New York City’s hottest nightclubs have clear policies at the door. No one under the age of 21 is allowed in.
But an I-Team hidden camera investigation found club promoters -- working as independent contractors -- offering to sneak underage women past bouncers and right into seats at expensive reserved tables. Over the course of a month, I-Team interns sent direct messages on Instagram, asking whether club promoters could get young women in even without proper ID.
"We don’t have fakes ... could we still get in??" wrote one intern who is a local college student.
A promoter working to fill seats at the Chelsea nightclub Avenue wrote back, "Yeah ... I will walk u in. Just come w make up and heels."
When I-Team interns arrived at Avenue to meet the promoter, he offered to provide them with fraudulent IDs he said would get them past the door security. He was surprisingly frank when confronted about the scheme.
"You just gave them fake IDs, right?" asked the I-Team's Chris Glorioso.
"Yes," the promoter said.
We followed up with a question about whether the promoter felt he should be giving people he believes to be underage fake IDs.
"No, but I mean the girls, they want to go out," the promoter said. "So we try to help."
Glorioso responded, "I mean it’s illegal though, isn’t it?"
The promoter's answer: "I know, I know. It’s illegal but if the girls want to go out ... it’s like ... we always try to help them."
Avenue is owned by TAO Group, a company that also owns PHD Midtown, yet another club where two Instagram promoters boasted "VIP access and drinks all night" to female guests. When our interns asked if they could enter without their driver's licenses, the promoters slipped them fraudulent identification cards.
"We were just trying to do a favor for them," said one of the promoters. He added that he didn’t really believe the I-Team interns were underage.
A TAO Group spokesperson sent the I-Team an email saying the business has cut ties with the promoters caught on camera peddling fake IDs outside PHD and Avenue.
"We have strict policies and procedures in place to prevent underaged individuals from entering our nightclub venues," the email read. "We engage highly qualified security professionals who are trained to spot and confiscate fake IDs and deny entrance, which they do on a regular basis. We would never knowingly allow any promoter who works with underage clientele to engage in business at our venues."
TAO Group nightclubs aren’t the only ones where rogue promoters have offered to sneak underage women beyond the velvet ropes. I-Team interns found promoters working for other clubs suggesting under-21 women can come in and drink. One promoter on Instagram promised the nightclub he worked for was "under-21 friendly" with "a private table and drinks."
When asked if valid IDs were necessary at another club, a promoter wrote back, "No it’s fine ... come in heels and dressed [hot] (fire emoji)."
A Manhattan father says his daughter, then 17, was served alcohol in 2014 after a promoter ushered her into PHD Downtown, another club owned by TAO Group. Sometime after leaving the PHD with a man she met at the club, she was raped at a Manhattan apartment, according to her father, who asked the I-Team to withhold his name to protect his daughter's identity.
The dad believes she was drugged.
He doesn't blame TAO Group -- or the promoter -- for the alleged rape, but he does believe his teenage daughter was improperly served alcohol and essentially used by promoters as bait for older men.
"They’re specifically targeting students because they’re vulnerable. They love free drinks and they have no money,” the father said. "I think the clubs know exactly what’s happening. Everyone knows exactly what’s happening."
Club promoters working as independent contractors are typically paid in two different ways. They often get a standardized payment for every person they bring into the club. On top of that, they can get 5 to 10 percent of the total alcohol tab at their reserved table, where the cost of liquor bottles ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
As one promoter explained it, "We bring girls. Girls bring guys. Guys spend money."
A spokesman for TAO Group declined to answer questions about the alleged rape in 2014, but did respond with a statement suggesting the company was never made aware of the incident.
"Our highest priority is to create a safe environment for all our guests. We would always cooperate with law enforcement in any such matter, however, we were not aware of these claims," the spokesman said.
The father says his daughter reported the alleged rape to police, but the Manhattan district attorney's office declined to pursue the case after viewing surveillance video showing her leave the club willingly with a man.
A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to answer questions about the case.
In 2017, MSG, the owner of Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks purchased a controlling interest in TAO Group.