Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot have announced indictments in an investigation surrounding seven Prince George’s nightclubs.

Puzzles Event Center in Suitland, De La Swan Event Atrium in Hyattsville, Let’s Chat in Suitland, Crossroads in Bladensburg, Plaza 23 and Black Amethyst in Temple Hills and CFE Club in Forestville and their owners are accused of negligence for failing to pay taxes and/or alcohol and licensing fees.

“The vast majority of businesses throughout the state pay their fair share,” Franchot said. “They obtain the proper licensing, pay the appropriate taxes and comply with the laws and regulations associated with business operations in Maryland. However, as we see today, some do not and to the minority of businesses that thumb their nose at the state, I promise that we will continue to vigorously pursue, investigate and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

“This is part of a targeted effort by my office to pursue businesses that think they can ignore the law and not pay the required taxes and fees to operate legally,” Alsobrooks said. “We find that this is happening too often and we will not tolerate it any longer. If your business is not paying the required taxes and fees, we will catch you and you will be prosecuted.”

The four-month joint investigation by the comptroller’s office, Prince George’s County Police Department, and Maryland State Police was conducted between June and Oct. 2011.

As part of the investigation, undercover officers were sent into these establishments to observe whether they were illegally serving alcohol. Officers reported that they were able to buy alcohol and food from these establishments, neither of which were administering a sales tax to sell the items nor had the proper permits to sell these items.

After those violations were reported, search warrants were issued for all seven establishments.

Several of the clubs have been mired in controversy before. The CFE has had several run-ins with the law. Tracy Cooper filed a lawsuit in Prince George’s Circuit Court in February 2011 after her son, George Harrison Cooper, was stabbed to death inside of the club on Aug. 22, 2011. In that case, the CFE was operating as a dance hall when it only had a license to operate as an auditorium. It also did not have a liquor license but allowed patrons to bring their own alcoholic beverages inside.

This came after the club was temporarily closed in 2007, 2008, and 2009 for violence and code violations.

Plaza 23 was cited last fall for illegally running a dance hall under the county’s new dance hall legislation. The building was never closed, but its normal business was to hold go-gos and other events with music and the citation prevented it from holding such events.

That dance hall legislation along with this investigation is a clear sign that officials want Prince George’s nightclubs to get their act together. According Prince George’s County Police Chief Mark Magaw, the county is experiencing a 40 percent drop in the murder rate and he attributes much of that to the crackdown on nightclubs.

“These establishments have had a negative influence on our communities,” Chief Magaw said. “I am proud of our collaborative efforts to shut these places down and hold the owners accountable.”

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO