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VOL. 125 | NO. 41 | Tuesday, March 2, 2010

State’s Nuisance Law Helps Nab Three Memphis Cops

By Bill Dries

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Three Memphis police officers could be indicted by a federal grand jury as early as today on conspiracy, bribery and extortion charges.

Timothy Green, Christopher Crawford and Michael Young were arrested Friday and charged in a complaint.

They are accused of taking several thousand dollars each to alert a nightclub owner to undercover and uniform visits by police. They also allegedly changed details in at least one police report, saying a stabbing in the club happened on an adjacent parking lot.

Crawford and Young were patrol officers. Green was a lieutenant and supervisor of the midnight shift at the police department’s Ridgeway precinct.

The club and its owner are not identified in the complaint, but the club was getting a lot of attention from police as neighbors complained.

Under the radar

Police were gathering information on arrests and incidents in and around the business to prepare for closing the club as a nuisance under state law.

As supervisor of the shift when the club and other nightspots are at their busiest, Green was in charge of the special police detail.

Its job was “gathering evidence against the nightclub in order to shut it down as a nuisance,” according to an affidavit from FBI special agent Matthew J. Ross.

“Lt. Green offered to provide more officers at the club and told the Owner that he would have the ‘right guy’ up at the club on Saturday and Sunday night,” Ross continued, referring to a conversation between the two that was recorded Jan. 10. “Lt. Green commented, ‘We don’t need nuisance; we don’t need no news.’”

For his help, while on duty and in uniform, Green allegedly took 11 payoffs totaling more than $8,000, and, according to the complaint, was upping his price and trying to cut off Crawford and Young from being paid smaller amounts.

The nuisance closures have been used aggressively by the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office since 2002.

More than 100 properties – from vacant crack houses to apartment complexes to motels – have been closed, most temporarily, under the court orders. The closures are usually followed by consent decrees in which owners agree to take measures to improve conditions.

The first nuisance cases pursued by District Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons were against nightclubs. In 2003, Denim ‘n’ Diamonds in Hickory Hill was closed permanently as a result. So were several strip clubs.

The most notable strip club closing was Platinum Plus, which was also the target of a federal criminal investigation as Memphis police officers worked undercover for more than a year inside the club. It closed in 2005.

U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi would not say whether the club involved in Friday’s charges was a strip club. More details could surface in an indictment.

Friday’s complaint was the first public indication of a six-month undercover investigation by federal authorities in which a nightclub manager cooperated.

The manager, who is not named, was a secret partner in the club. An office of the unidentified nightclub was wired for sound and video as part of the undercover probe.

Watch and learn

Watching the parking lots of strip clubs long has been an established part of running adult nightclubs in the city.

During the federal trial of topless nightclub kingpin Danny Owens in the 1990s, witnesses told of security teams that patrolled the lots while wearing radio headsets to keep up with rowdy patrons. They also used the headsets to warn those inside the club that police were on the way in.

When Owens was arrested, federal agents found at his house a list of Memphis police vice squad officers.

“I would like to somewhat dispel the notion that law enforcement in Shelby County is broken,” Laurenzi said. “I can tell you that it is not. … To those of you people who continue to break the law, I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to see that you follow your predecessors who have found themselves indicted in federal court.”

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin had similar sentiments but with a lot more frustration.

“We will lock you up,” Godwin said, echoing a warning he has given to every recent graduating class of police recruits recently. “I’m fed up with it.”

PROPERTY SALES 69 163 12,921
MORTGAGES 35 85 8,088
BUILDING PERMITS 109 531 30,465
BANKRUPTCIES 18 85 6,149