Arbitrary Enforcement Charged in Club Closings

Clubs complain NYPD ignores their pleas then blames them for drugs

David Boyer shows no anger when he discusses his recent brush with the New York City Police Department, but he is clearly unhappy.

“They say New Yorkers are apathetic,” said the co-owner of Steel Gym. “It’s this type of behavior by the police that creates public apathy.”

On March 31, the gym, located on West 23rd Street, was served with a restraining order and a summons. It took about “a dozen cops” to deliver them, Boyer said. Allegedly, the gym was involved in the sale of crystal.

In court records, the police charge that on October 28, 2005, a detective, identified only by the badge number 2454, bought 141 “bags of methamphetamine from an individual affiliated with the gym” for $5,000. The police claimed that the person was a trainer there. On November 4, the same detective bought 23 “bags of methamphetamine from the same individual” for $920 and, on November 18, the detective bought 100 “bags of methamphetamine” for $4,000.

That person—allegedly William Zamot—was never a trainer or an employee at the gay-owned Steel Gym, Boyer said.

The 37-year-old Zamot, a bodybuilder, joined the gym in July of 2005. On December 2, another member told Boyer that Zamot was selling drugs in the locker room. Boyer assumed the drugs were steroids, used by some bodybuilders as a quick way to increase the size and definition of their muscles.

“I have been very diligent about not allowing drugs here,” said Boyer who has run the gym for nine years. Steel Gym is popular among serious bodybuilders, both gay and straight.

While an employee called the police, Boyer went to Zamot’s locker, opened it as Zamot stood by, and pulled out a bag that he believed contained some illegal drugs. Zamot grabbed what remained in the locker and then demanded the bag that Boyer had.

“He moved towards me, threatening me,” Boyer said. Boyer gave up the bag and Zamot fled. When the police came, Boyer said they “made no effort to pursue Zamot” and they refused to make an arrest.

“They said without any evidence it was just an allegation,” Boyer said.

Roughly four months after Boyer tried to have Zamot arrested, the police used the city’s nuisance abatement law to require Steel Gym to address the drug sales in the gym allegedly made by Zamot.

“What really gets me is without any help from the police we caught this guy on December 2,” Boyer said. “I tried to do the right thing… I really don’t think that it was taken into consideration.”

The gym was one of seven businesses that were served with papers on March 31. Speed, a club on West 39th Street, was also served with a restraining order and a summons. Five other clubs in Chelsea were closed for alleged drug sales. That no judge would grant a closing order for Steel Gym and Speed suggests that the city’s evidence was weak. Two of the seven—Splash, on West 17th Street, and the View, on Eighth Avenue—serve a gay clientele. The View reopened on April 7 and Splash reopened on April 13.

The fight has cost Boyer roughly $3,500 in attorney’s fees and he is battling a $1,000 fine that the city wants him to pay.

He has lost two members and he worries that the media frenzy about the closures has branded Steel Gym as a drug den. Like some of the other business owners, he said the city is misusing the nuisance abatement law.

“What they are doing is a total abuse of this law,” Boyer said during an April 7 interview at the gym. John Blair, the manager of Spirit, on West 27th Street and one of the shuttered clubs, agreed.

“It’s being abused,” Blair said. “I just think there’s got to be some oversight about how it’s being implemented.

Paul J. Browne, the police department’s chief spokesperson and a deputy commissioner, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

At an April 6 court hearing, Spirit was allowed to reopen, starting on April 8, after agreeing to continue monitoring and security efforts.

“What they told us to do is to continue to do what we’re doing,” Blair said. At an April 5 meeting of Community Board 4, which includes Chelsea, Blair said he had put extensive security in place before the closing.

“I started this monitoring situation three months ago,” said Blair who also owns XL, a popular gay bar on West 16th Street in Chelsea. “We’ve been throwing so many people out… Your first line of defense is to make sure your employees are not involved in drug sales. We’ve done this.”

Blair must send a report to the city once a month and pay a $10,000 fine on behalf of Spirit. The fine is on top of an estimated $200,000 in lost business, Blair said.

The owners said they are expected to ferret out drug dealing, which is inherently secretive and often done by people who have extensive experience dealing drugs.

Zamot served a roughly two-and-a-half year sentence ending in 2002 in a New Jersey prison for the 1998 sale of a controlled substance. He was arrested again in New Jersey in 2003 for illegally distributing steroids and he received three years probation in October of 2005. He is currently facing federal charges for attempting to smuggle steroids into Puerto Rico from Venezuela this past March. He was released from federal custody on April 3 after posting bail and no charges have been filed against him for the alleged meth sales at Steel Gym.

The basis for an April 3 police department press release that tied the club closures to meth sales and a March federal indictment of seven people for meth dealing is now more clear than it was when first released.

According to court records, detective 2454, who bought meth at Steel Gym, also made drug buys at some of the clubs that were closed including Avalon, on West 20th Street, Club Deep, on West 22nd Street, the View, and Spirit. Sergeant James Apostolou of the police department was the complaining witness in the federal case and he also made drug buys at Splash.

A number of NYPD officers are federally deputized and work for the police department as well as the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA and the police department have ramped up their anti-meth efforts.

“I am presently assigned to the Crystal Methamphetamine Task Force of the NYPD and the DEA, which investigates methamphetamine trafficking in and around New York City,” Apostolou wrote in federal court records.

This is the first reference that Gay City News has seen to such a task force.