For the second time this year, a council majority has dismissed police recommendations to deny a liquor license to Express Night Club owner Luis Penaloza, who is now claiming police are harassing him.
In April, Penaloza applied to open the club at a former go-go bar site on Richmond Avenue. In a hearing held by the City Council acting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Penaloza and his lawyer denied he was opening a "sexually oriented business" and promised dancers would wear modest bathing suits.In May, the place-to-place transfer was granted, with Vera Greaves, Gloria Taylor, Diane Toliver and Bridget Rivers voting "yes" and Tracey Brown voting "no." Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams were absent.
The normal expiration date of June 30 for liquor license renewal was moved to Sept. 18 this year to allow for a new electronic system to replace paper documentation. Among a long list of social clubs, bars and restaurants and liquor stores, Express Night Club was singled out for denial once more. Sgt. Christopher Sylvester told the council Tuesday that police checks turned up numerous violations on July 2 and July 24, including a lap-dancer from New York who was not an employee, but just "there to make extra money." She was seen stuffing currency into her bra, an undercover officer reported.
Penaloza spoke in public comment at the agenda-fixing session Tuesday, claiming police were "harassing me like a little child," asking him where he lives and why he wants to "take a dump" on Plainfield with his business. He said he went to the Union County Prosecutor's Office to make a complaint and now Plainfield Police Director Carl Riley won't talk to him.
"I don't know why they don't want to talk to me. I'm a businessman. Please, I just need to work. Stop harassing me," he said to applause from some audience members.
Riley explained that he cannot say anything due to the prosecutor's investigation.
Among council comments on the matter, Councilwoman Diane Toliver questioned the random police checks and said, "It's hard for me to believe that every other bar in this town is perfect - come on."
She downplayed the infractions, as did Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, who said Riley's silence "sounds a little fishy here." Riley again explained he is constrained from speaking and Corporation Counsel David Minchello said a lot of things would come out if there was a hearing.
Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said she opposed the license renewal last spring and said it was important "to find out more and not just grant a renewal."
Councilman Cory Storch thanked Sylvester and Riley and said, "We can't look for excuses not to enforce the rules."
The council's choice boiled down to agreeing to move the item to the Sept. 14 agenda for renewal, or to say no, which would lead to a hearing. As in May, the consensus was Greaves, Taylor, Toliver and Rivers saying "yes" to putting it up for renewal. Storch, Williams and Brown said no, preferring a hearing. The 4-3 vote means the license will be up for renewal, despite the police recommendation for denial.
Penaloza spoke again in the second public comment period, telling Riley he knew of other bars in violation. He said he came to this country at the age of 12 and went to work in a factory. Now, he said, his daughter wants to go to Harvard or Yale, but "somebody" is trying to stop her.
"Thanks to the council, my daughter can keep dreaming," he said.