Don Patron Mexican Restaurant has a family feel, a friendly staff and an atmosphere as colorful as its bright enameled furniture.
But as an undercover officer sat at the bar, regulars spoke candidly about drugs, taking advantage of women and selling cocaine, according to New Albany police.
The drug activity became so apparent that it was openly discussed, said the officer, who didn't want his name used to protect his safety and future undercover operations. And the staff was trying to get people intoxicated and hitting on women.
New Albany police raided the restaurant at 9745 Johnstown Rd. about 8:30 Thursday evening, arresting 13 employees on drugs, weapons or sexual-assault charges.
The undercover officer began stopping in for drinks and conversation about five months ago, after New Albany police received tips about drug-trafficking.
The bar staff and others thought the officer was a transient looking for work. The banter and trust escalated to drug deals, an ounce or 2 at first. Then, earlier Thursday evening, it yielded 2kilos in the Meijer parking lot near Rome-Hilliard and Renner roads on Columbus' Far West Side.
As the deal was about to close, the suspects saw the police and drove their sport-utility vehicle through residential neighborhoods west of Rome-Hilliard followed by a cadre of unmarked police cars from several agencies.
Fortunately, it ended in a great way and nobody was injured - including the bad guys, the undercover officer said.
New Albany has crime, but typically not this dramatic.
It was kind of surprising, said New Albany Police Chief Mark Chaney. It looks like a nice restaurant. But as the investigation started unfolding, we found employees dealing drugs right out of the back door.
An employee at another business nearby recalled, We'd see them behind the Dumpster, doing coke and trying to be sneaky.
Chaney thinks easy access to the freeway might have played a role.
I think its location and the willingness of its employees to deal drugs led to it suddenly being a problem.
Arrested on felony drug-trafficking charges were: Cristian A. Garcia, 31, of 5433 Rockingham Court in Blendon Township, the restaurant's assistant manager; Omar E. Jimenez, 26, of Galion; Miguel Rodriguez, 24, of 5828 Buenos Aires Blvd., Westerville; and Ricardo R. Rodriguez, 28, of 5484 Ashberry Village Court on Columbus' Far West Side.
In addition to the drug-trafficking arrests, six others were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials while their immigration status is checked.
One employee was charged with kidnapping and sexual imposition for either physically forcing or luring women into a back area, said New Albany Police Sgt. Mark Anderson.
Yesterday, as employees of the Franklin County Health Department, Ohio Department of Liquor Control and the state Environmental Protection Agency investigated code violations, abandoned shot glasses of Don Julio tequila, half-eaten burritos and an unwatched and blaring television were evidence of Thursday's hasty exit.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
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