Chicago police official: Congress Theater 'untruthful' on night of underage drinking

March 27, 2013

A Chicago Police Department official has accused the Congress Theater of failing to cooperate with officers during an investigation into underage drinking at the venue.

Sgt. Joseph Giambrone testified that Congress staffers lied about serving alcohol when his unit arrived to investigate suspicions of underage drinking during a DJ Rusko set in the early hours of May 6, 2012.

Giambrone’s testimony came during a disciplinary hearing at City Hall Tuesday morning, the second conducted by Chicago’s Liquor Control Commission looking into alleged illegal activities at the Congress.

During his testimony, Giambrone described a call from the emergency room of Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center in Wicker Park that reported several concertgoers “of various ages” arriving from the Congress Theater via private ambulance with symptoms of extreme intoxication, many of them “barely breathing.”

Giambrone said that when officers arrived on the scene, Congress managers Atieh Abdelhadi and Ahmad Mahidi met him outside the venue and denied serving alcohol during the show.

Next, Giambrone said he observed Mahidi talking on his radio in “a language that wasn’t English,” and then witnessed Abdelhadi running ahead to unscrew taps in the lobby bar and place cups upside down over the spigots as officers entered the venue.

Once inside, Giambrone claimed to see employees “activating tap devices” and serving “amber-hued” liquid to patrons by the stage.

Giambrone said he was also present at the Congress on the night of April 13, 2012, when his unit responded to a large fight during a Chief Keef show. The venue did not call 911 to report this incident; defense attorney Harlan C. Powell hypothesized that venue staffers may have tried to call out to police officers already on the scene.

Powell questioned the credibility of the city’s investigation, calling the allegations against his client “grossly prejudicial.”

To support his claim, Powell brought up a meeting that took place between Giambrone and the Congress Theater following these incidents. Powell said that during the meeting, venue personnel said they understood that any calls made to the police by the Congress would not be brought up in disciplinary actions.

However, Deputy Hearings Commissioner Robert Nolan rejected Powell’s argument, stating that the events at issue occurred before any alleged conversations took place.

Tuesday’s hearing was originally scheduled for March 6. But Powell – the third attorney to represent venue owner Erineo “Eddie” Carranza since his troubles with city agencies began in March of 2012 – requested more time to review the case from Deputy Commissioner Nolan.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 30.

Prior reporting by Jim DeRogatis. Research assistance by Jennifer Grandy.

Earlier reports about Carranza, the Congress and the Portage, from Jim DeRogatis:

March 8: The fate of the Portage remains a messy mystery

March 6: Congress Theater hearing rescheduled

Feb. 22: Congress Theater restoration underway, but it’s got a long way to go

Jan. 16: Congress Theater liquor hearings begin with undercover cop’s testimony

Dec. 3, 2012: A rally to save the Portage Theater ‘as we know it’

Nov. 28, 2012: The Portage Theater uses Graham Elliot’s name in vain

Nov. 2, 2012: Congress Theater’s new security chief: An ex-cop with a troubled past

Oct. 31, 2012: Congress Theater police calls rank with Soldier Field, United Center

Sept. 23, 2012: How did things turn so bad so fast at the Portage Theater?

Sept. 22, 2012: New Owner of the Portage Theater moves to evict current operators

Sept. 16, 2012: Congress Theater splits with development partner

Sept. 11, 2012: The Portage Theater: What’s Eddie up to?

July 26, 2012: Congress Theater partners up… and looks to expand

April 14, 2012: More trouble at the Congress Theater

March 28, 2012: Critical of Congress security, headliner brings his own

March 25, 2012: Congress Theater responds to complaints

March 22, 2012: City to Congress Theater: Clean up your act!

Leah Pickett blogs about pop culture for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @leahkpickett.