that Chaudhury was drunk, the club says his signature was crystal clear.

Once inside, Chaudhury began playing the gracious host. He ordered fruit platters with cheese and plied the girls with Krug. He asked the strippers to perform lap dances for him and for each other. He stayed in the President’s Club until Scores closed at 4 a.m. By the time a maître d’ informed him that it was last call, Chaudhury’s bill had already topped $35,000.

That might have been the extent of the damage if not for one final, touching act of generosity. The end-of-night gratuity is the strip club’s final shakedown. Before leaving, Hanover says, Chaudhury handed the three servers in the President’s Club tips totaling nearly $10,000. The back-rub girl got another $1,000. The dancers fared even better. Hanover says Chaudhury gave each dancer a $5,000 tip. Chaudhury had spent nearly two thirds of his tab on gratuities. Hanover insists the girls did not have sex with Chaudhury, and says the President’s Club was monitored by at least three employees. “The strippers each received $5,000 in gratuities,” he says. “Why would they do anything when they’re getting paid just for being gorgeous?”

Tauhidul Chaudhury isn’t the only one claiming Scores is running a scam. Last November, Mitchell Blaser, chief financial officer of the insurance company Swiss Re, visited the club with a friend. At the end of the night, Blaser was presented with a bill for $8,615. When he disputed the total, he claims he was told that unless he signed the check, he would never see his credit card again. The next day, he found that Scores had charged his card four different times, for a total of $28,021. He filed suit in May. And earlier this month, a Florida insurance salesman named James Webb claimed that Scores employees forged his signature on receipts totaling $22,800. (He has since settled with the club.) The district attorney’s office says it has now launched a fraud investigation into a half-dozen complaints of overcharging at Scores.

Hanover says Scores has elaborate safeguards to verify large tabs. Anytime a customer spends more than a few thousand dollars, a dancer hails a manager. The manager photocopies the customer’s driver’s license and calls his credit-card company to ask for his spending limit. After every substantial payout—say, $5,000—the customer must sign a receipt acknowledging the charges. Hanover claims Chaudhury signed “reams” of receipts on October 23, though he refused to let New York see copies, claiming it was against the advice of the club’s lawyer. As for the claim that Chaudhury was drunk, Hanover says, “He wasn’t intoxicated at all. If you look at his fourth signature at 3 a.m., it’s crystal clear—the same as 11 p.m.”

For his part, Chaudhury appeared to be no stranger to the standards and practices of strip clubs. According to one prominent member of New York’s Bangladeshi expatriate community, Chaudhury had also frequented Bangladesh’s subterranean clubs. More curious, Scores claims Chaudhury showed no remorse, continuing as a regular visitor as late as January, long after most people inspect their credit-card bills.

“It’s the Watergate of Bangladesh!” Hanover crowed one night at Scores, but so far Chaudhury’s lawsuit has succeeded only in humiliating his wife.

The Bangladeshi mission to the United Nations is on 54th Street and has the feel of a down-at-the-heels law firm. Because of Bangladesh’s tenuous financial situation, its U.N. ambassador, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, must also serve as ambassador to Chile and Peru. He leans back in his desk chair wearing a pinstripe suit with a sky-blue tie and matching handkerchief. A portrait of Bangladesh’s female prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, stares out over his left shoulder.

“Tasneem has a big career ahead of her,” Chowdhury says, sticking gamely to the present tense. “She’s a very bright officer, a very bright diplomat.” Bangladesh has a robust foreign service with a history stretching back to the British Raj, and until last month, Tasneem was one of its rising stars. A year and a half into her posting, Chowdhury had presented her with the mission’s plum assignment: international peacekeeping. But Tasneem’s husband forced a peacekeeping of a different sort. First came the humiliation in the international press, then in the papers at home, which rarely criticize the right-of-center government but proved unable to resist a sex scandal. “I’ve said, ‘This too shall pass,’ ” the ambassador says brightly, his voice lilting with a British inflection, “but I want to make sure this passes rather quickly.” Chowdhury chairs the U.N.’s Information Committee, and he believes it’s imperative for his country’s ruling faction, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to avoid further embarrassment. As for Tauhidul Chaudhury, the ambassador says, “Ha, I’m sure he’ll be much chastened by the fire of this experience. Would you not have been?”

Chaudhury himself refuses to speak to me, but I do reach his wife one afternoon at the mission. At first, she sticks to a defiant bureaucratese. “It will be legally and morally incorrect for you to mention me or the government of Bangladesh,” she says. “We were shocked by this thing as much as anybody else.

“Civil servants have very limited civil rights,” she continues. “We are bound by unwritten norms and practices, and we have to pay the price if we violate them.” Upon arriving in Dhaka, Tasneem will likely revert to a mid-level job in the Foreign Ministry. After we talk for a few minutes, the weight of her husband’s big night out seems to come crashing down on her. “I am paying the price for this in the most unfair manner,” she says, her voice suddenly cracking with tears. “I have to be recalled, but I had nothing to do with this.” Then, before hanging up, she adds bitterly: “If you are going to a nightclub and getting overcharged, why does your wife have to pay the price?”

Saturday, February 15, 2020