EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 18, 2013

Sahara Club membership comes under scrutiny

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — The Sahara Club member who rented the club for a private party the night of the fatal Oct. 22 shooting first applied for his membership three weeks prior, according to club documents.

Angel Sanchez, owner of the Lawrence bar Le Drink House, applied for a membership to the private Sahara Club Oct. 2. The club agreed to lease the club to Sanchez Oct. 18, and Sanchez paid $250 on Oct. 22 from his business account to the club, according to Sahara documents turned over to the Methuen Licensing Board.

William Amann, an attorney for the Sahara Club, said Sanchez and Salim Lebbos, one of the Sahara Club’s officers and a member of the ownership family, knew each other.

“(Sanchez) had this function coming up and he didn’t have the capacity,” Amman said yesterday. “Le Drink didn’t have the capacity. That’s the genesis of it.”

Reached by phone yesterday, Sanchez declined to comment.

Amman said Sanchez had a private party with music by a Spanish rapper where between 100 and 120 people showed up. The Sahara’s capacity is 240.

Police Chief Joseph Solomon said at last week’s Licensing Board meeting that police believe both Rivera and his killer were in the Sahara before the shooting. Amann said the Sahara turned over surveillance video to police in cooperation with the investigation.

Amann said the Lebbos family, which owns and operates the Sahara, has been discussing changes to its policies, including keeping a guest log at private events, having guest lists prepared in advance of private functions and possibly instituting a waiting period between when someone becomes a member and is able to rent the club for private functions.

A guest list was not kept during the private party on Oct. 22.

Amann said he is working to set up a meeting this week with the Licensing Board to address the issues that led it to suspend the club’s license on Nov. 13.

“The Lebbos family, there are five families that depend on that club for paying their mortgages and feeding their kids, so the focus is on let’s make sure the license is adhered to the right way,” Amann said. “If this goes into December, I don’t think the Sahara’s business could withstand that.”

The Sahara Club became a private club in 2005, according to Licensing Board minutes. As a private club, it can only admit members or a guest who comes with a member. All guests are to sign in and the club must maintain the log.

Solomon and Amann said the guests out numbered the members on Oct. 22.

On Oct. 31, the Licensing Board requested the Sahara’s membership list and guest log for the past six months. Board chairman John MacLeod said last week many of the names on the guest log are illegible. Indeed, a look through the logs submitted shows people scribbling a signature, signing in with only first names and sometimes even using just a single initial.

The club has 81 members, according to a list submitted to the Licensing Board.

David Rivera, 28, 246 Farnham St., Lawrence, was shot multiple times on Greendale Street across from the Sahara Club at about 1 a.m. Oct. 23, and died a short time later.

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