Graham CRACKer Crust Bust

Who knew “New York-style cheesecake” meant “with a side of crack”?

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."

However, as The Bitch learned this past Monday from a suddenly loquacious Commander Whitehead, that's a wily statement. According to him, Rida Shapiro, age 49, was busted March 8 at McDonald Street and Grand Avenue on cocaine and drug paraphernalia possession charges. She was wearing a Cheesecake Factory uniform and identified herself as an employee of the restaurant, said Whitehead.

Whitehead also amazingly regained his memory of the other two incidents in question.

Apparently someone who was working for Greenstreet Café but hadn't come in for some days (and was fired as a result, though he was still owed a paycheck, which he showed up to collect) was arrested for playing a part in a crack deal the same day he was supposed to appear in court for another case. Whitehead, who made the collar in mid-May, learned this when he searched the employee's car after finding he didn't have a license.

"I towed his car," Whitehead explained. "The court paper was right in the front seat."

In another Greenstreet incident, this one on Memorial Day, an employee invited someone into the café who later caused a scene.

"He dropped a crack pipe right there on a table in Greenstreet," Whitehead said. "I got on the worker [who invited him in] and I told him to stop bringing this kind of element into there."

In the newfound Whitehead détente, The Bitch queried about his and Pacheco's meeting with Mr. Moe's owner, John El-Masry, specifically asking if they had told El-Masry none of his employees had been arrested.

"There was nothing mentioned about his employees," answered Pacheco, who was on another phone line. "I never spoke to him about his employees, and we never confirmed anything."

Whitehead agreed, confirming that in fact Mr. Moe's employees had been nabbed. He went on to explain he barely even talked with El-Masry during the meeting of local merchants. "He never spoke to me, period, about anything personal," Whitehead said. "Him and I never spoke privately."

But when asked how El-Masry knew about the Cheesecake case, Pacheco suddenly recalled a few details.

"As I was leaving, he pulled me to the side," Pacheco said of El-Masry. "John [El-Masry] asked me if we made any arrests in regards to Mr. Moe's, and from what I can understand, [my squad of City of Miami Police] didn't directly make the arrest. We are not the only ones that are making arrests out there."

El-Masry, it seems, wrongly assumed none of his employees had been taken into custody.

So apparently the Crime Watch update compiled by Robert Loupo is completely factual and accurate. Or at least Whitehead said it is.


Patriotic in Full

You know your party is a success when Michael Capponi arrives with an entourage of his most beautiful friends — on a yacht, no less. So The Bitch woofed with relief to have been in attendance at what — finally — was a good party at what should be Miami's default setting for successful soirees, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens at 3251 S. Miami Ave.

The event, a benefit for the Vizcayans (a nonprofit group of volunteers who raise money to maintain and preserve the villa), was in honor of July 4 but took place on the more party-suitable Saturday, July 1. According to Clayton Clavette — cochairman of the so-called Red, White and Blue event — more than 1500 people attended this year.

Cece Feinberg, the publicist and event planner whose April KRELwear fashion show at a Design District warehouse is still being swooned about, organized the affair. The mojitos were cold and plentiful, there was an interesting assortment of well-dressed (for Miami) people, there was certainly some party energy in the air, and ... the music was good.

DJ Rob Base, despite having performed "It Takes Two" probably a million times over the past twenty years, hasn't lost any of his good-natured flow. It's just not a party without girl drama, and coheadliner/voice of the Weathergirls, Black Box, and C+C Music Factory Martha Wash provided it.

At the beginning, reigning drag queen Elaine Lancaster, who was providing her services without charge to the Vizcayans, gave a flattering, albeit lengthy, introduction. Then Wash turned to the imposing, Valkyrie-haired, flame-minidress-wearing beauty and snapped (into her microphone so the entire crowd heard), "Why don't you just get off the stage so I can do my show?"

Yikes! The Bitch locked eyes with celebrity photographer and blogger Cubby at that moment. Both trembled at the incipient diva smackdown.

Lancaster, ever the lady, didn't bite. She smilingly surrendered the stage and wildly applauded Wash's set.

"The Miami Herald is doing a story on me and they've been following me around. And while I was standing on the side of the stage, the photographers were taking pictures of me, and I think [Martha] felt like it was upstaging her," Lancaster told The Bitch later, adding, "I think Martha is ... one of the most talented vocalists there is." Lancaster attributed Wash's sudden lapse in graciousness to the singer's lack of a recording contract, getting in a bit of a dig.

"It can be hurtful sometimes 'cause they have such talent, but then major record labels won't pick them up because ... she's fat, or older, or not particularly marketable anymore. It's unfortunate, because I am one of the all-time champions of people like that," Lancaster smiled.

The Bitch noted that Wash seemed to realize she wasn't at Carnegie Hall, being in no hurry to deliver "It's Raining Men" and so on. "From the beginning to her last song, she didn't give it her all. I've worked with her so many times before, and she just wasn't into it that night," Lancaster agreed.

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