Back to Manassas Park

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

I’ll have a couple of Rack n’ Roll posts of my own next week.

But in the meantime, there’s a must-read post over at Black Velvet Bruce Li.

If you’ve had any doubts about this case, or if you’ve reluctant to follow along, go over to BVBL, read the post, and listen to the audio clips.

The Cliff’s Notes version: David Ruttenberg hires a guy named Tom Kifer to head up security for his bar. Kifer is specifically charged with keeping drug activity out of Rack n’ Roll. Ruttenberg later finds out that Kifer is working for the police, who have instructed him to set up drug deals in the bar, which they then plan use against Ruttenberg, who would later lose his license for — wait for it — failing to stop drug activity in his pool hall.

Note that in the audio clips, Kifer tells Ruttenberg he realizes Ruttenberg’s getting screwed, but that the police are holding his probation over his head. There’s a bit more to this story, too. Kifer went to jail in part because of a bad check he wrote to Ruttenberg. Ruttenberg didn’t want to turn him in. But when he cashed the check and it bounced, he had no choice. When Kifer got out, he begged Ruttenberg for his job back. Ruttenberg gave it to him, mostly out of pity, and out of regret for in part being the reason Kifer went to prison in the first place.

The whole thing was a ruse, of course. Kifer was working for the local police. Not to catch Ruttenberg doing anything wrong, but to help the police establish a pattern of drug activity at Rack n’ Roll — activity that took place despite Ruttenberg’s best efforts to stop it.

What do you do when you continue to report drug activity to the police, only to have them ignore it, in all likelihood because they instigated much of it? What do you do when you hire security to hunt down drug dealers, only to find out that the very same security personnel you hired are setting up drug deals on behalf of the police — sometimes deals where the only parties are undercover cops and paid informants?

I can’t believe Ruttenberg hasn’t gone completely nuts by now. Imagine watching helplessly as you learn, slowly, that the people who hold power where you live have decided to take you down, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Over at BVBL, Ruttenberg advocate Ahnke Cheney makes a great point in the comments section. She writes:

The Ruttenbergs may have seemed like easy marks in the past because they believed so faithfully in the system and in the judicial process, not because they were dishonest or stupidââ?¬Â¦quite the opposite. Their disullusionment is now virtually complete…

Many of Ruttenberg’s problems stem from the fact that he was too trusting and too cooperative with Manassas Park police. David’s father and brother are lawyers. This is a family that has for a long time had nothing but trust in the political and criminal justice systems. They regularly turned in drug dealers. When the police asked if they could use Rack n’ Roll for undercover operations, the Ruttenbergs obliged, thinking that cooperating with the police is a sound, civic-minded thing to do. Little did they know that their very cooperation would later be what doomed them.

Are you listening Paul Ebert? What kind of message are you sending to the residents of Virginia about cooperating with authorities if you allow this to stand?

Many of the drug deals Kifer set up were later used against Ruttenberg at his hearing before the ABC board (Virginia’s liquor board). Ruttenberg, who had hired staff to root out drug activity, who had installed an expensive security system to catch drug activity, and who had asked the police to cooperate with him to find and eliminate drug activity, eventually lost his liquor license because he wasn’t being vigilant enough about keeping drug activity out of his business — drug activity set up and executed by the police. And of course, he was barred from subpoenaing police records to prove the informants were in fact informants because police grant (and courts uphold) informants complete confidentiality.

Ruttenberg’s taped conversations with Kifer are important because they prove that the police were instigating drug activity in the bar. One other thing: Note the way the police threaten Kifer with revocation of his parole if he spills the beans about their illegal smearing of Ruttenberg. This unfortunately isn’t unusual in this case. Ruttenberg has affidavits from other witnesses who express similar fears. In one affidavit that I’ll post later, the affiant includes in her statement a plea that Ruttenberg not ask her to testify in court because, she writes, “this is already scary enough.”

As Cheney indicates, both David and his father now know what anyone who reads this site regularly knows: They know that the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, and the political system can be corrupt, crooked, and can produce an end result that resembles nothing close to “justice.” All sometimes need prodding, sunlight, and a bit of shame to get things right.

The FBI and/or Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert need to correct this. The rotten public employees in Manassas Park need to lose their jobs and, if necessary, their freedom. And the Ruttenbergs need to be compensated for the loss of their business and reputations.

Barring some drastic action to right these wrongs, why would anyone in Manassas Park ever cooperate with the police again?

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