Ali Baba Liquor Lounge Management Scrutinized At Hearing
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — As the Ali Baba Liquor Lounge seeks renewal of its liquor license, authorities on Wednesday presented a state Liquor Control Board hearing officer with a laundry list of troubling incidents that have unfolded at the notorious club over the years.
During a hearing at the Courtyard by Marriott, Wilkes-Barre police officers laid out an extensive history of alcohol-fueled disturbances, fights and violent confrontations they have handled over the years at the club at 219 S. Main St.
The most serious incident was the unsolved July 19 homicide of Collin Jones, 26, of Brooklyn, New York. Jones had been involved in a fight at the club prior to being shot in the head while driving away in a black Nissan Rogue, which then crashed into a pole on South Street.
Wilkes-Barre police Detective Charles Jensen testified that police were unable to get surveillance video from inside the club because the owner claimed it had been damaged in a storm. He also said investigators have gotten “negative results” as they have tried to contact an Ali Baba’s security guard who was present during the fight.
Wilkes University President Dr. Patrick Leahy said that while there had been other incidents of concern to the university, the middle-of-the-night call he got about Jones’ murder raised his level of concern.
“That’s when it really raised the awareness to me of the challenges at that location,” Leahy said, adding that the university subsequently wrote a letter urging the Liquor Control Board to reject the renewal of the club’s liquor license.
Danger in the community — such as the homicide at the club — “directly impacts our ability to recruit” new students, he said.
“My biggest concern is the safety of our constituents that are entrusted to the university’s care,” Leahy said.
Other neighbors also testified about their concerns with the club. South Franklin Street resident Ross Graham testified that the “seedy” rappers and “unsavory” crowd that the club attracts has been a detriment to the neighborhood. Racing cars, thumping music and people crowding the sidewalks now dominate the area, he said.
“I don’t think any one of you would want your house next to a place like this,” said Graham, who asserted that he has no plans to leave the neighborhood. “I have the intention of cutting out the cancer in the neighborhood, that’s my intention.”
While a number of police officers offered testimony about problems at the club, most of them also acknowledged that management takes steps to keep order, such as maintaining a private security force as well as hiring details of off-duty police officers.
Police officer Cory Dumont agreed that he finds Ali Baba’s management to be “generally helpful and cooperative,” and Patrolman Robert Collins said the club does not encourage patrons to get drunk and unruly.
“They check everybody at the door. If there’s any problems inside they eject that person instead of letting it continue,” Collins said. “They bring them out front: ‘This guy’s done.’ And then we handle it from there.”
Patrolman James Fisher, who testified both for the board as well as on behalf of Ali Baba’s, said that management does “everything they can to prevent” trouble at the club. He said he has made a number of recommendations to improve security at the club, including removing trees to increase visibility and placing security cameras.
“All of them have been taken seriously, and some of them have been implemented,” Fisher said.
After the board rested its case, club manager Ali Abualburak took the stand and said Wilkes-Barre police officers are quick to sign up for detail duty because they enjoy working at the club. That in turn leads to a safer environment, he said.
“We have a very strong relationship with the Wilkes-Barre Police Department,” Abualburak said. “The patrons see the police officers outside. It sends a huge message that we don’t tolerate any nonsense.”
Abualburak also described strict ID procedures in place at the club, which he said has had no underage drinking citations. The venue is also “100 percent soundproofed” and the incidents attributed to the club constitute only a fraction of the estimated 150,000 customers who come through the doors each year, he said.
“I think we’re doing a phenomenal job with security,” Abualburak said. “If there are any recommendations, we’ll take them, but I think we’re doing a phenomenal job.”
The Liquor Control Board sent a letter dated Aug. 10 alleging the club owners — Abualburak’s father Nabil M. Abualburak, the president; Manal Saleem Daghlas, secretary; and Samer N. Abualburak, treasurer — are “not responsible (people) of good repute and/or have become (persons) of ill repute.” Those three are also listed as directors and stockholders.
The club’s license expired Aug. 31, but the club can continue operating through the adjudication process on a temporary license, according to the board.
The Liquor Control Board is expected to rule on the license at a later date.
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