By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard held a public hearing at its meeting on Monday, 5/6/19, to discuss a variety of neighborhood disturbances and bad behavior at Rasputin’s Tavern. The board made reference to a compilation of police reports about 130 pages long that detailed the findings by undercover police inside the bar and a variety of instances when police were called.
Selectboard chairperson Charles K. Murphy, Sr., started the discussion by disclosing that his daughter used to work at Rasputin’s. He said she no longer works there, but is a witness in one of the police reports. He stressed that she was a witness and not a participant.
Mr. Murphy noted in his statement that neither he nor his daughter have a financial interest in the bar and he was cleared to weigh in on the matter. In a follow-up communication, Mr. Murphy confirmed that his daughter has not worked at Rasputin’s for more than two years.
The bar, owned by Matthew and Ellen Cebula, has been the site of a number of fights, health board violations, underage drinking, over-serving of intoxicated individuals, and a series of loud encounters that have disturbed neighbors.
The bar also hosts “Bikini Fridays,” when female waitstaff wear bikinis while serving guests throughout the bar. According to the discussion at Monday’s meeting, undercover police witnessed the bikini-clad workers dancing on the bar and on the tables; and participating in “body shots,” which is when shots that require salt or sugar are downed and then the salt or sugar is licked off an exposed body part. The report also, reportedly, includes photos, some graphic, of bloody patrons after fights.
The Neighb News was denied access to the report and correspondence from the attorneys by press time, despite repeated requests to the Town Administrator and his staff, even though both the report and the attorney letters were officially entered into the record during the meeting.
Attorney Christopher Markey, representing Rasputin’s and with Ellen Cebula present, said they would not dispute most of what was in the report. They said the bar does not want to be known as a place where drugs are done, and referred to an incident when a group of men went to the rest room together, presumably to do drugs.
Mr Markey said the scanner that detects fake ID’s was not working, and they would get a new one. He referred to his letter, which was not available to the Neighb News, asking if the board wanted him to “elaborate” on it.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said the magnitude of the charges was “alarming” to him and the over-serving was of “significant concern” to him. He also said they had a responsibility to the neighborhood not to have fights, and the incidents were happening too frequently.
Selectboard member Dan Freitas was more forceful in his response, referring to the report’s 130 pages, pictures of beatings, blood on the sidewalk, “girls on the bar.”
“It sounds like Animal House in there,” said Mr. Freitas, adding, “someone’s gonna end up dead.”
“There’s a whole plethora of problems over there,” said Mr. Freitas, including spinning tires, parking problems, people walking outside with drinks, and intoxicated people walking in the street.
He said he did not want to hurt a business, but did want more than a slap on the wrist.
“It’s a miracle that no one’s been killed,” said Mr. Freitas.
Mr. Murphy said he wanted to see a security plan for inside and outside. He said he has been there at closing time and when security is good, it works well. He said the manager on duty has to be responsible.
Mr. Markey said that he and his clients were not naive and they realize the issues were “legitimate.” He made a number of recommendations, and noted that the report shows that most of the time people are dispersed by the time police arrive. He also said that staff members find nips in the parking lot, indicating that people are not being over-served, but are drinking before or after going into the bar.
Town Counsel Thomas Crotty explained that the board had a range of options, including a penalty for a period of time to make sure the bar implements whatever security measures the board wants.
Resident Beth Luey told the board that she lives near two bars in town and the worst thing that ever happened was a “little noise.”
“Bars don’t have to have blood on the sidewalk,” she said.
Mr. Freitas also referred to an incident with a gun, but the details were fuzzy, as everyone seemed to have a different recollection of the incident.
He said anyone who gets in a fight should be “barred for life,” no more body shots, no more going on the bar.
“Because now you’re just about as close to a stripper as possible,” said Mr. Freitas.
He wanted a five-day suspension and a list of other measures.
He encouraged the owners to call the police more often, saying they are there to help, not hurt.
Police Chief Michael Myers said they have had discussions with the owners over the years, and things get better for awhile, then go back to how it was.
He said the bigger problem is that most of the time the trouble happens when the co-owners are there, so how do you get the people who work there to clamp down on the owners?
“The owner is encouraging a lot of the bad activity,” said Chief Myers, adding it has to start from the top.
After a lot more discussion, which mostly reiterated the same points, the board voted to continue the hearing until the 5/20 meeting. Meanwhile, the bar will create a security plan to be approved by the police department and submitted to the board on 5/20. The bar is required to have two security people on duty on Thursdays, and three on Friday and Saturday; and is required to get a new scanner. Mr. Freitas’s idea that the bar should get a metal detector wand, was not included in the motion.
The motion passed 2-1, with Mr. Freitas voting “no,” although he did not explain why.
In another matter, the board heard from Beth Luey of the Colonial Club, with details about the upcoming sale of the Coggeshall Memorial house on Cherry Street. The Colonial Club used the building, but did not own it. Martha J. Coggeshall left the house in a trust about 100 years ago, to be used by the Colonial Club. The trust was administered by Bank of America, which informed the club in 2017 that the trust had run out of assets and the house would be sold.
The Colonial Club attorney worked out a deal with BOA that the proceeds of the sale of the house would be placed in a restricted endowment fund administered by the Community Foundation of Southeastern Mass., with the income to be used for the preservation, maintenance and restoration of historical buildings, museums, artifacts and archives located in the town of Fairhaven.
Ms. Luey told the board that the deal did require some negotiation, as the bank wanted to make funds available for the surrounding area.
Ms. Luey said Mrs. Coggeshall did not have any interest in the “surrounding area,” she liked Fairhaven. The court has approved the deal, she said.
“It’s too bad to lose the house,” said Ms. Luey, but the outcome is good for the help the money will give to the town.
She encouraged people to “pay a lot for that house.”
Ms. Luey said she wanted to appear before the Selectboard so that the deal would be made public, since the loss of the house did cause a bit of controversy when it was first announced.
The board also received notice that there is a vacancy on the Fairhaven Housing Authority. Anyone interested in filling that seat should contact the Selectboard.
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