BRADENTON — Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski is hopping mad that the state’s alcohol enforcement agency allowed Club RJ’s to re-open, and he contends a possible conspiracy between the club’s owner and state regulators` could be behind it.
And he is asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to investigate.
In February, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Alcohol and Tobacco and Bradenton police shut down Club RJs, 720 Ninth Ave. W., by suspending the owner’s liquor license.
A months-long undercover investigation by police and state agents led police to believe that drug activity and violence in the club constituted a danger to society.
On May 5, the state allowed Waiters to reopen his club after he negotiated with alcohol and tobacco regulators to get his liquor license back by agreeing to a litany of conditions, including posting signs stating drug possession or use is prohibited on the premises; testing employees for drugs; and either installing surveillance cameras or hiring security services.
Radzilowski said state officials entered into the agreement without consulting his department, denying his administration the chance to argue to keep the club closed.
The chief also alleged state regulators told members of his agency that a court hearing on the matter had been canceled, even though it had not. At that hearing, the chief said, an attorney for alcohol regulators told a judge to allow Waiters to get his license back because police didn’t show up.
State officials denied the charge. “This matter never went to a hearing before a judge. We entered into this agreement with the licensee after negotiations,” said DBPR spokeswoman Alexis Lambert.
Either way, police were not let in on those negotiations, Radzilowski said.
“I don’t know what is going on here, but it is very suspicious. Something stinks,” said Radzilowski. “I don’t know if the interim director has a connection to the owner of the club, but when employees from the state are coming to me and saying they have never seen anything like this, there is something wrong.”
Radzilowski said as much in a letter he sent by mail Thursday to Crist’s office, seeking an investigation of the professional regulations office. He called the actions of the alcohol division’s interim director Debi Pender “highly questionable.”
“I have been in law enforcement for over 38 years in Washington, D.C., and Florida and have dealt with many cases like this in my career and have never seen anything as suspicious as this,” Radzilowski wrote.
Lambert declined to comment on the chief’s accusations, but said Waiter’s liquor license was reinstated because he agreed to the conditions.
“There was no evidence the licensee had any involvement in the things that happened in the club,” Lambert said of Waiters.
In a report written by Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer and sent to the governor attached to the chief’s letter, he blasted the conditions in the agreement as flimsy, calling the agreement a “slap in the face.”
Tokajer also claimed that alcohol and tobacco agents in the field expressed shock at how the case was handled by the agency’s administrators, writing the agents “said that this has never happened like this in the past. They were as shocked as we were by this action by their management.”
Meanwhile, Waiters said he is working to bring profits back up to the same level as before his business was shut down.
“Things are getting better every day, but I am still trying to recover from the wounds he caused,” he said of Radzilowski.