A funny thing happened just as soon as Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley's financial stake in the Valley's most notorious crack bar was revealed.
The ownership was transferred, overnight.
The rushed paperwork, if approved, protects the bar's real owner from the law. This strategy will keep Club 902 open no matter what the authorities do. And as long as the saloon remains above the law, the cash-paying customers will allow the owner to afford his payments to Romley of nearly $1000 per month.
Meanwhile, the drug sales continue.
Far from questioning the hasty liquor-license transfer, the Phoenix Police Department has given its official approval to the deal.
On December 11, the Guardian Angels revealed in a community forum that Romley held two liens on Club 902. The very next day, December 12, the owner of the bar, John Consolino, transferred the liquor license to his 65-year-old bartender, Cary Emma Davis, a family friend of the Romleys.
The overnight sale of the liquor license by Consolino to Davis cost her $30,000, according to records with the state.
No one, not the police and not the liquor control board, asked where a woman who has managed a skid-row saloon for the past ten years came up with $30,000. Ms. Davis said the particulars of the deal were nobody's business.
One week later, December 19, Ms. Davis signed two additional documents, a lease and a purchase option, which obligate her to pay $4,500 monthly to Consolino. Furthermore, in December 1991, she must make a balloon payment of $20,000 more. The numbers are extraordinary.
Keep in mind that we are not talking about the Ritz-Carlton. Outside the front door of Club 902, the homeless collapse with their bedrolls on a grassy strip.
Several bar owners who operate near Club 902 laughed out loud when quoted the $4,500 a month that Davis will allegedly pay Consolino.
"That doesn't count the cost of her booze, her utilities, her janitorial, her insurance, her help. No way, no way in hell. The 902's just a hole in the wall. Are you kidding me?" said one bemused bar owner in reaction.
An attorney who is intimately familiar with the state liquor control board and the sale of bar licenses was surprised at the high dollar figures in the Consolino-Davis documents.
It looked as if they were trying to hide the ownership by protecting Consolino from enforcement actions, said the source, who requested anonymity.
According to the lawyer, this sort of deal is not all that uncommon. An owner, like Consolino, finds someone willing to take the bar, but the prices agreed to are so high the nominal new owner, like Davis, can never really expect to meet all of the payments. Once a payment is missed, the old owner can take possession of the bar whenever it is convenient. In the meantime, should the liquor control board step up enforcement activity, Cary Davis stands to lose her license, leaving Consolino free to reapply for his papers saying he deeply regrets Ms. Davis' inability to control the sale of crack.
In this manner, the doors of Club 902 can remain open no matter what action the liquor control board takes. If Consolino were shut down, how could he continue sending checks to County Attorney Romley? On December 20, one day after Consolino and Davis submitted their sale documents to the state, County Attorney Richard Romley, for the first time, conformed with Arizona regulations by filing papers with the state liquor board acknowledging his financial interest in Club 902. These new papers provided the regulatory agency with the first clue that the county's top prosecutor held liens on the 902 worth approximately $40,000. Until then, state records indicated the liens were held by Romley's father. Old man Romley has been dead for more than five years.
On Friday, the head of the state liquor control board, Hugh Ennis, said he was going after Club 902. Ennis noted that although the cops have made numerous arrests at the bar, the paperwork is not being forwarded to his agency. He pointed out that he cannot yank a bar's liquor license unless the police put complaints in the file.
Without the required police reports, the state file on Club 902 gives the misleading impression that the saloon is clean; there have been 25 cases referred for prosecution in the past two weeks from the 902, twenty of which are narcotics related, but none were put in the state file. Because the police were not forwarding the arrest records to Ennis, there was the appearance that the county attorney's bar was being protected.
On Monday, Ennis acknowledged that Consolino might be trying to protect his license with the recent transfer and sale.
"It's true, that's a possibility. But though I was born at night, it wasn't last night. If we have a case, if a case is there, I'll go back a year or two, which will keep him in the boat. It's just too bad we didn't have those reports from the police any earlier or I'd have been after him a long time ago," said Ennis.
I called Sergeant Zeke Columber to discuss the sale of Club 902. Columber, who works the vice detail, was pointed out to me as someone who would know the background of Consolino. After initially agreeing to talk, Columber left a message: Any information on the 902 would have to come from the chief's office through flack Andy Anderson.
The following day I learned from the city finance office that the Phoenix Police Department had just signed an affidavit giving its consent to the transfer of the liquor license from Consolino to Davis. The forms were signed by Sergeant Columber.
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For the past three weeks, Chief Ruben Ortega and Sergeant Andy Anderson have refused to come to the phone or to return calls regarding Club 902, the crack sales in the parking lot of the nightclub or the county attorney's financial stake in the bar.
On February 7, Mayor Terry Goddard and the city council will vote on the license transfer from Consolino to Davis. Goddard, who is about to announce for the governor's race, wants all city workers tested for drugs. At Club 902, the mayor does not have to go searching for drug abusers; the police reports make everything perfectly clear.
Four of the councilmembers want to succeed Goddard as mayor. The hopefuls will hear on February 7 from neighbors of Club 902, who are outraged about the crack sales.
The council meeting should be a marvelous look at the politics of drugs in Phoenix.