A Miami New Times reader’s poll last year chose Our Place Lounge — with its stiff drinks, sly characters and nondescript layout — as the best bar in the north end of Miami-Dade County.
No one would have known that the bar had been offering customers a host of other sexy enticements. And not necessarily legal ones.
Early Friday, a team of police and federal agents raided the bar at 6844 NW 169th St., after a months-long undercover investigation, making 15 arrests on charges ranging from racketeering to drug possession to gambling.
Among the findings: $13,200 in cash, two handguns, 45 grams of cocaine, five grams of marijuana, and seven grams of the designer drug Molly, investigators say.
“There’s been new ownership there for about four years,” Miami-Dade police detective Alvaro Zabaleta said. “Since then, it’s been a nuisance to the community.”
The popular spot in a strip mall bordering Hialeah and Miami Lakes was shut down and its liquor license seized. The feds intend to go through forfeiture proceedings, said Ed Griffiths, spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney Office.
Law enforcement believes the bar’s owner, Tracey Leanne Gelb, used the lounge to “to facilitate an illegal gambling enterprise,” decided who could sell narcotics, and shared drug sale profits with bar staff.
Gelb, 42, has been charged with gambling, dealing in stolen property, narcotics distribution and racketeering. Her bond was set at $255,000. But, before she can post it to get out of jail, she must prove the money didn’t come from illegal activity.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Gelb was arrested for petit larceny and theft in 2002, but the charges were dropped.
Seven men were charged with drug sales at the bar. Their bonds have been set between $7,500 and $162,000. They are: David Gamboa, 22; Adrian Steven Valladares, 20; Marcos Fortich, 24; Alberto Jimenez, 18; Elmer Jimenez, 20; Antonio Alvarez, 20, and Anthony Mintonio Love, 24. Seven others were arrested on charges ranging from resisting arrest without violence to gambling.
The affidavit for the arrest warrant reads like a classic Mario Puzo gangster novel.
State prosecutors say that in the Our Place Lounge, a guy known only as “Flaco” sold weed. When an informant walked in to get into a high-stakes poker game, the bar owner tested him to make sure he wasn’t a cop before seating him. The house takes a “rake,” or percentage of the pot, and a man works the tables like a waitress - but offering gamers cocaine rather than alcohol.
“Law enforcement responded to the neighborhood’s needs and shut this place down,” said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
The 28-page warrant pinpoints Gelb as the head of the “enterprise,” with her deciding when games are played, who can participate, who can sell narcotics inside, and what percentage of those sales is distributed to bar staff at the end of the evening.
The sellers referred to themselves as “BADBOYS.” The report cited 25 instances of illegal activity between Dec. 5, 2013, and April 24.
According to the warrant, an informant entered the bar on Dec. 5 and headed towards a poker table, asking Gelb if he could take a seat. The two made small talk until Gelb got comfortable, the report says.
“Oh, OK, I just needed to make sure you weren’t a cop,” the informant says Gelb told him.
After the informant sat down and tossed $60 onto the table, the dealer, identified as Michael Ortiz, looked over at Gelb questioningly.
Gelb reassured him: “It’s OK. He’s a friend of mine.”
The dealer told the informant to take the money off the table, subsequently taking it from him under the table.
The warrant also lays out how Gelb took part in illegal liquor purchases after several informants talked her into hosting a large poker game.
On Feb. 19, the warrant says, Gelb sent a text to an undercover cop with this nugget: “Hey sweetheart, can you please ask your boy if he has any liquor left? Also, why don’t we start working on doing another poker game for your friends.”
When the agent asked what Gelb was specifically looking for, she didn’t hesitate: “Pretty much henny, goose, black, chivas, jack daniels, quervo, and j and b, thank u ;-).”