By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Police are investigating the 24-year-old owner and manager of The Other Place tavern for allegedly allowing her father and a female bartender to deal drugs out of the Cedar Street establishment.
Local police and federal drug agents told the city’s License Commission last week they have been investigating the business formerly known as the 8th Street Tavern since summer 2011. The probe was in response to complaints from neighbors who suspected drug deals were taking place there, Haverhill Sgt. Dana Burrill said.
Police have asked the commission to revoke the tavern’s liquor license as a result of their investigation. After a hearing on the allegations Thursday, the commission voted 2 to 1 to continue the case at their Dec. 6 meeting.
In January, police said they received reliable information from a confidential informant that a man who identified himself to police as the owner of the tavern, Michael Chiarenza, 45, was selling Oxycodone pills out of the establishment. The tip said the pills, called “Perc 30’s,” were being concealed in paint cans. Michael Chiarenza has not been charged, but Burrill said the investigation is continuing.
City officials said Michael Chiarenza is neither the owner nor the manager of the business, however. His daughter, Laurie Chiarenza, 24, is in fact the owner and manager, officials said.
Police said Michael Chiarenza has a long criminal record including breaking and entering, robbery and assaults, but that his daughter Laurie has no criminal record. City officials said Laurie Chiarenza’s background was thoroughly checked by state alcohol regulators before she was approved about a year and a half ago to run the tavern, which is in a section of the city known as The Acre.
The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency eventually joined Haverhill police in its narcotics investigation of the business, and in April two undercover federal agents infiltrated the tavern to buy drugs, police reports and the agents said.
The first time the agents entered the bar they negotiated a price of $25 per Oxycodone pill with a customer and exchanged telephone numbers to make the deal later, the agents said. At Thursday’s meeting, federal agent Timothy Williamson told the commission that Michael Chiarenza watched and heard the conversation to arrange the drug deal, but did not participate in the discussion.
When the agents returned to the tavern two weeks later, April 27, they arranged to buy Oxycodone pills from a bartender named Jennifer Morin, police reports and the federal agents said. Two days later the undercover agents met Morin in Salem, N.H. and purchased 30 “Perc 30’s” from her for $950, police said.
On June 14, the agents contacted Morin, who was still working at the tavern, for another drug deal, this time in Methuen.
Prior to meeting, the agents said Morin tried to change the location of the exchange to Lawrence General Hospital, but the undercover agents declined. The meeting eventually took place in a Burger King parking lot in Lawrence, police reports said. When the agents met Morin, she was with another woman named Jennily Paris, police said.
Paris told the agents she had to leave the vehicle to meet someone “up the street” to pick up the pills, reports said. The agents gave Paris $1,400 and waited with Morin for Paris to return. Paris never returned, however. Police said they found Paris the next day and arrested her for larceny over $250.
At that point, the agents said they revealed themselves to Morin and asked her to help with their investigation of Michael Chiarenza and The Other Place. They said Morin agreed, but Haverhill police soon learned from their informant that Morin told Michael Chiarenza about the agents and the investigation. As a result, the investigation of the tavern was stopped and Morin was arrested for her role in the Salem drug deal, police said. She has since been indicted on drug charges, the agents said.
Laurie Chiarenza attended Tuesday’s commission meeting with her lawyer, William Early. Early told commissioners that no drug deals with the federal agents took place inside the tavern and that no one was arrested inside the establishment — a point the federal agents and Burrill confirmed.
Laurie Chiarenza told the commission she has no idea why her father identified himself and his girlfriend Susan to police as the owner and manager of the tavern. Laurie Chiarenza said she sells insurance during the day and runs the tavern at night, working about 30 hours per week, she said. Laurie Chiarenza said she hires and fires all tavern employees, tends bar three or four nights per week, orders all the alcohol and does scheduling.
Burrill said he has been watching the business for more than a year and never saw Laurie Chiarenza there. The detective also said he has seen Michael Chiarenza there many times and that a reliable informant told police they purchased drugs from Michael Chiarenza inside the tavern several times. License Commission member Gerald Sewell said he has been in the tavern several times and never saw Laurie Chiarenza there either.
“Michael is my dad,” Laurie Chiarenza said. “He helps with maintenance, but he doesn’t tend bar.”
Burrill suggested Laurie Chiarenza allow police to review a video camera outside the tavern to verify she was at the business as frequently as she claimed, but Chiarenza said the camera was not working until recently.
Laurie Chiarenza told commissioners she has never witnessed drug activity inside the tavern and that she fired Morin as soon as she learned from her father than Morin had been arrested on drug charges in New Hampshire.
“I’m not going to put up with that,” Laurie Chairenza said of her workers selling drugs.
After testimony from both sides, License Commission chairman Joseph Edwards offered Early the chance to come back next month with more witnesses before the commission concludes the hearing and takes action. Burrill and Sewell said they saw no reason to delay action, but commission member Timothy Coco sided with Edwards to continue the hearing Dec. 6.
“Police have recommended closing the place,” Edwards said. “This is a serious matter and want to give them every chance to defend themselves before we vote.”