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Arkansas Businessman Sues Exotic Dancer for $3M in Alleged Fraud CaseLock Icon

3 min read

An Arkansas businessman thought he found his soulmate in a Las Vegas gentlemen’s club.

But what Fred Michael Brunner got from his relationship with an exotic dancer was heartache and a multimillion-dollar hole in his bank account.

That’s Brunner’s claim in a lawsuit filed last month in Washington County Circuit Court. He says that during a decade-long relationship, he lavished Melanie Beth Sterling with more than $3 million, a $720,000 Las Vegas house and trips.

Brunner thought the relationship was exclusive, the suit says, but it turned out that Sterling was seeing another man during most, if not all, of the time she was dating Brunner.

Now he wants his money and property back and is suing Sterling for fraud, breach of contract, civil conspiracy and other allegations.

He also claims that unknown people took part in a fraudulent conspiracy with Sterling. The lawsuit names them as “John Does.”

Brunner said in his complaint that he was going through marital troubles in early 2014. He and his wife at the time had been married in June 1987, after meeting at the University of Alabama, where they both went to college, according to another lawsuit filed by Brunner in 2015. (Their divorce was filed in December 2014 and closed about two years later.)

In June 2014, Brunner was in Las Vegas and “given his emotional distress” went to a “gentlemen’s club to smoke a cigar and have a few cocktails,” the lawsuit said.

Sterling was working as a dancer at the club, and “did what all such adult dancers presumably do in their profession, and was looking to prioritize the patrons from which she thought she could make the most money that night,” the lawsuit said.

She took him by the hand and took him to a private room for a private dance.

The lawsuit said that Sterling learned that Brunner was “far wealthier” than her average customers, “wealthy enough to change her life.”

Brunner worked for Brunner & Lay Inc. of Springdale, his family’s manufacturing business. Founded in 1882, Brunner & Lay manufactures and distributes heavy bits used in mining and excavation projects across the globe, according to the lawsuit Brunner filed in 2015 in an unrelated matter. The company is the world’s leading manufacturer of pavement breaker tools, according to its website. It has plants in the United States, Canada and Australia, as well as sister companies in the United Kingdom and Germany, according to the company’s website.

F. Mike Brunner became president in 1988, and the company provided him with a “comfortable lifestyle,” according to the filing in the 2015 case. When his father died in 2008, Brunner inherited controlling interest in the company, according to the 2015 lawsuit. The company said last week that he remains the president.

He was the fourth generation of the Brunner family to oversee the company’s operations.

‘Grow Old as Lovers’

At the gentlemen’s club, Brunner and Sterling exchanged numbers and began chatting. Soon they were sending thousands of text messages to each other, talking about their lives and how much they loved one another, the lawsuit said.

He alleged that she made him believe that they were in an exclusive relationship.

They took trips together, with Brunner picking up the check for everything.

Brunner also would also send Sterling, at her request, five figures a month. She told Brunner that after his divorce they would live together and “grow old as lovers,” the lawsuit said.

Brunner “was so convinced that Sterling was his soulmate, he would even send financial support for Sterling’s friends at Sterling’s request.”

In 2019, he bought her a $720,000 house in Las Vegas, and since that time, the home’s value has nearly doubled.

About a week after the home purchase, Sterling put the home into the name of the Melanie B. Sterling Living Trust, and didn’t tell Brunner about it, the lawsuit said.

Brunner said that he discovered in January that Sterling had a boyfriend during the time she was dating Brunner, the lawsuit said.

“It was not until this point that Plaintiff discovered that he had been hoodwinked out of millions of dollars …,” the lawsuit said.

He alleged that Sterling “made several false representations” to him to “siphon substantial assets from him.”

The lawsuit said she has stopped talking with Brunner.

She couldn’t be reached for comment.

Brunner is represented by Terry Harper and Nick Mote of Taylor Law Partners of Fayetteville.

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