Drive-In Movie at the 902

A real action-adventure

Wacker called the police, who were concerned enough about the visitors to send a patrol car out when the bus dropped off the schoolchildren. The strangers stopped showing up.

There is no proof that anyone who dealt drugs at the 902 actually sold crack to neighborhood schoolkids, but there have been enough arrests at the bar that there is no longer any pretext for Romley to deny where his money comes from.

Lieutenant Ron Hergert of the Phoenix Police Department's drug enforcement unit said his officers have made busts at the 902 for years. Yet there is no movement to shut down the 902, and neighbors wonder why. Every day they are bombarded by Chief Ortega's and Prosecutor Romley's ads that warn, "Do Drugs. Do Time."

What's more, neighbors remember how quickly Chief Ortega shut down a similar crack problem at Keys Market in South Phoenix. Of course, County Attorney Romley wasn't getting cash payments from Keys Market.

Police Chief Ortega's public position is that there is nothing wrong with Romley's financial interest in the 902.

You don't have to be a police officer on the beat to smell a rat, but it helps.

"This policeman told me he didn't understand how the 902 stayed in business," said Bonnie Towles of the Capitol Mall Property Owners Association. "The officer said, `It's odd. Everytime we try to do something, the order comes down from the top to lay off."

Chief Ortega depends upon County Attorney Romley's office to prosecute the arrests made by the police officers. Good will between the two departments is critical.

A close examination of the records at the State Department of Liquor Licenses and Control shows just how much good will exists between Chief Ortega and County Attorney Romley.

In order to shut down a bar as a public nuisance, the state liquor department must hold a hearing to yank the saloon's liquor license. In order to act, the state agency must have a file of complaint forms filled out by the police.

Arizona law requires that the police file a report with the state agency whenever they make an arrest or are called to the premises.

Since Romley's election victory in the fall of 1988, the Phoenix Police Department has not entered a single narcotics complaint against Club 902 with the state liquor department. In fact, since 1984 there are only twelve police reports of any violation and none of those are drug cases.

In contrast, the police told neighborhood activists that they had 75 arrests/incidents at Club 902 in 1987 alone. "Our reports show it's a normal place, nothing abnormal about it," said Harold Pershall, assistant superintendent of the liquor agency. "Any arrest, anytime they get called, we are supposed to get a report in our office. Only action we can take is if the police have generated reports, and we haven't received reports."

Pershall said that his agency yanked the liquor license of the infamous Keys Market but that the revocation in 1988 was a different matter entirely.

It certainly was. Chief Ortega arranged to rent buses to transport the media to Keys Market so that the television stations could film police raids. The chief personally targeted Keys Market, and before long it was out of business.

Were there police reports in the file of Keys Market?
"Absolutely," said assistant superintendent Pershall.
Indeed, the state file on Keys Market towers over the relatively slim volume on Club 902.

Will the state move to revoke the license of the 902?
"I think it's an undesirable place," said Pershall, "but we need police reports for us to have any kind of hearings on it."

Since the December 11 Town Hall where Romley's financial ties to Club 902 were revealed, the county attorney has referred all prosecutions related to the bar over to the Attorney General's Office in order to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. Since that date, Deputy County Attorney Ed Cathcart said he has passed nine narcotics cases involving Club 902.

The police have not filed a single one of those cases with the state liquor department. Repeated calls to Chief Ortega's office to inquire how it was that narcotics enforcement in the 902 and its parking lot was not reported to the state liquor department were not returned.

County Attorney Richard Romley also refused to be interviewed, though he was not entirely incommunicado.

Last Wednesday he sent a response to Louisa Stark, who'd written Romley on Monday regarding drug sales at Club 902.

"Please be assured that I am personally and professionally dedicated to the war against drugs in our community," responded Romley. "When appropriate, my office will aggressively prosecute persons accused of illegal drug activity of any kind.

"I am forwarding a copy of your letter to Ruben Ortega, Phoenix Police Chief, to make him personally aware of the problems in your neighborhood. Effective law enforcement begins with citizens, such as you, who take the time and effort to voice their concerns and to report crime to the police department.

"I thank you for your well-written letter and I have every intention of justifying the faith of the electorate in me as Maricopa County Attorney."

The letter was signed, "Sincerely."

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