Police arrest 10 indicted on drug charges in raid of two nightclubs on The Block

Officers spent two months working undercover

July 31, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Police raided two nightspots on Baltimore's Block last night in an attempt to round up the last of 42 dancers, doormen and other strip club workers indicted on drug charges.

Officers swept into the Jewel Box and The Big Top about 8: 30 p.m. as part of Operation Block Bust and detained employees and customers out for a night of entertainment. They arrested 10 people, all employees of the two establishments.

Over the past two months, undercover officers said they infiltrated the two bars in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St., befriended bartenders and dancers, and secretly tape-recorded suspected drug deals.

Last night's raids come after police had arrested 29 of the indictees over the past few weeks. Police said they are seeking three more suspects.

The clubs are one block from City Hall and across from Baltimore police headquarters. Sgt. Craig Gentile said officers recorded suspected drug transactions from a station house window.

"This is in our front yard," said Lt. John Bailey. "If we can't clean up our own front yard, how can we clean up other people's neighborhoods? This is a slap in our face."

As officers searched the two clubs, a doorman standing in front of the Diamond Lounge, which was not raided, continued to lure customers inside. "This is a nice place," said the tuxedo-clad man, who would not give his name. "We don't have anything going on down here. We even have a dress code."

Police have long complained about bars on The Block, calling the city's famed adult entertainment strip a den of drug dealing and prostitution, where young teen-agers can often get jobs dancing in the nude.

The 408 Club was ordered closed by the city liquor board for two weeks last year after police found two 16-year-old Baltimore County high school students dancing. Last week, Gentile said he discovered a 17-year-old dancer from Owings Mills at the Golden Nugget.

Authorities have taken many steps to shut down problem establishments, the biggest in 1994 when Maryland State Police sent in 500 troopers and arrested scores on drug and sex charges. The cases fizzled amid corruption complaints.

Since then, the city has taken various steps to clean up the strip, including a daytime ban on barkers, who stand in front of the clubs to entice people inside. The Block scored a victory in May when a Circuit Court judge ruled that nude dancing was legal.

Gentile warned that while The Block may always exist, "it will be policed."

Authorities said suspected marijuana and cocaine were seized last night -- including a stash discovered in a Big Top bathroom. Gentile said large drug quantities are not dealt on the strip because most dealers sell only to workers and well-known patrons.

Gentile led one raid team into The Big Top, which sells videos and has small movie booths upstairs, and quickly handcuffed two managers. Officers then rushed to the second floor and began kicking in doors to the video booths.

"Everyone come out and put your hands up," Gentile yelled, as six startled customers emerged. "This place is being raided. Because you are in the building, you are being detained."

When one male customer complained about how long it was taking, Gentile told him he would have to wait until a warrant check was completed.

"I realize it's a little aggravating," he told the man. "You were here for one thing and got caught up in something else. But we have a schedule to adhere to." Fifteen minutes later, the man was allowed to leave.

Pub Date: 7/31/99

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