Romley Flunks This Bar Exam

Everything you need to know about President George Bush's war on drugs is contained in the shameless story of the 902 saloon on West Van Buren.

The 902 is a bar notorious for its crack cocaine transactions and for the "dirt bags" who drink there, according to Lieutenant Ron Hergert of the Phoenix Police Department's anti-drug unit. Arrests for crack sales in the bar's parking lot have become common.

Profits from the 902 flow directly to the Valley's top law enforcement officer, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley.

Prosecutor Romley and his sister hold two liens on the bar pulling in approximately $800 per month in payments from would-be proprietors.

Romley refuses to divest himself of the bar. Romley feels that because he isn't personally on the street corner in front of the 902 selling crack, there is nothing wrong with his making money off bar patrons who do. A buck is a buck.

Following his nationally televised speech where he declared war on drugs, President Bush told the media that Phoenix's anti-drug campaign was the model the rest of America should follow. That campaign is run by Romley and Police Chief Ruben Ortega.

During the Christmas holidays, President Bush sent almost 30,000 troops into Panama to remove General Manuel Noriega because the dictator made money by allowing his country to become a notorious way station for the movement of drugs.

The movement of drugs through the 902 occurs on a much smaller scale.
So Romley's profits are much smaller, though no less sleazy, than Noriega's.

Romley takes the incredible position that no one would run for public office if he, Romley, were forced to relinquish his crack payments.

According to Romley, prospective politicians would wonder: "Is it worthwhile to go into public life and serve our community when you have that sort of burden put upon them? You cannot even inherit a note. That is a tremendous burden."

Romley expects us to believe that all politicians in Arizona have a personal stake in drug sales.

Five years ago Romley inherited the notes on the 902 from his father. That is more than enough time for the prosecutor to have sold his interest.

The 902 bar has such an outrageous reputation as a marketplace for crack that the recently formed Phoenix chapter of the Guardian Angels routinely patrols the saloon's parking lot seeking to disrupt sales.

On Monday, January 8, Cary Emma Davis sat in the 902 talking about her bar. Manager, barkeep and recently on the dotted line as a hopeful owner, Davis gives it her best shot. Christmas decorations line the bar and a DJ spins records most nights.

Davis acknowledged that drug sales occur but said she is helpless to keep track of what people have in their pockets.

It doesn't take an undercover narc to understand what is going on.
Signs over the rest rooms warn that the doors on both the men's and women's bathrooms must remain open at all times, even when customers are using the toilets at the 902 bar.

Davis explained that with the doors open, the patrons may lose their privacy but she can keep an eye on the johns to make sure that no one is selling or smoking crack inside the 902.

What happens outside, in the parking lot or on the sidewalk, is the business of the police, she said. She can't be everywhere. But how effective can the Phoenix police be when the county attorney depends upon the 902 for nearly a grand a month?

County Attorney Richard Romley holds life-and-death power over the police. It is Romley who decides which police investigations get prosecuted. Do you really believe that the cops are going to put the 902 out of business as long as Romley continues to rake in cash from the bar?

Romley went so far in December as to send a letter out to law enforcement officials alerting them that he would no longer prosecute drug cases at the 902 in order to "avoid a conflict of interest." Phoenix patrolmen must now take their cases to the Attorney General's Office.

When Chief Ortega decided to focus on the crack sales at Keys Market in South Phoenix, the cops went after the owners with everything they had. The media were invited along as the police made grand sweeps busting everyone in sight. Then the owners found their liquor license under siege thanks to the police department. The heat generated by Ortega was incredible. It didn't take long to get results.

But Chief Ortega now defends the interest held by County Attorney Romley in the notorious 902. It's no big deal, claims Ortega. These things happen.

How would you like to be a cop on the walking beat that included the 902, knowing that the county attorney made money as the crack was sold in the bar's parking lot and that the police chief didn't care?

And what should all of us think of a war on drugs led by warriors like Richard Romley and Ruben Ortega?

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey