The owners or operators of seven Prince George’s County nightclubs were indicted Tuesday on a litany of tax, alcohol and licensing violations in what prosecutors called a crackdown on businesses that bring violence to the county and don’t follow its laws.
Sixteen people associated with the clubs were indicted on charges that include failing to file sales and use tax returns, selling alcohol without a license and — in cases involving the most substantial tax violations — felony theft. State and county officials said that, together, the clubs owed more than $700,000 to the state in unpaid taxes.
“We simply cannot allow this,” said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, whose agents helped investigate the clubs. “Every dollar counts in this economy.”
Prince George’s economic crimes prosecutor Doyle L. Niemann, who also is a member of the House of Delegates, said some of the clubs sold booze to undercover agents without the proper licenses, and others charged covers without paying taxes on them. One club, authorities said, offered lap dances to customers.
“These folks were flagrant violators,” Niemann, a Democrat, said.
Authorities identified the clubs involved in the crackdown as Puzzles Event Center on St. Barnabas Road in Suitland; De La Swan Event Atrium on Ardwick Ardmore Road in Landover; Let’s Chat on St. Barnabas Road in Suitland; Crossroads on Baltimore Avenue in Bladensburg; Plaza 23 on St. Barnabas Road in Temple Hills; Black Amethyst on Raleigh Road in Temple Hills; and the CFE Club on Marlboro Pike in Forestville. The CFE closed last year because of a use and occupancy permit violation, and Black Amethyst closed earlier this year after police started investigating a similar violation, authorities said. The other five clubs remain open, authorities said.
Efforts to reach employees of the clubs and those charged were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon. Some phone numbers were disconnected, and no one returned messages left at the clubs or on the voice mails of those who ran them.
The indictments are the latest salvo in county officials’ crackdown on nightclubs, which they have blamed for some of the violence that has plagued Prince George’s. Last year, County Council members passed an emergency bill giving police and other officials broad authority to shutter so-called “dance halls” should they be deemed a threat to public safety.
Authorities promptly closed a Capitol Heights nightclub where a 20-year-old woman was fatally shot in August. Two men involved in operating the club were convicted of misdemeanor charges of allowing dancing without the proper permit.
That slaying was among several acts of violence last year that Prince George’s police linked to nightclubs. In January 2011, a man was shot to death outside the Plaza 23 in Temple Hills after a go-go band show. In September, police charged a man with second-degree murder and manslaughter in what police said was an intentional hit-and-run after an altercation outside a club in Langley Park.
The latest indictments are not explicitly for public safety violations, though officials said the indictments are important nonetheless.
Prince George’s Police Chief Mark A. Magaw said that the county had become “the point of least resistance” for nightclubs in the D.C. area to operate with few restrictions and that since officials began scrutinizing them last year, crime had dropped significantly. Homicides, he said, are down 40 percent this year, compared with the same time a year ago. “Almost every night we had an issue” last year, Magaw said. “We don’t have that problem anymore.”
Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said that she hopes the indictments will push the owners of the five clubs still open to pay their taxes and follow licensing and zoning laws. “The whole point of it is to get them compliant,” Alsobrooks said of the indictments. “If it’s taxes or if it’s violence, whatever it is, it’s preventing them from hurting the community.”
Prosecutors identified those charged as: from Black Amethyst, Larry McMichael, 43, of White Plains and Mercedes Harris, 26, of Capitol Heights; from the CFE, Kevin Darby, 51, of Forestville and Berinda Williams, 59, of Upper Marlboro; from Crossroads, Alton Gayles, 47, of Bowie and Kevin Perlstein, 44, of Bladensburg; from De La Swan, Delicia Ennis, 40, of Crownsville and Millicent Tracey, 32, of Hyattsville; from Plaza 23, Chris Everette, 40, of Fort Washington, Dalion Alston, 43, of Clinton, Daniele Richardson, 37, of Temple Hills and Ledell Southerland, 35, of Temple Hills; from Puzzles, Terrance Williams, 44, of Capitol Heights; and from Let’s Chat, Paula James, 58, of Lanham, Yvette James, 42, of Forestville and Melvin Anderson, 67, of Temple Hills.