Is Club Cinema a Public Nuisance? Court Hearing Tomorrow
Photo by Alex Markow
There's a hurricane of bass pounding inside Club Cinema, which, close to midnight on a recent weekend, is a sweaty blender of 2,500 teens dancing as Canadian producer Exicison's set hits lift off. Green lasers stab through the dark in the Pompano Beach club. Shirtless kids grind against girls tricked out in bikinis, furry boots, and beaded facemasks. Glow sticks fly through the air.
While the sold-out Saturday-night crowd shakes the walls, Sam Frontera, the guy calling the shots at the club, is holed up in a back kitchen area, tightly wound and waiting for something to pop off.
Then comes word that a security guard upfront is holding up the line at the door.
"He's holding up my fucking money!" Frontera shouts as he bolts from the backroom. The skinny, middle-aged guy with long hair pulled back behind a baseball hat hustles past an employee counting out stacks of $20s on the counter, through the tangle of sweaty teens, to the front door.
There, he gets in the face of the guard, yells, then disappears again. Across Club Cinema's parking lot, anyone can clearly spot the true source of Frontera's agitation: two unmarked Broward Sheriff Office vehicles, just waiting.
For the past year, Frontera's club has been in the hot seat with the City of Pompano Beach and BSO. Citing the rowdy EDM shows featured at the club, the city claims Club Cinema is a loud public nuisance where kids go to recklessly down drugs like MDMA and indulge in other illegal behaviors.
But Frontera, a former cocaine smuggler who did five years in federal prison in the '90s, argues that both he and the club are just easy targets. He says he runs a legitimate business where teens come to do what teens do. The problems have been exaggerated. He's been vilified.
"They think I'm going to take over city hall -- the drug kingpin will take over city hall," he says. "Maybe the drug kingpin needs to take over city hall so they can function and make some money."
Frontera gets his day in court Wednesday, when a Broward judge is expected to rule on whether the club is a public nuisance and also whether BSO can enter the property without warrants.
Over the past year, there's been an uptick in police presence at the club. According to a CAD Incident Report printout for January 2010 to January 2014, BSO dispatchers fielded 98 calls to the club in 2010, 144 in 2011, 59 in 2012, and 208 in 2013.
"BSO's enforcement has been prompted in part by numerous complaints or tips from parents and residents that we have received in reference to widespread drug sales and use, underage drinking, parking and horrific traffic issues," says Dani Moschella, a public information officer with the office.
Frontera, however, claims the attention is due to a mix of politics and personal vendetta.
Although his name is not technically listed as owner in the club's paperwork, Frontera has actively run the business since it opened in 2006. At the time, the property was part of an unincorporated slice of the county, which allowed the club to stay open till 4 a.m. It wasn't until the area was annexed into Pompano that the club's problems began.
Frontera says that for years, his club operated without problems, even employing off-duty BSO as security. The businessman says he was constantly working with the city to officially extend the hours of the club to 4 a.m., even through the club was allowed to operate through a loophole in the code.
Dissatisfied about the help he was receiving from Pompano Mayor Lamar Fisher and Commissioner Charlotte Burrie, Frontera says he made noise in city hall about throwing his financial support behind a different candidate for mayor in the 2013 election. This put him on the wrong side of the Pompano political establishment, he claims.
Burrie and Fisher did not return calls for comment. Gordon Linn, an attorney for the city, told New Times that city officials would not be commenting about the ongoing legal problems.
Frontera believes the police presence is tied to his relationship with Robert Pereira, a wealthy South Florida resident who owns a Massachusetts construction company. Pereira was a big-money supporter of Scott Israel's campaign for sheriff in 2012. Many feel it was his last-minute checks to pro-Israel groups -- $245,000 and $225,000 through his company -- that pushed the candidate over incumbent Al Lamberti.
It was also Pereira's relationship with the sheriff that led to an ethics complaint against Israel in 2013. State ethics prosecutors determined the newly elected sheriff should have reported a postelection cruise on Pereira's yacht taken by Israel and his family.
Frontera and Pereira had been friends, but Frontera says their relationship went south for personal reasons. Frontera suggests that Israel is using BSO raids against Club Cinema as a favor to Pereira -- so Pereira can get revenge on his ex-friend. "How do you run around with this guy who's an ex-kingpin drug dealer and then put on a blue suit jacket and get up and put a sheriff in office?" Frontera says.
BSO spokesperson Moschella says that's nonsense. "The owner is doing whatever he can to distract people from the real issue at Club Cinema. He is playing with fire by holding an event that attracts hundreds of thousands of young people and allowing rampant use of illegal drugs and underage drinking."
The club voluntarily gave up its liquor license in November. According to BSO, of the 21 shows the office's Crime Suppression Team has attended, deputies have made 133 arrests (99 felony and 34 misdemeanor). Fifty-seven arrests were for drug deals.
The club's attorneys dispute those figures and also question the scale, considering the 2,500 capacity of the club for sold-out events (for example, at the Excision show, two arrests were made). As far as New Times can tell after taking in the last two shows at the club, the crowd at Cinema wasn't any more or less rowdy than any other EDM party.
We'll see how this all plays out at tomorrow's hearing. Check back to New Times for updates.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.
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