By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Richard Romley's cash-and-crack hypocrisy is finally facing direct assault.
The county's top prosecutor has maintained a hidden interest for five years in what has become one of the Valley's most lawless bars. Since assuming office in January of 1988, the incidents of armed robbery, aggravated assault and the sale of crack cocaine at Club 902 on West Van Buren have escalated dramatically. Neighborhood residents, unaware that the Maricopa County attorney held two liens on this pesthole, wondered how in God's name Club 902 managed to keep its liquor license.
Last week the superintendent of the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control said he'd seen enough.
In a move interpreted as a stall to buy time, Club 902's owner, John Consolino, is attempting to transfer the license to bartender-manager Cary Emma Davis, a Romley family friend. Superintendent Hugh Ennis said last Thursday that he will ask his board to block that transfer. If successful, Ennis claims he will then go after Consolino's license because of the recently publicized track record of the 902.
Surrounding his lunch plate with hands the size of eggplants, Ennis gives the impression of a man who enjoys the idea of cleaning up this notorious crack outlet. As a uniformed beat cop back in the Sixties, Ennis used to patrol the 902 when it was nothing more than a blue-collar bar. Speaking quietly and forthrightly in the subdued Western grandeur of the Stockyards restaurant, Ennis presented a stark contrast in law-enforcement attitudes to Richard Romley.
From the moment the prosecutor's stake in Club 902 was revealed, Romley has behaved like a greased weasel.
That is not surprising.
What no one has understood is that, unlike almost any other bar in Phoenix, the liquor license of Club 902 is unique.
If the 902's liquor license is revoked, it is dead, forever. It cannot be transferred. It cannot be resold. No bar can ever operate at that location again. This is because a church is across the street.
Consequently, effective enforcement action against the 902 means Romley stands to go from a lucrative interest (nearly $1,000 a month in payments) in a skid-row bar to a position where he is stuck with a saloon which cannot sell booze and that is located on the wrong side of the tracks at a time when you can't sell real estate in Phoenix's better neighborhoods. Club 902 is not a likely candidate to be gentrified into a yogurt bar.
So of course when the Guardian Angels revealed in a community forum that Romley held two liens on a bar notorious for the sale of crack in its parking lot, the county attorney rolled his eyes in astonishment like Jim Bakker looking for a convenient corner in which to assume the fetal position.
Romley told stunned observers that he had no idea the bar had a drug problem.
If Richard Romley was unaware that his only significant investment had a significant drug profile in law-enforcement circles, then he should be recalled for incompetence.
Police records reveal that last year, while Romley served as the county's top prosecutor, Club 902 had 123 arrests at the bar or in the parking lot. In addition to armed robberies, aggravated assaults and attempted homicides, the record includes 65 narcotics-related busts, the vast majority of which involved crack.
Do you know of any other bar in Phoenix with more crack citations? Does Romley?
Richard Romley promised voters in 1988 that he'd clean up the Valley, yet he claims he is unaware that his own bar is the target of repeated undercover narcotics purchases by the police. Romley's gall is all the more outrageous because he is the top prosecutor in the war on drugs in Phoenix. This program has been held up by President George Bush, in the wake of his anti-crack speech, as the model that the rest of America must follow. The local campaign that the White House is so high on consists primarily of County Attorney Romley and Police Chief Ruben Ortega staging press conferences where they announce the latest body counts of teen-agers arrested and jailed for smoking marijuana in the parking lots of bars like Zazoo.
The sheer volume and nature of the arrests at Club 902 last year ridicule Romley's plea of ignorance. These very arrests were routinely referred to Romley for prosecution. The real question is not whether Romley is telling the truth--the answer to that is perfectly obvious. The real question is how Club 902 managed to keep its doors open.
Effective enforcement on bars is two-tiered: It takes vigorous arrests as well as paperwork follow-through to nail an offender.
While street-level officers racked up a staggering number of collars at Club 902, police brass never marched the arrest reports over to the state liquor control department. Without police reports, Superintendent Ennis was powerless to move on Club 902. Prior to this series on Richard Romley's bar, there was not a single narcotics violation in the state file.
If you think Romley's relationship with Ortega's brass looks too cozy, you are beginning to get the picture.
The chief depends upon the county attorney to prosecute his arrests. An unsympathetic prosecutor can make the chief's record look like swiss cheese.