Raid of club nets on-duty city lieutenant

Tax and vice squads seek illegal alcohol, find one of their own

April 04, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A city police lieutenant who was supposed to be at work was instead at a West Baltimore club packed with strippers when it was raided early Sunday by authorities who allege alcohol was being sold illegally, police sources said yesterday.

Lt. John M. Mack, a 17-year veteran, was ordered to desk duty and was relieved of his gun and badge.

Department sources said Mack was scheduled to work from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. supervising detectives in the Northwestern District when Ronnie's West Side Gallery, in the 2100 block of W. Lanvale St., was raided about 1:50 a.m.

The sources also said that Mack's 9 mm Glock handgun was found behind the establishment's bar - a violation of the department's strict guidelines governing the proper handling of weapons.

Police sources familiar with the investigation said Western District officers who participated in the raid, some with their weapons drawn, immediately recognized Mack, who had recently been a Western District shift commander.

"Hey, that's Lieutenant Mack," officers involved with the raid said they yelled out. "Get him on the ground." Mack could not be reached for comment yesterday, and police officials declined to comment because of the pending investigation. Spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella would only confirm that Mack had been reassigned to desk duty.

Investigators said they did not know why Mack was at the West Side Gallery in civilian clothes. But sources said they are trying to determine whether he was moonlighting there as a security guard while at the same time being paid by the city.

Department sources said the case has been turned over to the Integrity Unit, a division of Internal Affairs that handles the most sensitive cases.

Sources said Mack gave several different accounts of why he was at the club, and at one point told officers that he had given his gun to his girlfriend.

The sources also said detectives requested that Mack stay after the raid, but he left.

Court documents allege 50 patrons were watching 25 strippers inside a red one-story, flat-roofed building where West Lanvale Street dead ends into a fenced-in industrial complex.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the event was advertised as "Freak Show," street slang meaning that the doors are locked about 12:30 a.m. and nobody else is allowed inside. The sources said there was evidence of prostitution.

The establishment's owner, Ronald Lee Williams, 53, of Pikesville, said he does not know Mack and did not know a police officer was at what he described as a catering hall until after the raid.

The state comptroller's office, which enforces state tax laws, initiated the raid and was accompanied by city police vice detectives.

"All of a sudden they started talking about a police lieutenant's gun," Williams said yesterday. "They wanted to know what a police lieutenant's gun was doing behind the bar. I don't know this man at all."

The Sunday raid, during which Williams was arrested and charged with illegally possessing alcohol for the purpose of sale, was the 11th such operation raided since October, when Comptroller William Donald Schaefer ordered a crackdown on unlicensed clubs in Maryland. Nine have been in the city.

Schaefer has argued that the owners of unlicensed clubs avoid paying state taxes on liquor sales, and allowing them to run unchecked undercuts legitimate businesses.

Officials said the West Side Gallery operated as an after-hours club and did not have a liquor license. It could legally operate under a bring-your-own alcohol policy.

But court documents filed yesterday said that late Saturday, undercover Agent Theodore Vaughan, of the comptroller's office, and an unidentified civilian city police employee paid a $15 cover to enter the establishment and then bought a Heineken beer for $4.

Police said they obtained an arrest warrant and raided the club shortly before 2 a.m.

They said officers confiscated 58 containers of beer, eight containers of distilled alcohol and "miscellaneous business papers directly related to bar operation."

Williams said in an interview that he rented his hall to Craig W. Johnson, 31, of Baltimore, for $200 for a party with dancing girls. He said he told Johnson that patrons had to supply their own alcohol because he does not have a liquor license. He denied knowledge of alcohol being sold.

Johnson, who also was arrested and charged with illegally selling alcohol, could not be reached for comment yesterday. No patrons were arrested.

Mack could face several departmental charges.

Department officials said if Mack had been working at the West Side Gallery, he did not have permission, and it would be unlikely for top commanders to approve an off-duty assignment at such a club.

Department rules generally forbid officers to moonlight inside places where alcohol is served.

Officers, while on duty, are not allowed to enter a bar unless it is required by their job.

The gun poses another problem. Police rules require that firearms, when not in use, "shall be kept in a secure place inaccessible to persons not members of the department."

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