Upham's Corner Online

Keno Promoting Crime in Upham's Corner

Posted: November 17, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Officer Ildo Goncalves raised the issue of a "surprise" Keno game license in a dangerous section of Upham's Corner at the June 2011 SNI meeting.  An area resident, active with the Upham's Corner Improvement Association, investigated how the establishment El Frutero managed to get a Keno license without the neighborhood's knowledge.

This has led to conversations with the Lottery Commission on how City of Boston neighborhoods are notified with an emphasis on why the process is NOT working.  The issue is being turned over to our elected officials but Upham's Corner residents, including those in the Improvement Association, will continue to monitor progress.

At the June 28, 2011 SNI (Safe Neighborhood Initiatives) meeting, Officer Ildo Goncalves spoke up.Keno Promoting Crime in Upham's Corner

"I'd like to put an issue about El Frutero Market onto the table.  Under our eyes somehow, they put a Keno game in there.

It is hindering our ability [BPD] to enforce trespassing violations in that area.  If I go there to ask them to move, they tell me they ‘are playing Keno’ and they walk back into the store."

An Upham’s Corner resident and Improvement Association member reflected on what Officer Goncalves had said:

"It felt disconcerting to learn of a decision that was harming our community, almost as if we had been violated. 

How could the Lottery Board have made a decision without our knowledge and one that was so out of tune with our community?." 

A couple days later the community was in conversation with the Lottery Commission’s Mona Hoy, explaining how the presence of the Keno game was contributing to crime in Upham’s Corner and making the neighborhood more dangerous by hampering the ability of the police to rout the loiterers. 

How did El Frutero get a Keno game without our neighborhood organizations being notified?

"That is why we list in the newspaper so people can come forward – a major paper such as the Globe or Herald." 
  • You don't communicate with our neighborhood organizations?  You just post legal notices for 21 days?
  • Do you know how many residents in Upham’s Corner do not read the Globe’s legal notices? 
  • Do you know how many immigrants live in Upham’s Corner – from Haiti, Cape Verde, Spanish-speaking countries, Africa and Vietnam – who don’t speak English and who don’t read English language newspapers but who are affected by crime in Upham’s Corner?
So what happened?  The Lottery Commission followed its legally mandated process, posting the legal notice for 21 days and there was no response(!).  As if "under the cover of darkness" [as one area resident described it], the Lottery Commission awarded El Frutero a license to operate the Keno monitor and consequently provide shelter to the criminal element in our community.

All the while it is as if the Upham's Corner businesses and residents were like Rip Van Winkle - asleep.  Of course, it's not true.  We just didn't know which antenna to have on.

Keno Promoting Crime in Upham's Corner Keno Promoting Crime in Upham's Corner

To the left of the Keno monitor is the "cage" where the clerk is secured away from the customers.  El Frutero cleared out space in the middle of the store so that Keno customers could stand around waiting for the next game.

In Boston the standard notification process works outside the newspapers.  Relying on either the Globe or the Herald for licensing notifications that impact our neighborhoods is not how business gets done. 

For any business or resident requesting a license or variance, the appropriate City agency schedules a public hearing and this appears on the City of Boston calendar. 

The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services notifies area residents and neighborhood associations well in advance of the hearing. That way the neighborhood associations have an opportunity to invite the businesses / residents to attend the neighborhood meeting. 

Interestingly, El Frutero has been identified at SNI meetings as a business that does not cooperate with the police. As an example, in late May, one of the residents spoke to an owner of El Frutero.

"The police told us that you are protecting the drug dealers in the area."  "It’s not true," he said.  "Last night we threw one of them out of the store." 

But the next night, as the store was closing, this same resident just happened to notice that Terrence Johnson, one of the primary drug dealers, was leaving the store - as if he were no longer a persona non-grata.  A couple days later, Terrence Johnson was murdered. 

Given El Frutero’s reputation, do you think the neighborhood organizations, had they known about the licensing request, would have quietly allowed the 21 day notification period to pass without comment?  Certainly not.

On June 21, 2011 SNI sponsored a neighborhood walkthrough that generated two pages of problem properties where there is drug activity, gun activity, loitering, trespassing, public drinking and overgrown weeds.  

Making matters worse is the El Frutero Keno game where the criminal element that "works the street" can hide behind the Keno ticket.  In the past, police could "move the loiterers along." The new standard is for the loiterer to use the Keno ticket as an excuse to hide in the safety of the El Frutero store, pretending to play the game.

"Well, you have to be 18 to play the game.  The police could ask for an ID."

That’s tantamount to direct confrontation and probably not a good idea except under appropriate circumstances.  Asking for an ID every time the police pass by El Frutero?  Escalating the tension in our community?  Because the Lottery Commission has awarded El Frutero a Keno monitor?

On November 14, 2011 Bill Egan, general counsel for the state lottery, reviewed the situation and learned that since January 1, 2011 there have been six murders in Upham’s Corner. 

But that has nothing to do with the Lottery Commission and how it carries out its work.  Or does it?  If the Lottery Commission doing its job correctly has led to degradation in the Upham’s Corner business district, maybe it's time to change "the process" so as to enable Upham’s Corner residents to protect their neighborhood.

The Lottery Commission follows a "major newspaper" notification process while Boston neighborhoods follow a Neighborhood Services notification process.  It’s fine that the Lottery Commission places legal notices in area newspapers.  Perhaps this list should include some of the more widely read local papers such as the Dorchester Reporter, Upham’s Corner News, the Bay State Banner and more. 

But even that is still not adequate.  What the Lottery Commission needs to do for City of Boston licensing requests is to augment their process to include following the standard Boston notification process in addition to their legally mandated 21 day legal notice procedure.

Counsel Bill Egan has promised to check with the Lottery’s licensing department to find out exactly what newspapers they are using in the City of Boston.  "Let’s see how we can tweak that to satisfy the needs of the local communities."

As discussed with Mr. Egan, this concern is being shared with our elected officials including Sen. Jack Hart, Rep. Carlos Henriquez and the Boston City Councilors Tito Jackson and  Frank Baker.

The goal?

Come up with a workable procedure that ensures the continuing safety of our neighborhoods.

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