By Lucas D. Wood
HAZLETON, Pa. — In the summer of 2017, Hazleton police began to receive complaints in the early morning hours with regard to loud noise, large crowds, illegally parked vehicles, fights, yelling and other quality-of-life complaints in the area of 155 North Laurel Street.
Police responded to a residence located at 151 North Laurel Street on numerous occasions and cited the owner for various quality of life complaints.
Hazleton Police Department began investigating the issue and uncovered that an illegal after hours club was being operated from the residential home located at 155 North Laurel Street.
The location would open at approximately 2:30 AM and close in the early morning hours holding between 100 and 300 patrons with armed security at the front and rear of the location.
Hazleton police contacted Pennsylvania State Liquor Control Enforcement Agents and informed them of the location and requested their assistance.
For the past (3) months an undercover investigation ensued and undercover liquor control enforcement agents gained access and purchased illegal alcohol from the location and determined the location was operating as an illegal after hours club in a residential home.
During the undercover operation, undercover agent’s gained access and observed armed security, illegal drugs, unlicensed alcohol sales, bottle and table service, hookah pipe sales, hot coals being heated and sold with a commercial kitchen operation and food being sold.
They undercover agents observed bartenders, waitresses, cooks and DJs operating inside the location, which was setup as a nightclub and hookah lounge with individuals heating coals and selling hookah pipes for smoking.
The location’s windows were tightly covered and secured into the walls with thick plywood wrapped in foam creating a serious and deadly fire hazard. If a fire erupted, anyone inside or a firefighter responding could have been trapped inside the location with only a front and rear exit and entrance door. (5) children were found in rooms on the 2nd floor of the location sleeping on mattresses on the floor)
On May 20, 2018, at approximately 3:00 AM, this three-month undercover investigation culminated with the execution of a search warrant at the location when the operation opened for business, which was obtained by the State Liquor Control Enforcement in conjunction with the Hazleton Police Department.
Within 30 minutes of the location opening undercover officers observed numerous individuals entering the location.
Hazleton Police and Liquor Control Enforcement attempted to enter the location while Hazleton Fire Department staged and provided lighting on both sides of the location.
The officers were met with resistance at the front door when attempting to enter.
After overcoming the resistance the officers and agents entered the location and quickly removed approximately 200 patrons and arrested 3 individuals.
The Hazleton fire department was on scene and inspected and removed the plywood soundproofing covering all the windows on the 1st floor of the structure for safety reasons.
As a result of the search, officers and agents removed approximately 100 hookah pipes, coal heating devices, commercial sound system with several large speakers, approximately 90 bottles of spirits and $880.00 dollars in cash.
Arrested are the following.
Fernando Ramirez Pinales, DOB 2– 16 –76 was arrested and charged with Creating a Public Nuisance, Resisting Arrest, Disorderly Conduct, Illegal Liquor Sales, Conspiracy to Sell Illegal Alcohol and possible fire, business and construction code violations.
Myra Gonzalez DOB 9-15-81 was arrested and charged with Forgery, Disposition of a Vehicle, Receiving Stolen Property, Washing Vehicle Titles, Making False Application for Title Registration, Tampering with Records or Identification, Altered Forged or Counterfeit Documents or Plates Dealing in Titles and Plates for Stolen Vehicles involving a 2017 Honda pilot taken on May 7, 2018, from the location during a surveillance and undercover operation at the location.
Alfredo Ramirez Pinales, DOB 5-2-79 was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Statements by Hazleton Mayor, Jeff Cusat:
“After months of responding to complaints and properly investing this property the Hazleton Police felt they had obtained the evidence needed to close down this unlicensed and illegal operation.”
“We have warned people on multiple occasions that they were violating city laws and creating a nuisance to neighboring property owners.”
“We will now take the money, the property, and it’s contents.”
“The City is investigating other properties at this time and again these actions will not be tolerated in the City of Hazleton.”
“I apologize to the neighbors, unfortunately, this required time to properly investigate and develop a strong plan to benefit the entire community.”
“The HPD continues to work hard to improve the quality of life in our town and we will continue to be proactive as we approach the summer to ensure the citizens can relax and enjoy their homes safely and peacefully”
Statement by Chief of Police, Jerry Speziale:
”The closing of this establishment is a major accomplishment in our overall crime strategy because it has disrupted the entire community, because as the bars closed this location opened creating a vacuum for hundreds of people to remain in Hazleton, drinking, using illegal drugs and then ultimately driving on our roadways, fighting in our streets, causing disturbances in the community, ultimately affecting crime, calls for service and the quality of life for everyone.”