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State to review reopening of Club RJ's

BRADENTON — A nightclub closed by criminal activity will be checked by a state agency after it recently re-opened, according to a state spokeswoman.

Club RJ’s, 720 Ninth Ave. W., opened its doors last week after the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco granted the bar a consent order with safety measures to follow.

Club RJ’s was closed by the division after a six month undercover investigation in February.

“They will be following up on the consent order to make sure the terms of the agreement are being met,” said Alexis Lambert, press secretary for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in Tallahassee.

One employee and three patrons had a total of 16 arrest warrants issued from the investigation surrounding drug sales at the club. One person has been arrested so far, according to police.

The club was issued an emergency suspension, $2,500 fine and probation period before it reopened.

Rickie Waiters, club owner, entered into an agreement with the division with safety measures including: 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.

Agents with the division will be able to request documentation from the club and do undercover surveillance to make sure the guidelines are followed, Lambert said. She could not say how often the club would be checked.

The club’s license was not revoked because there was no evidence of Waiters’ involvement in any criminal activity and the drug sales were a first offense for the division, she said.

“We do have the power to revoke a license. This did not warrant that,” Lambert said.

She said the division looks at revocations on a case by case basis. In this case, Waiters was unaware and there was not a large number of employees involved, according to the two undercover agents’ investigation.

Allegations were made the club’s manager, employees and patrons were allowing the sale of drugs in the club, according to Bradenton Police.

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

“We have issues with RJ’s. We have a need for law enforcement to be present almost every night whether it be for fights, narcotics, shots fired or homicides,” said Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer. During a search warrant, Tokajer said bags of cocaine were found behind the bar area during the investigation.

Since the club reopened May 5, there have been no police calls, according to authorities.

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. The security guards were not a provision in the order.

Bart Meacham, Waiters’ attorney, said Waiters had no knowledge of drug use or other criminal activity at the bar.

“These were employees turning a blind eye. They’re fired because of that. ... He’s doing everything he can to have the right and responsible employees there. There’s never been a problem when he is there. This was going on when he wasn’t there. ... We’re trying to clear his name. He doesn’t sell drugs. He doesn’t do drugs,” Meacham said.

Waiters said he hopes the extra security measures will send a message to bar patrons.

“They will get the picture coming to the club to have a drink with friends and go home. This isn’t a place where people sell drugs,” he said.

Beth Burger, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.

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