EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 14, 2013

Methuen suspends license for Sahara Club

After fatal shooting, numerous violations came to light

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — The club that was the scene of a fatal shooting late last month will be closed indefinitely after numerous violations of its operating agreement came to light at an hours-long meeting Wednesday evening.

The Sahara Club’s private club license was suspended indefinitely by a unanimous vote of the Licensing Board Wednesday after a meeting in which dozens of residents living in the neighborhood around the club spoke about years of problems. A representative for the club and the Lebbos family, which has owned and operated it since the early 1990s, spoke as well.

According to people at the meeting, the Sahara violated several parts of a 1995 memorandum that outlined operating restrictions, including security protocols and how it keeps and maintains a members list and a nightly guest list.

John MacLeod, chairman of the Licensing Board, said he asked the owners to appear at Wednesday’s meeting because of the Oct. 23 fatal shooting outside the club, which operates in a residential neighborhood on Oak Street.

“The shooting brought up a series of questions, and that’s when the violations came out,” MacLeod said.

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

Police have not made any arrests in the shooting. Chief Joseph Solomon did not return a voice message seeking comment yesterday.

William Amann, an attorney with offices in Manchester, N.H., and North Andover who represented the Sahara, said the club wants to work with the city and the neighborhood to address their concerns.

“We’ve agreed to meet with chief of police, the fire chief, Mr. MacLeod, and the community representative,” Amann said yesterday. “We want their input.”

The community representative is David DiZazzo, a resident of the neighborhood who for more than 20 years has rallied neighbors to reign in what they said were years of violations, including inadequate security, parking problems, fighting and noise.

DiZazzo brought a petition signed by 60 residents asking for a meeting with the board and city inspectors, and listed several violations, such as operating after 12:45 a.m., posting signs in the neighborhood, being open to the public and not having appropriate security.

But the Oct. 23 shooting was a tipping point, DiZazzo and MacLeod said.

Oct. 22 was a Tuesday, a night the Sahara Club hosts a jazz night organized by local jazz aficionado Jocko Arcidiacono of Salem, N.H.. Arcidiacono said the trio playing Oct. 22 was out by 10 and had nothing to do with what happened at the club afterward.

After jazz night, Amann said the Sahara leased the club to a member for a private party. No guest list was kept, so authorities have no way of knowing who was at the club, including whether Rivera was inside at any time.

“Mr. Rivera is not a member. He did not show up as a guest. The reason for that was there was no guest log kept on the night of the 22nd of October,” Amann said. “That was an issue because the club rented the space out to a member. At that point, it was not maintaining a log because it was a private member. The consensus of the board is they should maintain a membership log at all times.”

MacLeod said the membership list and visitors logs were presented to the board Wednesday, but many of the names were illegible.

Security was another concern. One of the club’s license restrictions requires a representative of the police or fire department to be present, or a private security firm to be hired, when there are more than 100 people at the club. None of that happened Oct. 22.

Amann said the club had seven club employees on security duty the night of Oct. 22. The club is reviewing the costs of hiring a security service versus its own professional security staff.

The Sahara was a public club until 2004, when it converted into a private club, which means only members or members’ guests can be inside. Guests must enter their names in a log. After several violations in 1995, a number of restrictions were put on the club’s license, restrictions that continued after the club became private. Those violations were the cause of the license suspension Wednesday.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.