On Wednesday night, Bellmawr Police Chief William Walsh spoke about last month’s investigation and arrests at Johnnie’s Liquor Store and the laundromat. Only one member of the public was present, along with SJO and reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Gloucester City News.
Director of Public Safety/Councilman Steven Hagerty, and Borough Administrator, Josh Tregear, were present as Chief Walsh made a statement.
Chief Walsh said that originally the press release was given by the Prosecutor’s office. He stated: “Because this was a joint investigation with the Prosecutor’s office, all information has to go through them.”
Chief Walsh made additional comments. Following are excerpts:
The Bellmawr Police Detective Bureau initiated an investigation several months ago regarding (alleged) illegal drug activity at Johnnie’s Liquor Store and the laundromat across the street. The Detective Bureau contacted the Suburban Narcotics Drug Task Force, which operates under the direction and authority of the Camden County Prosecutor’s office for assistance in this investigation. On the 26th of May, two search warrants were executed and a total of five individuals were arrested from evidence and information obtained from that investigation.
The suspects were charged with narcotics violations and will appear in Superior Court for trial. At this point, no one has been found guilty of any of the charges. I have been in contact with the New Jersey Alcohol Beverage Control Office (ABC) to discuss this situation with them and they are aware of the situation. Some of the people in town are concerned because they are still operating and still selling alcohol. To put it in easy terms, it’s like a drunk driving offense. If we lock somebody up for drunk driving, we can’t take their license until they are convicted. This is going to be a process that is going to take some time, but we are confident there are going to be major changes at the liquor store when this is all said and done. But it has to go through the process with the ABC and the courts. That’s where we stand at this point.
Resident, Deborah Kelly Magnin, asked about the status of Johnnie’s Liquors being a lottery agent.
Chief Walsh responded: “That would fall under the ABC also because they won’t be able to have a license if they are a convicted felon. These charges are indictable so all three owners were charged. We don’t know if all three owners will be convicted. We understand there is concern, but it does take time.”
Regarding the “School Zone” issue, Chief Walsh responded that applies “as long as there are children being taught in the school.”
Following Chief Walsh’s remarks, the caucus meeting continued in the conference room. *All of the councilmen were present, except for Jim D’Angelo, who was absent.
Before adjourning for a lengthy executive session that lasted until about 7:45 p.m., Council discussed several issues, among them agreeing to table the liquor license for Johnnie’s Liquors, which expires June 30. The license was among the three others on council’s agenda to be approved for the period of July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017.
Councilman Paul Sandrock asked if it needed to be voted on this month: “We know it is innocent until proven guilty, but it’s bad timing that a liquor license is to be renewed when the business is under scrutiny.”
Council stated they are “frustrated” and agreed to table the license renewal for Johnny’s Liquors to show “unity.”
Another member of the public from Barrington waited for council to come out of Executive Session to speak to Mayor and Council. When the caucus meeting opened back up to the public she asked: “Why do they have to be prosecuted before they are shut down?”
Mayor Frank Filipek and several members of council said: “We agree, but it’s innocent until proven guilty.”
Prior to the Executive Session, mayor and council discussed several issues.
Councilman Paul Sandrock spoke about the Pennant property. “It is an eyesore to the community. Those residents don’t deserve that.” Councilman Steve Sauter added that the Borough workers have been out numerous times.
Pennant razed? Mayor Filipek asked about the possibility of the Pennant being demolished.
Mayor Filipek asked if it would be possible to “knock it down and charge it to the tax bill” like the property at 229 Warren Avenue, which council authorized an emergency appropriation for $9,500 to demolish and remove it.
As for the Pennant property, Filipek stated that someone expressed interest in it to put up a billboard: “There is no problem with the billboard as long as they fix the place up and have a business, but we haven’t heard anything.” Last month, 42 Freeway reported that the Bellmawr landfill re-developers took ownership of the Pennant’s liquor license back in November, 2015.
Council authorized the demolition and removal of the entire unsafe structure at 229 Warren Avenue.
Councilman Steve Sauter said that the new trash truck is due for delivery on Friday. Bids will be solicited for the Bellmawr logo. Regarding Bellmawr Park, he said that the highway department will be paving a back entrance.
Councilman David Spector asked for a Resolution to be added to the agenda that will require all future meeting agendas to be placed online 72 hours before the meetings.
Council meets next week for its regular meeting on June 23 at 7:00 p.m. in the Courtroom of Borough Hall. At that meeting, the Bellmawr Police Department will be honoring, swearing in, and promoting officers.
*Editor’s note: SJO contacted Borough Clerk, Chuck Sauter, to ask why the mayor and councilmen did not come out into the courtroom while Chief Walsh spoke. Sauter said that Chief Walsh spoke to Mayor and Council during closed session. He also said that due to the volume of phone calls that were received during the week, many more people were expected to attend the meeting, so the courtroom was opened to accommodate the public that was anticipated. Sauter confirmed that the Sunshine Statement was read, which indicates that the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act were satisfied and also that there was a flag salute.