Friday, March 16, 2001

Theater sale led to drug bust, authorities say

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The strange sale of the West End's Regal Theater a few years ago helped lead federal investigators to a major drug dealing operation in Cincinnati.

        The theater's former owner, John Alvin West, was sentenced to 10 years in prison this week after pleading guilty to selling large amounts of cocaine and marijuana.

        Authorities say Mr. West aroused suspicion in 1996 when he purchased the 93-year-old theater for about $200,000.

        Federal prosecutors say Mr. West paid for the deal with the profits from his drug operation. But they say he knew that such a large purchase would raise questions about how he had earned so much money.

        So to avoid detection, they say, he paid for the theater with checks or money orders of less than $10,000. Federal law requires banks to report any transaction more than $10,000.

        Authorities accused Mr. West of ordering a business associate to funnel the payments through several banks to conceal the total amount.

        Mr. West's lawyer, Hal Arenstein, said his client sold the Regal at a loss shortly before his arrest last year. As part of his plea agreement, Mr. West forfeited proceeds of the sale and other property or cash involved in the sale of drugs.

        The metal-domed theater at 1201 Linn Street was built in 1908. Over the years, the theater has been home to stage shows, live music and a cinema. The theater now is closed and has fallen into disrepair.

        Mr. West was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court by Judge Susan Dlott.


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