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Club RJ’s, shut down over crime, is reopened

BRADENTON — A nightclub shut down after a six-month undercover investigation has recently re-opened for business.

Club RJ’s, 720 Ninth Ave. W., opened May 5 under a consent order granted by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

The business was shut down Feb. 22 after Bradenton Police Department asked the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to conduct an undercover investigation for several months.

“(The police) did their job and now I’m doing mine. I’m open, and I’m making money,” said Rickie Waiters, club owner, standing outside Club RJ’s. “God is good and the club is open for the community.”

Allegations were made the club’s manager, employees and patrons were allowing the selling of drugs in the club, according to police officials.

None of Waiters’ employees have been arrested on criminal charges associated with selling drugs at the club. There are three felony arrest warrants issued for a former employee and 13 warrants issued for patrons, according to police.

Waiters said he did not know of any criminal activity occurring on his club’s property.

“Every bar and restaurant has patrons who do drugs. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not a safe haven for criminals or poses an imminent danger to the community,” said Bart Meacham, a Tampa-based attorney representing Waiters.

On May 4, the division’s interim director, Debi Pender, waived legal action against the club and entered into a consent order fining Waiters $2,500 and outlining safety measures the club must take.

Those measures include: firing employees responsible for permitting drug sales, hiring drug free employees with background checks, conducting periodic drug testing for employees, installing additional video cameras, patrolling the club inside and out, and using a trained drug dog to periodically sweep the club property.

The terms of the consent order are somewhat open ended.

“I negotiated a good deal with my client. It’s that way because he never did anything wrong in the first place. He is 100 percent in charge of all of this,” Meacham said. “The (order) doesn’t need to be more specific than that because Rickie is going to do what he needs to do because he’s never going to be in this situation again.”

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski is upset with club’s opening because he said it has been a public safety issue for years.

Bradenton Police released crime statistics showing over a three and a half year period from October 2006 to January 2009 the club has had two homicides, 12 shootings or possession of firearms, 29 assaults and batteries, and 25 drug complaints.

The city council made an unanimous vote 5-0 on Wednesday morning directing the city attorney to appeal the decision.

Bill Lisch, city attorney, said at the meeting he would try to appeal the decision, but did not know if the city has legal standing to appeal.

In the meantime, Radzilowski has placed calls to the governor’s office, attorney general’s office and inspector general’s office.

“We’ve had murders there and all sorts of crime. It’s crime free now and they’re going to let them open up,” said Radzilowski on the phone to staff member at the inspector general’s office. “We didn’t get to present our side of the case. (The interim director) didn’t allow her own people to present a case. We’re reaching out to you guys. I don’t know what you can do.”

Waiters has hired Sarasota-based Jean-Rene’s Protection Services for security at the club. Four armed security guards with guns, mace and handcuffs will watch the club Thursday through Sundays.

Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer said there have been no police calls at the club yet since it reopened.

He said he anticipates officers will be called out soon though.

Tokajer said that while the security guards are armed, they have no power to arrest anyone at the club.

“They are no more than a citizen with a badge and gun,” he said. “Not to say they won’t help the situation, but I don’t know if that’s the answer.”

No one could be reached for comment at the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.