Lawrence: Where Nightclubs Meet Politics

In my story on Lawrence in this month’s magazine, I focus on how corruption and bad governance, particularly by Mayor William Lantigua, have hurt the city. But lately, the relationships that State Rep. Marcos Devers — who represents Lawrence and is a Lantigua political ally — maintains with several nightclubs in the city have also attracted scrutiny.

According to city and planning documents I’ve gathered, it appears that multiple clubs that have been the scene of violence, or that have had their licenses to operate suspended for safety violations, have applied for increases in their maximum occupancy. And they’ve used plans developed by a company called MJD Engineering, which is owned by Devers. Those clubs include Fuego Latino, El Jarro Café, Bali’s restaurant, and Malaya’s.

I have obtained the plans for expanded capacity for El Jarro, which were stamped by Devers on October 18, 2011. A week after Devers filed those plans with the city, the Mass. Alcohol Beverage Commission suspended the club’s license to operate for 13 days because of multiple infractions. Then on January 3, 2012, El Jarro was cited again, this time by Lawrence fire chief Jack Bergeron for allowing 154 patrons into an establishment deemed safe for only 54.

In another example, Devers filed an expanded occupancy request for Fuego Latino on September 13, 2011. On December 13, 2011, the Mass. Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission cited club owner Pedro Velez for multiple infractions, including fire and building safety code violations, and overcrowding.

Malaya’s nightclub also filed plans for expanded capacity, these ones drawn up by a group called BC Construction and Design and bearing Devers’ professional engineer’s stamp. The club was the site of four incidents of violence in a six month period in 2011, including several brawls, stabbings, and what police described as a “near riot.” Devers also developed plans for expanded capacity at Bali’s restaurant, which Mayor Lantigua frequents so often he has a designated parking space kept for him by a neighboring dry cleaner.

While Devers has no official influence on the licensing process, it’s curious that he chooses to work with nightclubs that have racked up a series of violations in the city he represents.

“I am a registered professional engineer,” Devers told me when I called him for comment. “I do my job in an objective way. Mathematics is the true factor here.” He added, “Another factor to take into account is that I don’t have the authority to approve these plans.” (The ultimate authority in the city for approving the building plan lies with building commissioner Peter Blanchette, whose brother is Patrick Blanchette, Lantigua’s chief of staff.)

Devers insisted that there’s no problem with nightclub owners making political donations to his war chest and those of other elected officials. “There’s no conflict of interest of any kind,” he said.