Police paying high price for Block raid

July 03, 1994|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,Sun Staff Writer

Women wearing tight skirts and cowboy boots strut outside the tacky, neon-lighted nude bars in downtown Baltimore.

Doormen plead with passers-by to "take a peek" inside, where dancers in negligees prance on stage to the delight of bored businessmen and lonely hearts at the bar.

Nearly six months after a small army of state police troopers stormed the clubs in a prime-time drug bust, there have been fewer changes on The Block than at the police agency that carried out the Jan. 14 raid.

"The Block is still here," said Paul Battaglia, who owns the Harem club.

Though business has dropped off, most of the veteran dancers and doormen are back. Sex is still for sale in some clubs. The drugs that state police officers tried to curb during their four-month investigation continue to flow between the streets and the bars, according to state police and Block employees.

But at the state police drug bureau, the changes keep coming.

In recent weeks, the supervisor of the drug bureau has been demoted. The major who ran the undercover operation has been transferred. The captain in charge of the raid has been moved to an administrative post.

And state police said Friday that internal affairs investigators sustained claims of misconduct against three undercover troopers assigned to The Block operation -- two for paying a dancer for sex, the third for sharing a hotel room with a woman who was a potential target of the investigation.

The drug bureau has had other woes.

Two key drug prosecutions -- which state police had touted as evidence that The Block raid was a success -- have run into trouble. In one case, prosecutors have dropped the charges against a man suspected of smuggling drugs from New York to The Block. In the other, a suspected cocaine trafficker awaiting trial has jumped bail and vanished.

Those developments compound the problems state police supervisors already were facing in court. Two months ago, prosecutors dropped nearly half of the criminal cases stemming from The Block investigation -- citing weak evidence, poorly executed search warrants and police misconduct.

Still, state police officials say they're proud of The Block )R investigation.

'Accept criticism'

"We accept the criticism regarding the policy infractions of three troopers," Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver said Friday. "However, we continue to stand behind what the investigation ++ accomplished, and what it is continuing to accomplish."

Colonel Tolliver and other state police officers say the remaining criminal cases are solid and troopers have developed new information that could lead to more drug busts. They also say they're sifting through corporate records seized from the clubs -- records that could show that the bars are nothing more than fronts for drug dealers and prostitutes.

"The Block cannot exist without drugs and prostitution, and that is facilitated by their liquor licenses," said Maj. John Cook, who ran the undercover investigation. "That's the path we're following."

He said state troopers also are investigating the city Liquor Board. According to search warrant affidavits, troopers developed information that some Block bars paid protection money to inspectors, and that a liquor board employee maintained a silent partnership in one of the clubs.

"Something is very wrong when you have a block long of bars with that level of drugs and prostitution," Major Cook said. "We want to know why they were allowed to get away with these things. We'll have the answers when the investigation is over."

While the department investigates, Colonel Tolliver continues to shuffle the command of his 187-employee drug bureau. Among the recent moves:

* Lt. Col. Thomas H. Carr, chief of the drug bureau, was demoted to captain and transferred.

* Lt. Charles "Tom" Bowers, one of Captain Carr's aides, was transferred to a communications post.

* Major Cook, supervisor of The Block probe, was transferred but will continue to oversee The Block and liquor board investigations.

* Capt. Steven Geppi, who helped supervise the raid, was transferred to an administrative post.

The changes came amid an internal probe into the drug bureau and members who were accused of misconduct during the undercover investigation. Internal affairs officers have sustained the allegations against three troopers, and now will draw up administrative charges and schedule hearings to determine whether two of them should be disciplined or even fired.

The troopers involved:

* Cpl. Gus Economides, who, in December, paid a dancer $150 for sex in the basement of one of the clubs under investigation, witnesses say. He has been reassigned.

* Cpl. Gary Manos, who paid a $100 tip to the dancer who says she had intercourse with Corporal Economides, according to witnesses. He has been reassigned.

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