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Conflicting testimony offered at city hearing for Congress Theater

The Congress Theater | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times files

The Congress Theater | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times files

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:23AM



When a Congress Theater manager learned concertgoers at a British dubstep show were being over served — some “barely breathing” and hospitalized for alcohol poisoning — he ordered an immediate shutdown of the theater’s 10 bars mid-concert, the manager testified on Tuesday.

Ahmad Mahidi, the manager, was one of three witnesses called Tuesday by attorney Harlan Powell, representing the Logan Square theater as the Chicago Liquor Control Commission ended its disciplinary hearing targeting drug-related and other alleged violations at the popular venue. They include allegations staffers didn’t call 911 to report a large fight during a Chief Keef concert and didn’t cooperate with police when seven underage concertgoers were let into a concert.

A decision by the commission will decide the fate of owner Erineo “Eddie” Carranza’s liquor license for the venue at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.

After learning about the hospitalizations, Mahidi in Arabic told his brother the bar manager to stop serving alcohol at the DJ Rusko show in the early morning hours of May 6, 2012, Mahidi testified.

But according to the city and Chicago Police, the night went a bit differently.

City assistant corporation counsel Maggie Shiels argued testimony from Chicago Police Sgt. Joseph Giambrone last month proved Mahidi lied to the sergeant when he was asked if the venue was serving alcohol.

The two were standing outside the venue when the sergeant questioned Mahidi.

“He (Mahidi) said ‘no’ to serving alcohol and ran ahead” to shut down booze sales quickly, Shiels alleged.

By the time Giambrone was inside, the taps were being unscrewed and cups were being placed over drinks, Shiels said.

The event wasn’t the only one in dispute at Tuesday’s hearing.

There were questions, too, about whether Congress staff should have dialed 911 as brawl broke out at last year’s Chief Keef concert - despite the presence of undercover officers inside and uniformed police outside the theater.

A Congress security guard testified it was nothing more than a shouting match inside, but turned violent between two groups outside the theater.

Giambrone, who was working undercover the night of the Chief Keef show, testified during a March hearing that there were fights inside and outside the theater and police should have been called.

For his part, he was in fear for his life when the fighting broke out inside the venue.

“It was a skirmish of up to 20 people at one point,” Giambrone testified in April. “People were being pulled down the ground, grabbing each other’s hair, in several different places.”

After Tuesday’s nearly three-hour hearing, both sides rested. Deputy Hearings Commissioner Robert Nolan will issue a recommendation to the liquor commission after further reviewing the case.

If the city proved Carranza is liable for the charges, the penalty could be as severe as the revocation of his city licenses, including the venue’s liquor license. It could also result in fines or suspension of the theater’s business license.

But Carranza is now facing an uphill battle with the city’s Department of Buildings after an inspection last week found the most dangerous of 26 code violations issued last month had been resolved.



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