A seven-month sting operation in Scottsdale nightclubs confirmed what undercover detectives and federal agents already knew — some people do drugs in those places.
Scottsdale narcotics police officers and Drug Enforcement Administration agents prowled dance floors and plush booths from February through last weekend, arresting 34 people and seizing a variety of drugs with a street value of $570,540.
“Scottsdale is obviously known for its nightlife,” Scottsdale police Lt. Steve Gesell said at a news conference Monday morning. “That’s no secret. Whenever you have that type of nightlife, you’re going to have this as well.”
Gesell stood behind a table with two bread loaf-sized bricks of cocaine, a gallon Ziploc bag full of methamphetamine and a bag containing a few hundred pills of the hallucinogen Ecstasy.
“What we have displayed in front of you on the table here is merely a sample of the seizures that were made over the past seven months,” he said.
Club owners were as unfazed as police at the revelation that some people who go to nightclubs like to get high. Club owners said there’s not much they can do about it.
Clubgoers are “not doing it in front of us,” said Diane Corieri, co-owner of Sanctuary at 7340 E. Shoeman Lane.
The sting focused on the roughly 40 nightclubs and bars in downtown Scottsdale. Undercover agents spent the most time in the most popular venues, including Axis/Radius, Sanctuary, Next, Noyz, Elixir, Opium and Sugar Daddy’s.
It’s “relatively easy” to go into a club and buy drugs, Gesell said. Police targeted dealers, not customers.
One drug buy yielded 2 kilos of cocaine, an undercover officer at the back of the briefing room said. Photojournalists were asked not to photograph the seven or eight young detectives and undercover agents in the room.
The seven-month “Operation X-Out” yielded almost 3,000 Ecstasy pills, 5 pounds of marijuana, 5 pounds of crack cocaine, 12 pounds of powder cocaine, 2 pounds of methamphetamine and 1 1/2 ounces of heroin. Police also seized four vehicles and $10,833 in illegal proceeds.
Police say euphoria-inducing Ecstasy wends its way into Scottsdale from Belgium via Mexico.
“It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be” to find Ecstasy, Gesell said.
Agents went hunting for Ecstasy as part of a nationwide crackdown on the new wave of “club drugs,” but found that cocaine “seems to be making a resurgence in popularity,” Gesell said. Deals were made inside and outside clubs. Several people living in south Scottsdale were arrested as a result of the investigation.
Most of the people arrested were white men in their 20s. No women were arrested.
“These guys live in the clubs,” Gesell said. “They’re into the club culture. They’re seen in the clubs frequently.”
Owners and managers said they were unaware of any illicit activity in their clubs, Gesell said, and they did not know their bars were being investigated. A man who subleased an oxygen bar in Axis/Radius is not breathing easily after being arrested on suspicion of selling cocaine and Ecstasy. He was not an employee of the club.
Owners take precautions, but say there’s not much they can do to prevent drug use in nightspots.
Tom Anderson, owner of Noyz, which opened nine months ago at 4224 N. Craftsman Court, has valets in the restrooms. If a valet spots two people going into a stall, the procedure is to notify security guards, who will then call police. That has never happened, Anderson said, although the men’s room valet called security after a man lingered in a stall for a suspiciously long time. It turned out that he was vomiting.
“We certainly don’t want it going on in our clubs,” said Corieri, who employs bathroom attendants, doormen and uniformed off-duty sheriff’s deputies at Sanctuary. However, she admitted it’s difficult for club employees to catch someone popping an Ecstasy pill in a dark booth beneath pulsating lights.
“It’s very hard,” she said. But “it’s not just the nightclubs. You go to the mall, you go to the coffee shop, you go to the middle school — it’s everywhere.”
“I’d hope to think we’ve made a significant dent,” he said. “Have we? I don’t know. . . . All I can say is we’ll monitor it.”