EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 9, 2014

City shuts another bar, fourth in a year

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — A Jackson Street bar with a troubled history whose owner allegedly locked out police and fire inspectors arriving for an after-hours raid in November, last night became the fourth city bar to lose its liquor license in just over a year.

The Licensing Board's 3-0 decision to revoke Casa de Sirena's license came after former Fire Chief Jack Bergeron and Police Lt. Shawn Conway read detailed reports describing how bar owner Roger Bijjani confronted them at the door just after 3 a.m. — two hours after closing time — on Nov. 24 and then entered the bar in front of them and locked the door behind him.

When Bijjani opened the door after a few minutes, inspectors found as many as 30 people inside, including six huddled in a darkened corner in an attempt to avoid detection, according to a report by Police Officer Claudio Camacho that Conway read to the Licensing Board last night.

Camacho also reported that many had been drinking what appeared to be beer from plastic cups, and said Bijjani “continuously attempted to obstruct the fire department and myself from further investigating the premises for liquor violations.”

Fire inspectors also reported finding broken fire alarms, blocked exits and a large hole in a ventilation pipe serving a furnace in the basement of the building, at 72-74 Jackson St.

Building Commissioner Peter Blanchette revoked the bar's certificate of inspection two days after the raid, forcing it to close, at least temporarily.

Last night, Bijjani's lawyer, Scot Gabriel, denied anyone was drinking in the bar when the police and fire inspectors arrived. When Conway asked why Bijjani blocked inspectors if no one was drinking, Gabriel responded, “I have not asked my client that question.”

Bijjani sat in the back of the hearing room at City Hall through the hearing, but did not speak.

Gabriel attempted to cut off the Licensing Board's vote to revoke Bijjani's license by informing it that Bijjani was getting out of the bar business and was selling the bar. He asked the board to transfer the licenses to the potential buyer.

“He's acutely aware his relationship with the city is fractured at this time,” Gabriel said. “He's ready to be out of the nightclub business in Lawrence.”

Conway warned the board against being fooled.

“This is an old trick — trying to sell the license off before it's revoked,” Conway told the board.

The board's unanimous vote to revoke the license followed.

Casa de Sirena’s troubled track record dates at least to June 2010, when several people were stabbed over two nights of fighting in the bar and on the street outside. The Licensing Board suspended its liquor license for five days. The board suspended the bar’s license for 12 days in May 2012, after a man drew a gun on a woman inside.

“The owner demonstrates flagrant disregard for his patrons, employees and the law,” said Bergeron, who came back from his Jan. 1 retirement to appeal to the board to revoke Bijjani's license. “It's my opinion that this owner is irresponsible and should not be allowed to hold a liquor license.”

Bijjani, a Methuen resident who with family members owns the bar and at least four other properties in Lawrence, owes a total of $222,382 in overdue property taxes, including $10,165 at Casa de Sirena, city tax records show. The city has placed liens on all five properties.

Bijjani said the tax bill totals $100,000.