Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jul 2001
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Copyright: 2001 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Author: Dave Thigpen
Bookmark: (Raves)


Charges Against New Orleans Club Promoters Dropped

In a major victory for club promoters and ravegoers, a U.S. attorney in
New Orleans has dropped most of the charges against promoters at the
State Palace Theatre, home of the city's largest raves. The defendants
had been accused of encouraging and assisting drug use. "This is an
admission that the government shouldn't have been barking up this tree,"
says Arthur Lemman, attorney for Brian Brunet, one of the promoters.

The decision -a plea agreement between the U.S. attorney's office and
the defendants -- brings to an end a controversial six-month case in
which U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan (who left office in April) charged the
three promoters - Brunet, his brother Robert and Donnie Estopinal -with
violation of the 1986 federal "crack-house statute." That law calls for
jail time of up to twenty years, fines of up to $500,000 and property
seizures against defendants convicted of operating a home or
establishment with the intent of illegal drug use. The State Palace
Theatre, which often packs in 3,000 rovers a night, had been under Drug
Enforcement Administration scrutiny since the 1998 overdose death of a
seventeen-year-old Alabama woman, which authorities linked to the use of

Music fans protested that rave crackdowns unfairly targeted electronic
music, while club managers feared that a conviction would embolden state
and local authorities, who have already passed restrictive ordinances in
Illinois and Florida. In May, the operators of Club La Vela in Panama
City Beach, Florida, were also charged under the crackhouse statute.
Patrick and Thorsten Pfeffer are accused of making the club available
for the purpose of "unlawfully distributing controlled substances,"
including Ecstasy, LSD, GHB and Special K. But as in the New Orleans
case, prosecutors have not shown any evidence linking the pair to drug

Although the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans dropped all charges
against the three promoters, it kept alive charges against the group's
corporation, Barbecue of New Orleans Inc. The company will pay a fine of
$100,000 for allowing its premises to serve as a site for the use and
distribution of drugs. In the meantime, the State Palace Theatre is open
for business, with weekend raves scheduled and security increased.

"The whole idea of charging an operator criminally for what people in an
audience may or may not do is simply half-baked," says Lemman.
"Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed."
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