SAPD: Consulting firm generated fake complaints against Club Rio

Krier staffer cleared in criminal probe

An Austin-based consulting firm used a phone survey, targeting mostly elderly residents, in order to generate fake complaints against a North Side nightclub, according to San Antonio Police Department records obtained by The Defenders.

SAPD officers originally believed a staff member of Councilman Joe Krier was behind the false complaints against Club Rio that piled up earlier this year, but she was later cleared of wrongdoing.

The "flurry" of complaints included phone calls, voicemails, letters and emails fielded mostly by Krier's office from January to late February that described the high-energy nightclub as a "problem location," according to the 11-page SAPD public integrity investigation.

The report indicates the firm, McGuire Woods, was hired by Bowlero, which shares space with Club Rio in a 79,000-square-foot building in the 13300 block of San Pedro Avenue.

The parent companies of the nightclub and the bowling alley have been embroiled in a lawsuit the past two years. The suit accuses Club Rio of violating its rental agreement, according to court records obtained by The Defenders. 

Petition for temporary injunction: AMF Bowling Centers Inc. vs Metropolis, Inc. Rio Ventures, LTD. and Rio Club, LLC. by Scribd

Some of the false complaints made their way to Mayor Ivy Taylor's office and the office of SAPD Chief William McManus, according to the SAPD report.

The complaints led to at least one meeting about the club being held at Krier's field office in early March.

An SAPD officer was also asked to look into whether Club Rio had enough violations to qualify as a public nuisance property, but the "call load was not high enough to substantiate the procedure," the report states.

Club Rio announced on its Facebook page that it will shut down New Year's Day.

An attorney representing Club Rio in its lawsuit with Bowlero would not say why it is shutting down.

The veracity of the complaints against Club Rio was questioned shortly after SAPD officers began to follow up on them.

Seventeen complaint letters handed over to SAPD from "concerned residents" were all postmarked the same day.

One caller who complained to Krier's office later admitted to police she did not know what Club Rio was and did not know where it was located.

A second caller, when questioned by police, told them she was actually a resident of Castle Hills, which has its own city council and mayor.

Officers noted the voice of a third caller was similar to that of one of Krier's staff members, but the investigation later determined the staffer had not made the call.

Other callers told police they were reached by a "telemarketer" type person who described criminal activity taking place at the club, and if they agreed it was "bad," they were transferred directly to Krier's office.

Krier declined a request from The Defenders for an interview for this story.

His communications director instead released the following statement:

"This investigation apparently started with a case of mistaken identity by two police officers. It ended with the finding that the District 9 office had acted appropriately in this matter. This was a bizarre episode, but it never distracted us from our work on behalf of District 9 residents."

Attorneys for McGuire Woods and Bowlero's parent company, Bowlmor AMF, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Defenders.

An SAPD spokesperson said no criminal charges will be filed and the department has not determined how much money was spent on its lengthy investigation.

"I think this was a good investigative effort that showed a lobbying firm was trying to put us in the middle of a civil dispute and to use the city as a tool for leverage to get the club kicked out of their lease," SAPD Sgt. Jesse Salame said.

The 77-page lawsuit related to the landlord-tenant dispute accuses Club Rio of allowing criminal, obscene and pornographic behavior to take place both inside the club and in the parking lot it shares with Bowlero.

Lawsuit Abuse of Official Capacity in Club Rio case by Scribd:

The suit was certified for depositions in September, and remains pending despite Club Rio's impending closure, according to county court records.

The suit describes a swimming pool located inside the club's Maroc Bar as a "cesspool of alcohol, sweat and other bodily fluids."

The suit goes on to state the operators of Club Rio routinely drain the pool into the parking lot.

The suit also accuses the club of repeated violations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.

However, TABC records indicate the club has received only two fines totaling $1,800 in the past nine years.

The suit accuses Maroc Bar of operating without a liquor license, but a TABC spokesperson confirmed the bar and club operate under the same approved permit.

SAPD records indicate officers have been called to the club or its parking lot more than 270 times since the start of 2014.

Salame said that amount of police activity for a club that size was not out of the ordinary.

"It's a bar. There's going to be calls there, there's going to be disturbances there. By and large, it's not unusual activity we've seen from other bars in that area around the city," Salame said.

SAPD declined to release audio recordings of the fake complaints, since the city has not ruled out taking civil action against the consulting firm, according to an official from the city's open records office.

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