Ross worked out a written compromise under which Volcano's agreed to play host, free of charge, to monthly community meetings and all manner of neighborhood events, from a Thanksgiving dinner to annual Christmas parties and fund-raisers. The club promised to employ at least 10 residents referred by the Johnston Square group. Disputes would be handled by a 10-member advisory committee that would include residents and Volcano's employees.
In return, the community group promised to support Kafouros' application for a liquor license and "encourage residents of the East Baltimore community to patronize the said club."
The agreement completed, Johnston Square Chairman Walter Jones Jr. wrote the liquor board in May 1989: "There is a need for a social center such as Volcano's because it affords our residents an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves in an atmosphere equal to any big name establishment in the country."
In approving the license, the liquor board cited community support for the nightclub.
Ross acknowledges that the agreement was not followed perfectly. In it, Kafouros promised to make 1017 Greenmount "exclusively a private health and exercise club," while, in a lease submitted to the liquor board in 1989, he said he would use the premises for a "bar and nightclub and for no other purpose." And, though he employed residents, he did not keep 10 on the payroll, she says.
Over the years, Kafouros and Ross became friends. Kafouros joined the Johnston Square board. Ross helped Kafouros when his sister was being treated for cancer. Kafouros donated $500 to help with funeral expenses when Stanley Santos, a Johnston Square chairman, died.
"Half the time his English isn't so good, he swears and I don't understand what he's saying," says Ross. "But you have to understand that we are friends. I've seen John cry."
That closeness served Kafouros well. In 1992, when Volcano's applied to the liquor board for permission to provide live entertainment two days a week, the community backed the proposal.
Later that year, Kafouros pleaded guilty to two charges of tax evasion (court documents allege he underreported his income in 1987 and 1988 by hundreds of thousands of dollars), and he was sentenced to four months in a Pennsylvania prison. But Ross' support never wavered.
"Yes, he went to jail," she says. "But I know lots of people around here, and they've gone to jail, too."
Ross was understanding even after events outside the club turned deadly. In July 1994, two gunmen fired on a crowd outside the club, hitting eight people and killing one. In April 1995, a 19-year-old gunman fired 16 shots into a crowd outside the club entrance, killing two patrons.
After both incidents, Volcano's employees met with members of NTC the community. In 1994, they convinced residents that the shooting had nothing to do with the club. In 1995, Kafouros agreed to close the club for a few months. He also promised Ross that the club, when it reopened, would attract an older clientele, rather than the college students and young people who had congregated outside.
In both cases, the liquor board met with Bishop and Volcano's employees, but did nothing more than warn the club. The board's notes of the 1994 meeting say: "Advise take steps to avoid future problems."
Ross declined to press the issue with her friend, then-2nd District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge. Ross has helped deliver neighborhood votes, and Ambridge hired her van service last year for $1,625 to provide Election Day rides. He says he knew little about any trouble in the club.
"I've been in that building at least 15 times, each time for community events," Ambridge says.
Maj. Wendell France of the Police Department's Eastern District met with residents in September, but was puzzled by residents' reluctance to criticize the club.
If Ross had complained to the city, she might have found herself in an uncomfortable position, records show.
In addition to running Ross Van Services, which provides daily rides to correctional facilities in Hagerstown and to Bingo World on Belle Grove Road, Ross is seeking liquor board approval for a new restaurant and nightclub, Trilogy's, at 320 N. Eutaw St.
Ross has used the name of the Johnston Square Community Development Corp. to secure a series of one-day permits from the board for special events, records show.
Meanwhile, Johnston Square has had to shuffle its holiday calendar. A Halloween party, a Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas party have been rescheduled.
The three events had been planned for Volcano's.
Pub Date: 11/08/96