Club leasee says police raid of Club 410 in N.E. Baltimore unfair

Baltimore police stand by arrests at troubled nightspot

May 18, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

A man leasing a building that formerly housed a nightclub that was padlocked by Baltimore police and alleged by federal authorities to be tied to gang activity maintains that a party he held there Saturday night was legal and aboveboard, despite a police raid that led to two arrests.

Antonio Jackson said yesterday that he threw a graduation party for 176 Morgan State University students who paid $5 each for tickets. He gave each a single alcoholic drink for free, he said, denying that the cover charge was for the beverages

The building in Northeast Baltimore is the former home of Club 410, whose owners have been ordered by the city liquor board to sell their liquor license, which has been placed in receivership with the landlord, John Zorzit. The former manager is in federal prison awaiting trial on charges of conspiring with a violent Baltimore drug gang.

Liquor board Chairman Stephan Fogleman said the club cannot sell alcohol until that license is sold to a new owner. But he said Tuesday that there is nothing to stop the lessee from giving away alcohol. Proving that the cover charge was a fee for alcohol is tricky, Fogleman said, but "comes close to violating the state's liquor laws."

A police spokesman had said the club "was operating illegally as a liquor establishment" and that more than 300 people were packed inside, which Jackson disputed.

Jackson said he printed 176 tickets. He showed The Baltimore Sun his lease papers, a Fire Department permit that restricts occupancy in the club to 190 people, and a permit from the city housing department that lists the establishment as a dance studio named Klub Kidz, for children ages 4 to 16.

Jackson said Saturday's gathering for college students was a private party, though he charged admission through ticket sales. Police, however, described the event as more like that of a club, and housing officials were not immediately able to say whether the event violated the occupancy permit. They said the key is to determine what the $5 entrance fee covered.

Officers who had stopped at the club early Saturday after hearing noise arrested two security guards and charged each with illegal possession of a handgun and impersonating police officers. Authorities said the pair had loaded .40-caliber Glocks and were wearing police equipment, including marked vests.

Jackson said the men arrested, William Solley Jr., 24, and Ryzele George, 25, are special police officers, a designation by the city and state that grants security guards limited arrest powers within specific geographic areas.

But Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that the men showed officers permits purportedly granting them special policing powers at the China Room, a downtown club and restaurant that is not near Club 410. He said the documents were fraudulent and that both men had applied for special police permits and had been rejected.

Neither had a permit to possess a handgun, and one, Solley, had recently been accepted to the city police training academy but resigned before graduating, Guglielmi said. Guglielmi also said detectives believe the men obtained police equipment at a police supply store by flashing false special police credentials.

Last year, city police padlocked Club 410, saying it was linked to violence and drug dealing along Belair Road. The padlock order expired in April, but the liquor board stripped the owners of their license. Meanwhile, federal authorities targeting a large Baltimore gang arrested the club's manager and alleged in court papers that the bar had been used as a gang meetinghouse.

Jackson said he knew nothing of the club's history before he signed a yearlong lease for $1,500 a month. "I just want to provide a place for kids," he said.

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