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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
When The Bitch heard that employees of three prominent CocoWalk eateries had been busted for running informal pharmacological operations, she got on the case; the touristy shopping zone may not contain a Nordstrom, but, hey, it's within trotting distance.
Robert Loupo, cochairman of the All-Grove Crime Watch group, sends out a bimonthly e-mail newsletter detailing the routine misery of life in a high-crime neighborhood: burglaries, holdups, laptops stolen from cars, and, of course, drug use and its resulting mayhem. A report from the July 2 edition of Loupo's bulletin read, "There has been much criminal activity in the business district: Workers from Greenstreet, Mr. Moe's, and the Cheesecake Factory have been arrested for either buying and/or selling crack."
The Bitch finds Loupo to be a stand-up fellow with the necessary survival skills of the true gadfly: He's thorough, constantly present, and always, to the point of being fussy, correct. In short, he's a credible source.
So the hound asked Loupo who told him about the crime wave, and he responded, "This info came from police Commander Whitehead."
But read on.
The second human whom The Bitch interviewed regarding the take-out crack problem was Miami Police Sgt. Albert Pacheco, listed as the "Problem Solving Team Leader" in the Crime Watch update. Asked about the allegations concerning the restaurant workers, Pacheco said, "Well, there are times that we'll come across some of the employees when making raids. I know we've come across some of the users from the Cheesecake. Two individuals that work there were arrested at separate incidents.
"They're normally the cooks," he explained. "We'll have certain locations that sell crack and we'll target them. We either see them making a drug exchange or they're arrested for something unrelated, and when they're arrested, they have the crack pipes on them."
What about the other two restaurants?
"Mr. Moe's, I don't recall. Not Greenstreet, not there I don't have any knowledge of that," Pacheco answered.
The Bitch wondered, Did the sergeant's inability to recall other arrests besides those at the Cheesecake mean they hadn't happened, or had he simply forgotten? So she phoned Grove community resource officer Tom Braga, who didn't recall any of the incidents in Loupo's Crime Watch newsletter, yet wanted to brag about the amazing sleuthing abilities of the Crime Watch committee. "They're better than Interpol," he enthused.
On July 7, The Bitch spoke briefly with Cdr. Lorenzo Whitehead, who oversees peacekeeping operations in Coconut Grove. First Whitehead said he didn't know anything about any drug arrests anywhere in the Grove.
Um, are you saying there have been no recent drug busts in CG? That seems pretty unlikely.
"Well, maybe I can find those case numbers for you ... if you can give me an idea what your story is about," Whitehead finally allowed.
Why would I have to do that? Aren't the case numbers public record?
Whitehead grudgingly admitted they were and said he'd get back to The Bitch, maybe Monday, maybe some other time.
The Bitch was beginning to enjoy using the word crack in serious conversations with adults, so she phoned the restaurants, beginning with the Cheesecake (3015 Grand Ave).
Um, is there a manager available?
Hostess Allison: "What's this about?"
I heard some cooks there were arrested for buying and selling crack....
Hostess Allison: "Hold on one second...."
Manager Penny: "We're not allowed to communicate with the media." Click.
The Bitch called the Cheesecake's corporate headquarters in Calabasas Hills, California, and left a message with legal secretary Asaly Adib, who noted, "speaking to a corporation's home office is proper procedure, actually."
A call to Greenstreet Café (3110 Commodore Plz.) revealed garrulous owner Sylvano Bignon was out of town for a couple of weeks, but a manager named Eric responded dolefully: "I don't know nothing about that ... no one here was arrested ... as far as I know, no, none of my employees that I know of...."
The Bitch figured the ultimate source for crime data, not to mention highly entertaining conversation, would be John El-Masry, owner of Mr. Moe's (3130 Commodore Plz.), who has been in both this column and the slammer ("Junkie," February 10, 2005 ) before.
El-Masry admitted it would be difficult for him to know if his employees were on crack, but he believes he would know if they had been arrested for selling or buying it. "I don't know what these guys do. We don't drug-test here; it's very difficult for us to find stuff out," El-Masry said. "No one to my knowledge has been arrested for buying crack or selling crack or any of that nonsense."
Then, unwittingly, El-Masry speaking to The Bitch on July 7 revealed something surprising: "I just today had a police liaison meeting with Commander Whitehead and Sergeant Pacheco," he said. "I brought [the restaurant drug arrests] up to them, I spoke with them very specifically, and Mr. Moe's was never mentioned in that stuff."
But it was! Look! The Bitch directed El-Masry's attention to Loupo's Crime Watch bulletin.
"Well, the police said that it was guys from the Cheesecake," El-Masry swore. "It absolutely, positively, was not our guys."
Meanwhile Howard Gordon, senior VP of business development and marketing of the Cheesecake Factory, checked in. "Nothing happened on our premises," he said. "I'm being very straightforward. I have no information on it."