Baltimore police to investigate nightclubs operating illegally

November 15, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Just weeks after two college students were fatally shot in an illegally operating adult club, Baltimore is launching an undercover operation that aims to padlock and close several nightclubs fronting as after-hours restaurants and bars.

About 10 businesses operating without the proper zoning or licenses for dancing, live or adult entertainment are targeted by a joint police, housing and fire department investigation that began this morning and will continue through the weekend.

"Our intent is not to do raids," Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said yesterday. "We want to stop them before they open. We don't want people in the buildings."

The city will send in undercover officers. If they spot illegal activity, the business will be shut down. If people are in the building, they will be asked to leave. No arrests of patrons are planned.

City leaders are directing more attention to illegal nightclubs since the latest fatal shootings at Volcano's, an East Baltimore bar that operated without proper zoning for adult entertainment. Since 1994 there have been several shootings and five violent deaths outside the club.

Shortly after the shootings last month, the city shut down the bar.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he wants the owners to know that city inspectors will be coming into their clubs this weekend. "We would like people to clean up their act voluntarily," Schmoke said.

But city leaders stopped short of making public the list of targeted nightclubs.

Schmoke said that after this weekend, he will rely on neighborhood complaints and subsequent undercover investigations to make sure that the nightclubs haven't reverted to operating illegally.

For a business to operate as an adult entertainment club, owners must get approval from the City Council first. The council has not given approval for any business to operate as an adult entertainment establishment in the past two years.

Thirty-four businesses have licenses for adult entertainment.

Also targeted in the investigation are businesses that do not have the proper zoning required for disc jockeys and regular dancing and businesses that have live entertainment like comedians and bands, Henson said yesterday.

Liquor licenses will be checked and the police department's vice squad will also be a part of the investigation.

The nightclubs targeted are scattered throughout the city, Schmoke said. Some are downtown but many are in neighborhoods, he said. "They have become very serious neighborhood problems," Schmoke said.

Henson said that he has received dozens of complaints from residents furious about the illegal clubs.

"I'm not looking to put people out of business," Henson said. "But you can't just open up a club and have ladies dancing on the table at least not in my city."

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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