Lights! Camera! Conflict of Interest!

Sally Hester is notorious for staying out late on weekends. As unlikely a night owl as this unkempt, harried Hollywood resident seems, it is what she does in those early hours that is even more peculiar. For the last two months, Hester has spent her nights videotaping the policemen who preside over the commotion at the parking lot of SunCruz Casinos.

When asked which cluster of palms she huddles behind on her clandestine late-night forays, Hester counters, "No, I don't hide." As her car curls slowly around the corner of A1A and Palm Street, she points to her favorite spot. "That's where I usually stand when I do my taping," she says referring to a patch of lawn at a friend's house. From there one gets a clear view of the casino boat dock across the street and a parking lot on the Intracoastal. Out in the open, the spot offers no cover for Hester and her camera. "They can see me," she says.

The objects of Hester's scrutiny are Hollywood police officers who guard the casino parking lot. The officers are actually uniformed off-duty policemen, hired out by the city to Martha's restaurant in North Beach. As Hester's footage shows, however, their duties apparently extend all the way over to the SunCruz dock and parking lot 100 yards south of the restaurant. This, claims Hester, is precisely the problem. "They are working for the casino boat," Hester says. "At the same time, the City of Hollywood is suing the casino! Hello?!" To the neighbors the arrangement smacks of conflict of interest. North Beach activists want to know why the city is hiring out sworn, uniformed officers to an operation that it is currently suing.

Hester's evidence-gathering has yielded hours of video footage, and she's happy to screen the tapes for a reporter to illustrate her point. "See that," Hester motions to the TV screen, "the [officers are] nowhere near where they're supposed to be." On the screen is an off-duty Hollywood cop directing traffic out of the packed SunCruz parking lot. At the bottom of the screen, the camera flashes the time: 1:38a.m. "They're supposed to be working for Martha's," she says. "Martha's isn't even open at this time."

She fast-forwards to another scene. Again a flood of dapper revelers spills out from the boat into the streets of her neighborhood -- and into her video frame. A mustachioed man who appears to work for the casino extricates himself from the crowd and approaches Hester. "Put down the camera," he mutters, "go to sleep." The shaky camera turns away for a second, then focuses again tightly, unforgivingly on the man's face. His mission a failure, the man turns around and walks away, chased by Hester's admonition: "Leave our neighborhood!"

While her crusade against the cops is a relatively recent campaign, off-duty police officers hired by SunCruz Casinos are actually nothing new. Over the last couple of years, the company has hired off-duty officers to direct traffic and provide security for the boat's evening patrons. When the City of Hollywood hit Gus Boulis and his SunCruz Casinos with a well-publicized lawsuit last year, the hiring of Hollywood cops stopped. For awhile.

This past February, North Beach residents noticed that the policemen were back. Since then, community activists have made repeated appeals to the police chief and the city manager to stop allowing city officers to work for SunCruz. After months of empty assurances and inaction, members of the neighborhood are fed up. "They told us something would be done," Hester claims. "But the cops are still there." In the meantime she has become a fixture on the corner of A1A and Palm, repeatedly recording what she believes is proof of the community's case against the off-duty officers and the casino boat.

"It's illegal under Hollywood ordinance to hire out off-duty officers to a company under investigation," she claims, her pen pointing to a photocopy of the city ordinance. For a neighborhood that has fought a valiant battle against the big boat next door, the presence of Hollywood city police working for their adversary is a continuous slap in the face. Gus Boulis and SunCruz Casinos are currently the targets of a lawsuit by the City of Hollywood for zoning code violations and for operating without an occupational license.

The way SunCruz is getting around the ordinance, Hester argues, is by claiming that the officers work for Martha's. To the residents of North Beach, the tactic is dubious. "They're one and the same," claims Steve Welsch, the head of the Beach Defense Fund. "Besides, Martha's is also named in the investigation." But the owner of Martha's, George Zinkler, is not named in the complaint, counters Interim Police Chief Al Lamberti. "When I first came here, I took the detail off because Boulis was involved in illegal activities," says Lamberti. "I reinstated them on the condition that Zinkler sign up for the permit and he pay for the details."

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Elbert Ventura