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Mysteries Remain Years After Million-Dollar Pot Bust

  1. buseman
    While many Tinley Park residents guzzled cocktails and caught up with grandma, James Zintak spent Thanksgiving Eve 2007 with drugs at his back and guns in his face, staring wide-eyed into the muzzles of a small army of police.

    All the part-time record store clerk was trying to do that night was lock up the shop and go home when cops descended on him in what's become one of Tinley Park's most mysterious drug busts.

    Police officers, both unmarked and marked, came out of nowhere, Zintak said. All of a sudden, it was a situation. All of a sudden, I noticed they had rifles.

    Chicago cops hauled nearly a million dollars worth of marijuana out of Tinley Park's only record store that night, according to police records.

    Zintak, 21 at the time, was working alone at Threshold Music Center inside the Tinley Court complex on 159th Street.

    The owners, Houston and Diane Muthart, had given him a part-time job a year earlier. He cleaned, stocked the store and minded the register. The store sold mostly CDs, records and music magazines.

    Threshold Music would shut down for good the day after New Year's 2008. Zintak and other former employees say the raid triggered Threshold's closing.

    A heavily blacked-out Chicago Police report obtained by Patch confirms that nine boxes of marijuana with a street value of $973,872 were confiscated.

    Yet you won't find any record of the raid in the news. And in the ensuing months and years, no one has been charged with a crime.

    The Burden of Proof

    The burden of proving who owns the drugs in a criminal case rests with the agency leading the investigation, and once you prove who had it, you must prove they knowingly had it, said Tinley Park Police Chief Michael O'Connell.

    Zintak's traumatic night appears as only a matter of formality on a police report.

    A dispatch record from the night of Nov. 21, 2007, shows six Tinley Park officers assisted the Chicago-area High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) – a federally funded organization that coordinates drug-control efforts between local, state and federal agencies – between 5:04 and 10:01 p.m.

    Tinley Park officers helped secure the scene while drug investigators swooped down on the store and performed their interrogation, the record showed.

    Zintak said he signed for the UPS boxes around 7:30 p.m. He marveled at how late they arrived but dutifully stored them away.

    Two hours later, as Zintak closed the store and walked towards the parking lot, he noticed two men following him.

    Thinking he was about to be mugged, he jumped into his car only to have police surround him, drag him out of his car, search him and hustle him back into the store.

    In a moment of confusion and complete panic, I demanded to know what was going on, he said. I was told that the nine boxes I received earlier that day were filled with marijuana.

    Officers questioned the young employee for 30 minutes before sending him on his way.

    They asked me who the owner was, and they sat me down, asked me not to move, he said. And when I did move to grab a picture of Houston (Muthart) that was on the wall … they all acted like I pulled a gun.

    Zintak said several officers went for their weapons.

    He froze.

    They sat me down … and talked to me as if I did that again, something bad was going to happen, he said.

    Zintak said investigators confiscated all nine boxes, as well as the day's shipment of records and CDs.

    Shaken, he quit two days later.

    Former Threshold manager Phil Areddia, who ran the music store whenever the Mutharts visited California to check on their vineyard, said the owners were expecting a UPS delivery around that time.

    Houston (Muthart) called a couple days before Thanksgiving, Areddia said. We're going to be getting some UPS shipments in for me,' he said. 'Put them in the back of the store. They're boxes of wine.

    Several telephone calls to the Mutharts' California home seeking comment for this story have not been returned.

    HIDTA Intelligence Coordinator Patrick Darcy said Chicago Police were in charge of the investigation.

    Chicago Police news affairs officer Robert Perez said there was no case report on file at the Chicago Police Department for the bust in question.

    However, a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Patch verifies that Chicago Police indeed led the investigation and seized more than 134 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of nearly $1 million.

    Zintak said his first phone calls after the authorities released him were to the manager Areddia and then one of the owners.

    I called Diane (Muthart) and all I heard on the other line was, 'Oh my God…Oh my God.' And then I heard the phone hang up, he said.

    The New Year

    Areddia remembers keeping the music store open until the morning of Jan. 2, 2008, when he arrived early for work and found the Mutharts packing everything up haphazardly.

    The mood since Thanksgiving had been one of confusion and anxiety, Areddia said. The employees worried they would find the store boarded up one day because the owners seldom came around after the raid.

    When they did, they wouldn't talk about the bust, Areddia said. They told him to put as much merchandise on holiday sale as possible, he said.

    Houston (Muthart) just booked, and I didn't see him anymore, Areddia said. And this is during one of the busiest times of the year.

    Worried the store might close, Areddia asked his remaining employees to stop selling gift cards or taking deposits on soon-to-be-released albums.

    In the 1990s, the Mutharts built the entire Tinley Court complex, sold it, and then leased back part of building for their music store, Areddia said.

    By 2008, when Montesano Capital Management came into possession of the building, the nation was tipping into the depths of a severe recession.

    Montesano was foreclosed on in February 2009, according to Cook County circuit clerk records. Several tenants, including a bustling Italian restaurant, continue to operate and pay rent.

    Meanwhile, an investigation and mystery endure. Chicago Police have nearly $1 million of pot in evidence and no arrests. The store's owners moved west, leaving their employees jobless, confused and, in Zintak's case, angry.

    The Mutharts threw me under the bus, Zintak said, still fuming three years later about being set upon by police and interrogated.

    Threshold's storefront still looks as it did when it ushered in the New Year in 2008 – a crime scene draped in black tarp as if hosting its own funeral.

    By Jesse Marx
    19th Oct 2010


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