Sunday, June 02, 2002

Drug raid nets four arrests

Uncle Milt's bust turns up pot, cocaine, videos

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It was easy at Uncle Milt's, police say, to buy drugs. Just walk in and ask the bartender. If she didn't have any, she'd hook you up with someone who did. That ended Friday night when, after an informant bought drugs in the Avondale bar for at least the sixth time in two weeks, about a dozen officers stormed the place.

        They arrested the bartender and three others on drug charges, and left the place with multiple citations from state liquor agents for unsanitary conditions, lack of food service and having employees with drugs.

        Officers don't know if it will help convince the Ohio Liquor Control Commission to yank the bar's liquor license.

        The city, responding to safety concerns for clients of nearby Children's Hospital Medical Center and Ronald McDonald House, already has asked the state board to do so.

        “At least it shows a pattern of behavior,” said Sgt. Rick Lehman, leader of the district's Violent Crimes Squad.

        The search warrant a judge granted after hearing evidence of two powder cocaine buys by an informant May 25 and 28 tells how bartender Willa Hale and Damon “Pee Wee” McGrady sometimes worked together to sell both cocaine and marijuana.

        On May 25, she told the informant she didn't have any weed, but she could hook him up with some “blow,” according to the officers' surveillance log.

        She fetched Mr. McGrady, who sold the informant 1.42 grams of powder cocaine for $50. Sometimes, if she didn't have anything at the time, she'd tell the informant to come back later — “when all the main players are here.”

        Ms. Hale, 43, of College Hill was charged with five counts of felony drug trafficking and drug possession — officers found powder cocaine wrapped up in $1 bills in her purse. Mr. McGrady, 34, of Avondale, was charged with four counts of trafficking.

        Three others were arrested on drug charges, and two more cited for unrelated misdemeanors.

        Officers checked every one of the about 20 people in the bar for any outstanding warrants. Their drug-confiscation totals for the night: 43.63 grams of marijuana; 9.53 grams of cocaine.

        “And all of this was inside the bar,” said Tom Jones, president of the Avondale Public Safety Task Force, who has pressed for the bar's closure because he says it promotes violence and hinders neighborhood development. “That's exactly what we thought was happening.”

        After the arrests, officers propped the office door open with two 12-packs of Colt 45 and went through everything — the cooler, liquor cabinet, stacks of videos, the safe.

        Owner Deanna Morgan stood watching, her hands in her pockets.

        She has said she's hurt by what she considers unfair attacks on her establishment by the neighborhood, and says she's trying to change the bar's focus to catering lunch to the hospital crowd. But authorities found no indication of any food service.

        They did find, among other things, three unmarked videos in Crown Royal bags — they'll watch them, said veteran Officer Leonard LaBrecque, to see if they show any criminal activity. He's the officer who will present the department's case against the bar to the state board. A hearing date has not yet been set.

        Officers also confiscated a police scanner that Sgt. Lehman said could be considered a “criminal tool” if the bar used it to listen for the police to come.


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