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New Charges Against Congress Theater Threaten Venue's Liquor License

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 21, 2013 8:15PM

The Logan Square Farmers Market at its winter home inside the Congress Theater. (Photo credit: Bart Shore)

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on the continuing tug-of-war between Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza and the city. Last week the Chicago Liquor Control Commission held hearings separate from the ongoing Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance hearings involving the beleaguered Bucktown music venue which included testimony from an undercover Chicago Police officer who was investigating complaints that Congress security was reselling drugs they seized from concertgoers.

That’s a quick way to lose a liquor license.

WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis, who’s been the fly in Carranza’s ointment for a couple years now, writes the officer’s investigation was cut short because he had to assist breaking up a fight involving rival gang members at a Chief Keef concert.

It snowballs further: A second witness—a concertgoer at one of the Congress’ shows—testified he was beaten and had his cellphone stolen by security when he attempted to record their alleged patterns of mistreatment.

One would think that, given Carranza’s belligerent stance with Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) regarding the Congress’ problems, the city would have pulled all of the venue’s licensing already. But the hearing will resume March 5 with even more witnesses and a detailed agenda.

Per DeRogatis, the city will focus on the following five allegations:

• The Congress failed to promptly report the fight to police at the Chief Keef concert last April. The venue did not call 911, as is required by law, but police presence already was heavy in the area during the show, in part because of the undercover investigation, and in part because of the notoriety of Chicago gangsta rapper Chief Keef, who was jailed on Tuesday for violating his probation.
• Venue staffers failed to cooperate with police officers and truthfully answer questions after the officers found seven patrons under age 17 who were illegally admitted to a show by the British dubstep DJ Rusko on May 6.
• Five incidents that “violated a state law regulating narcotics or controlled substances” at the venue between September 3, 2011, and April 15, 2012.
• And that security “caused bodily harm” to concertgoer Marco Garcia and committed theft—seizing and keeping his cell phone—after a concert by trance producer and DJ Armin van Buuren on May 26.
It’s the charge Congress security re-sold seized drugs that could prove to be the most damning. Carranza has since hired a new security firm to handle shows booked at the theater.

Carranza faced a foreclosure lawsuit filed by PNC Bank last November claiming he defaulted on a loan. Carranza’s attorney, Thomas Raines, told DNAInfo Chicago he repaid the $3.7 million, but DeRogatis noted PNC Bank had not filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit until Friday. There’s also the litany of building code violations against the Congress.

Will the city finally bring the hammer down on Carranza? Or will the combination of luck and bravado exhibited by him continue to win the day?