In 2004 there was a paramilitary-style raid on Dave Ruttenberg’s business by about 90 police officers under the guise of an administrative inspection by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board. That wasn’t the first time the police planned a raid, however. About a year earlier, a plan to drive drug dealers from Dumfries all the way to Rack n’ Roll in Manassas Park and have the business raided while they were present was leaked to Dave Ruttenberg, and because that plan depended on complete secrecy, the raid was called off. A year later the authorities tried again, were successful, and used the tainted evidence from that raid to have Ruttenberg’s ABC permit revoked, which killed the profitability of the pool hall.
The story starts in spring of 2003, when Ruttenberg was dating a woman named Beverly. She makes a dumb mistake, which puts her in a bad position. Here’s how Ruttenberg tells it:
One night in April she had been drinking tequila in the Golden Phoenix Bar and drove out of the shopping center. She was followed out and pulled over by MPPD officer Trevor Reinhart. I was working at RNR when I received a phone call from officer Reinhart. He stated that he had my girlfriend pulled over on the side of the road. She was too drunk to drive and I should come there to pick her and her car up. I thanked Trevor for giving her a break then I left to pick her up. As I was driving her home she told me how relieved she was not to get a DWI charge. She explained that they offered to drop the charge in exchange for her assistance with the (newly formed) JNTF. She said she was going to be introduced to JNTF officers who would direct her on what to do. She was told to speak of this to no one. I expressed my approval that she would be involved in something that would be positive for both her and the community.
The next day she met with them. Afterward, she told me that she had some very important things to tell me, but, first I had to swear that I would never tell anyone. I agreed. She said that if they ever found out she had talked to me about this they would put her in jail. Then she explained that “they” were going to have her pick up drug dealers from her apartment complex in Dumfries and drive them (one at a time, of course) to RNR where an undercover JNTF officer would be waiting inside to make a drug buy. This was possible because when she would come home from work as a hairdresser in the evenings, drug dealers would approach her in the parking lot and try to talk to her.
Officer Reinhart’s testimony in the 2004 ABC Hearing confirms many aspects of this account, and says that he turned Beverly over to officer Mario Lugo, the case agent for Rack n’ Roll. (ref ABC Transcript, pages 91-94). The transcript of a recording of a conversation between Ruttenberg and Beverly includes the following:
OK, I got pulled over. I didn’t get a lawyer or nothing. I get taken to this court station down here and they’re like, we want you to give us information on Mr. Ruttenberg…
Why would detective Mario Lugo instruct her to drive drug dealers across the county and into Manassas Park to deal drugs at Rack’n’Roll? Beverly told Ruttenberg that Lugo had explained that the place was safe and quiet, the owner had cooperated with the authorities in the past and even reported suspected drug dealers. Ruttenberg would be cooperative, the story went. And of course they weren’t going to harm Rack n’ Roll.
How could Ruttenberg say no? His girlfriend was in a tough spot, and our natural inclination is to trust the police, especially when they’re asking for help. After talking it over with his family, he did what most of us would do. He agreed. For a few weeks, Beverly would bring in men Ruttenberg had never seen before. Different people would arrive. They’d sit at a cocktail table, do their business, and go. It was intriguing to watch an undercover operation underway, and Beverly would tell Ruttenberg about each day’s activities afterwards. It was all pretty cool for a while.
Several weeks into this (May 26th, 2003) Beverly said she had something extremely important to tell me. She said this was much more sensitive and I had to swear over and over again that I wouldn’t tell anybody. I agreed.
She confides that “they” now intend to bring all off the drug dealers to RNR at once and raid the club.
I am absolutely not to know about it. I was shocked. First, there is no way that can be safe for me and my customers. Anything could happen. Why not arrest them at their homes? They’d have all the evidence they need. Why put the public at risk? Second, what impression would my community have about my business if there is a front page news story of a drug bust at the RNR?
Dave Ruttenberg was clearly in way over his head, and it was time to start asking for help. Dave’s father advised him to talk to the Chief of Police, make sure they knew he was aware of the plan, ask for protective measures to be taken for the safety of his customers, and have them publicly acknowledge that Rack n’ Roll was cooperating in this investigation, and was not the target of it. Pretty reasonable, right? Rutteberg goes on:
I did exactly that. I immediately paged the chief. He called me soon after and listened to my explanation of the situation. He responded that he had no idea what I was talking about and he would call me back in 10 minutes. 10 minutes later he called back and said exactly these words.” I can’t discuss any of this with you. You keep running the business the way you are running it and you will be fine.” I thanked him for his help and hung up. I felt better. I interpreted that to mean that he wouldn’t let the business be publicly damaged by this operation.
The next day I get a phone call in the late afternoon. It’s Beverly. She’s crying hysterically. All I can understand thru the tears is,”You told!” After she calms down enough to communicate she tells me she’s been picked up by “them”. The deal’s off. She is going to jail, her DWI is reinstated, there will be no raid at RNR, and they’re letting all the drug dealers go. She can’t believe I broke my promise to her.
I called the chief and told him how unfair this was for her and me. They did not need to cancel the operation. I discussed it with no one but, my father and the chief. I told him he needed to give her a chance to do this operation somewhere else. He said he would see what he could do.
It finally dawned on me that their goal wasn’t to bust drug dealers, it was to destroy the reputation of our business.
The transcript of the 2004 ABC hearing confirms this account. During what might be considered evasive testimony, Chief Evans testified that an operation was canceled at Rack n’ Roll which he characterized as an “undercover investigation.” (Ref ABC Hearing transcript, page 164).
The Golden Phoenix a few doors down, as I’ve related before, should have been a target for the JNTF, and Dave counseled Beverly to offer to support an operation there. The Golden Phoenix was investigated soon after, and the bartender, Patty, was arrested for selling cocaine to Beverly, prosecuted, and convicted. The bar received no penalty. Beverly’s DWI was dismissed. She continued to work for the JNTF, and helped them on at least one other operation that I’m aware of.
The transcript of the recording with Beverly refers to this deal, and is consistent with Ruttenberg’s account:
B. Oh, I know who it was. It was…um…he works with my father-in-law. Um, and I’ve seen him (garbled) (whispers:) Remember when I got off those charges cause I did that thing with Patty. (Speaking:) Remember? And I was nothin’ but honest with you then, and you said, “Don’t do it in my club.” And I said, “Fine, I won’t do it in your club.” Remember?
D. (39m 18s) Oh, down at the other bar.
B. Yes. Remember?
B. And, so I went down to the other bar.
D. That’s right.
B. Because you didn’t want it in your club. I was f**kin honest with you.
D. Patty got busted for all that.
B. But I got off my charges.
D. Yes, but, you told me you…
B. And that’s how I met HIM.
D. Who was he?
B. It was the same guy. It starts with an “M”.
D. Was he white or black?
D. Mixed. Was he like Spanish?
B. I don’t know, but he’s hot.
D. Was it Mario Lugo?
B. Mario. That’s it.
D. Yup. OK. That’s…that’s who we thought.
B. He’s not the one who pulled me over.
D. No, but he’s the one who’s spearheading this.
B. (39m 52s) Yeah. And there were…It wasn’t just him. There was, like, six other detectives. They set me down in a room at a round table. The table was f**king huge, and there was, like, there was at least…I would say between six…no less than six…between six and nine…of them, sitting there grilling me. I thought I was in trouble, ‘cause they started questioning me about that, and all about your club. I was like, “What the f**k?”
A year before the outrageous raid which began the dismantlement of Ruttenberg’s business, it’s sure looks like there was some sort of ongoing official effort to destroy Rack n’ Roll. The police tried to co-opt Ruttenberg’s girlfriend in order to bring drug dealers to the jurisdiction they were sworn to protect in order to promote the traffic in illegal narcotics, not for the purposes of enforcing the law, but in order to destroy a local businessman. The outrageous part of this is that they’ve pretty much succeeded.
Dave Ruttenberg deserve justice.
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