Volume 76, Number 47 | April 18 - 24, 2007

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Above, Deputy Inspector Dennis De Quatro, right, and Allen Schwartz, N.Y.P.D. deputy managing attorney, left, checked paperwork with other officers and attorneys before padlocking Bowery Video, as store employee Fernando Emanuel, center, watched. Below, Sutra lounge responded with its own signs after receiving a restraining order.

XXX action gets way too real at a Bowery video store

By Lincoln Anderson

An adult video store on the Bowery was a haven for hookers engaging in the real thing, according to police, who last week padlocked it for prostitution and drugs. In the same sweep, police also put Sutra lounge, a few blocks away, on warning for failing police sting operations for underage alcohol sales.

About 7:30 p.m. last Friday evening, Deputy Inspector Dennis De Quatro and Ninth Precinct officers were joined by attorneys from the Police Department’s legal division in serving a nuisance abatement order to Bowery Video, at 329 Bowery, followed by a restraining order to Sutra, at 16 First Ave.

De Quatro said, during a one-month period at the beginning of the year, police received complaints about illegal activity at the 24-hour video store near Third St. Lieutenant Robert Corcoran, in charge of the precinct’s special projects, then spearheaded an investigation. It was found the store was allowing female prostitutes to use the peep show booths at the rear to turn tricks. The hookers paid the store a fee to use the booths, De Quatro said. Drugs, mostly crack cocaine, were also used in the booths, mainly by the johns, according to De Quatro. During the investigation, a number of arrests were made. One car, an Infiniti, belonging to a john, also was seized and will be auctioned.

Police compiled their evidence and presented it to a State Supreme Court judge, who granted them the nuisance abatement order. Following the serving of the order last Friday, the video store was to remain closed at least until a Tues., April 17, court hearing, at which the store and police each would be able to make their case. The judge can decide to dismiss the charges, let the store reopen with strict operating conditions or order it permanently closed.

On Friday evening, police served the nuisance abatement order to Emanuel Fernando, 35, the lone employee then in Bowery Video. Fernando, who said he’d been working there about six months, said there was no prostitution going on in the store — at least not recently.

“I’m here only during the daytime,” he said. Expressing support for the police bust, he said, “It’s good, because the people that come in here are sometimes crazy people.” But, on second thought, he added, “I don’t know — because I lost my job.”

The store’s owner, Kalahewge Rathnapala, 52, was in Sri Lanka last week, according to Fernando.

Signs around the place warned patrons to behave, such as one stating that only one person was allowed in a peep show booth at a time and that sexual activity wasn’t allowed in the booths.

“This store is under video survailance” [sic], another sign stated.

“If they had spelled ‘surveillance’ right, it might have helped them,” quipped De Quatro.

The video store is next to Kenton Hall, a facility for homeless men on methadone maintenance recovering from heroin addiction. One door down from Kenton Hall is the new luxury 14-story Bowery Hotel, which opened about a month ago.

Passersby said it was about time the store was shut down.

“I thought it was drugs, myself,” Gregory Hester, 55, a shift supervisor at Kenton Hall, said of the action at Bowery Video. “Plenty of activity, all night. I’m surprised it took them that long to do that. They go in there, buy crack, smoke crack, get a woman…. Anybody that use [drugs], go in there.”

John Chronin, a musician and recovering heroin addict who’s been at Kenton Hall six months, said having the drug-and-sex-fueled store next door didn’t help his sobriety.

“It’s like an alcoholic living on top of a bar,” he said. “Right now, my job is full-time staying sober…. I never saw anyone rent a video there in seven months.”

One man did come by allegedly to get a video as police were pulling down the store’s gate. Asked what kind of movie he wanted, he answered, “Action,” then walked off.

The police and attorneys next drove over to Sutra to serve a restraining order barring the 200-person-capacity lounge from making underage alcohol sales. According to police, Sutra failed three sting operations in which underage police cadets or auxiliary officers were served alcohol.

In exasperation, Ariel Palitz, the lounge’s manager and a partner, said the three violations were in three different years. But De Quatro said while that was true, the timeframe in which they occurred — September 2005 to January 2007 — was only just more than a year.

“What does that mean, ‘a restraining order’?” Palitz asked.

“It means you can’t sell alcohol to minors,” explained Allison Arenson, a Police Department attorney, adding that the lounge could still remain open for now. A court date of Tues., April 17, was set. In a worst-case scenario for the bar, Sutra faces closure of up to a year.

Palitz said they believe that, in one of the violations, a doorman let in someone showing an N.Y.U. student teacher ID card without a birth date, assuming a teacher would be at least 21. But the bar’s security has clear instructions to check ID, she stressed.

“I’m not really willing to lose my business selling to anyone underage,” she said. “I’m not on some side street where I could get away with anything.”

“Nor is it our practice to have an officer show a piece of fake ID,” retorted De Quatro. He said the undercovers are not allowed to present fake ID or lie about their age.

Palitz charged the city was out to get Sutra after it topped the list of bars receiving the most 311 noise complaints in 2005. Former Councilmember Eva Moskowitz made the list public during her Manhattan borough president campaign.

“We unfortunately were targeted by two callers who took advantage of the 311 system,” Palitz said. “I know that I’ve had up to 70 calls in the last three months. It’s from one woman who’s been complaining about this location.” The other complainer has apparently stopped, she said.

Speaking afterward, De Quatro said, “When we test bars, about 50 percent of the time, they fail. We have about 300 bars [in the precinct], not including restaurants. But we’ve tested a significant amount — last year, well over 100.”

They’ve recently served restraining orders for underage alcohol sales at Bowery Bar on Fourth St., Hop Devil Grill, at 129 St. Mark’s Pl., and Karma, at 51 First Ave., the latter which they closed but which is back open with restrictions.

From efforts to keep the noisy Avenue B nightlife scene under control to operations against underage drinking, De Quatro has put a scare into East Village bar and club owners since taking over the precinct two and a half years ago.

Asked about bar operators’ complaints that he’s too tough on them, De Quatro said, “I respond to the community and the community board and the complaints I get. I have a job to do.”

Asked about past charges that he was targeting less-established bars, De Quatro noted that one of the bars he visited on his first MARCH (Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots) operation was The Library, on Avenue A, which is owned by David McWater, Community Board 3’s chairperson and a longtime East Village bar owner.

“Ask McWater about the violations he got,” De Quatro said.

Meanwhile, Palitz, who was now standing outside on the sidewalk, was still stunned about getting the restraining order.

“We do benefits for the Lower Eastside Girls Club, The Door and leukemia,” she said. “I don’t have a bag-theft problem. I don’t have a violence problem. We’re not a problem location. I really feel because we were No. 1 on Eva Moskowitz’s list….” Her cell phone rang. She had to take the call.

“That’s my lawyer,” she said.

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