Now that state liquor boss Hugh Ennis is moving to revoke the booze license of the notorious crack outlet Club 902, the only question left is: How did the saloon stay open so long?
Police Chief Ruben Ortega knows that the buck stops at his desk, which explains why he's gone into deep duck on Club 902. He refuses to come to the phone. His mouthpiece, Sergeant Andy Anderson, has flat-out taken to lying.
By law, Ennis was constrained from acting earlier because there wasn't a single drug complaint from the police in the 902's jacket. Although the police made scores of drug busts in the parking lot of Club 902 last year, not one single arrest report was forwarded to the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.
One obvious answer: To protect the hidden financial interest in Club 902 held by Ortega's partner in the war on drugs, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley.
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship
TicketsWed., Nov. 9, 9:00am
The Valley's top prosecutor draws nearly $1,000 in payments every month from liens he holds on the Valley's best- known crack bar.
Neighbors can now count 1,000 reasons Club 902 has not been closed.
When the Guardian Angels revealed Romley's stake in Club 902, the county attorney desperately announced that he was now going to transfer all prosecutions related to his bar over to the state Attorney General's Office.
Romley said he wanted to avoid any conflict of interest. This in itself is ludicrous. Throughout 1989, the cops filed a total of 127 arrest or incident reports related to Club 902. More than half of the incidents were drug arrests.
Throughout 1989, Romley was responsible for prosecuting these arrests despite his obvious conflict of interest. It was not until the Guardian Angels spilled the beans that Romley thought, "Gee, maybe I'd better strike a pose that gives the appearance of a conscience."
No matter what pose Romley struck, he refused to do two things: He refused to divest himself of his interest in Club 902 and he refused to talk about it, except to say that his role was merely that of a banker.
On January 19, Romley called talk-show radio KFYI from his car phone. The on-air guests were neighbors of Club 902 who were outraged about the amount of crack flowing into their streets from the bar's parking lot. In an audacious display of bravado meant to reassure the station's thousands of listeners, Romley offered to meet with people who must live in the shadow of the prosecutor's bar. Today, nearly one month later, Romley has met with no one.
When I have called about the 902, Romley hid and refused to return calls.
Romley's spokesman, Bill Fitzgerald, took the position that there was nothing terribly wrong with his boss's bar.
"Why hasn't the bar license been lifted?" asked Fitzgerald. "If it's so dirty, why doesn't the liquor department close it down?"
This is exactly what the liquor department and the attorney general intend to do. In fact, it is stunning to see just how quickly law enforcement moved once Ortega and Romley were out of the loop.
Since December 12, when Romley washed his hands of Club 902, almost thirty police complaints connected to the bar have been referred to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution. The sheer volume of the drug dealing related to Club 902 in the latest round of arrests provoked Ennis to request all the incident reports from last year. The police turned over 127 separate files.
Ennis then announced he aimed to shut the joint down. Everyone, including Ennis, wondered why the police had not alerted him that Club 902 was a Calcutta of Crack. Chief Ortega's office took the position that because of the recent publicity, an overall file on Club 902 was only recently generated within the police department.
Normally, said Ortega flack Andy Anderson, the cops could not lay their hands on all 127 reports associated with the bar at 902 West Van Buren because crimes are not broken down by individual addresses.
"I would imagine that because of the interest in that location, and because of the liquor control interest . . . there's been a lot of hand searching done to put that together," Anderson told the morning newspaper.
This is an absolute falsehood.
What Sergeant Anderson is trying to do here is give the false impression that a record of these 127 busts was not maintained in one convenient file. He wants us to have the impression that dozens of earnest officers worked night and day to somehow pull all of this information together for Mr. Ennis.
The implication is clear; Ennis wasn't told earlier about the magnitude of the problem at Club 902 because who knew? Chief Ortega didn't know. Sergeant Anderson didn't know. No one knew. These records were scattered to hell and back.
I know this is a lie because I have personally gone through the police file on Club 902. All 127 reports from 1989 were accounted for in the file. Despite what Sergeant Anderson would like you to believe, the police maintain a file on every address where they are called.
Don't take my word for it.
Here's what Sergeant Ken Johnson from the Organized Crime bureau told Guardian Angel Pat Walsh in a taped phone conversation:
"Nothing prevents the liquor department from getting complaints on any given licensed establishment and coming to the Phoenix Police Department and looking up that address on our location file and pulling all reports relative. Just take any bar. Just make up an address, for the sake of simplicity, say 1020 Grand Avenue, if there was such a place. They could come over here and look underneath the filing card system for that address and they would pull [it]. There would be a list of all police reports that were ever generated listing that address."
Although Sergeant Johnson exposes Sergeant Anderson's clumsy lie, Johnson cannot resist putting his own spin on the 902 cover-up. By law, it is the police who are responsible for marching the complaints over to the state liquor department. How was Ennis supposed to know that the cops were routinely making undercover buys in the parking lot of Romley's bar? The police were the ones who knew they had 127 incidents there last year.
Chief Ortega's files have been organized in this fashion for years.
As far back as 1987, Ortega supplied to state Representative Mark Killian a breakdown of every establishment on West Van Buren, including Club 902, with a chart that showed every crime committed, by address, that year.
I don't believe that Chief Ruben Ortega didn't know the size of the problem at Club 902.
He knew. He simply refused to act.
It is stunning to see just how quickly law enforcement moved once Ortega and Romley were out of the loop.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.