Trouble seems to follow wherever Joe Salem does business in Akron.
Twenty-seven years of police reports, alcohol violations, unpaid tax bills, bounced checks, lawsuits and more show a pattern of problems that spike when Salem sells his liquor permits to other operators.
The issue came to a head recently when Akron City Council began efforts to crack down on a bar at 627 S. Arlington St.
In less than two months this year, police reports show, a woman was assaulted, a car was stolen, loaded guns were confiscated, liquor was consumed after hours and two men were shot dead at Game 7 Bar and Grille.
Salem rented out the South Akron property in 2014.
The Riviera Lounge opened there that year, followed by a Hibachi Xpress in 2015. Each business generated three police reports before closing in a year or less. Many of Salem’s businesses have closed in a year or two.
He then sells the operation, as was the case at 627 S. Arlington St. Since then, rarely a month goes by without a police visit.
Salem’s first new business partner opened the Mango Club last summer. After two brawls and a dozen arrests, it closed in December.
Promoters Leslie Garr and Anthony Hunt, who have repeatedly declined requests for interviews, started making payments for the liquor permit and furnishings in January. They opened Game 7 Bar and Grille.
“It’s always a risk,” Salem said of flipping bars and liquor permits. “I understand that. I don’t have any other way to do it.”
He said much of the criminal activity occurs when the next person takes over.
“It all sounds good in the beginning. It’s what they do afterward that starts to affect me,” Salem said when asked about his obligation to ensure that business partners and their establishments are reputable. “I don’t have a way to read what the future would hold.”
He said he’d rather trade his business for cash up front and walk away. That way, there’s no background checks by the state, no lingering management agreements, no trouble coming back to him while the state approves the liquor permit transfer.
Building a case
The way Salem tells it, the police have it out for him.
They’ve been harassing his customers, he said, slapping his bars with trumped-up charges and dogging him since a business deal he struck with Dale Riley, an Akron cop, began to sour in 2010.
But Salem’s record, which includes civil lawsuits beginning in 1990, predates that falling out.
And it continued as Capt. Terry Pasko took over the Akron Police Department’s vice unit in 2006.
“There’s only a handful of [liquor] permit holders I know on a full-name basis, and the one I come in contact with the most is Joe Salem,” said Pasko, now a shift commander who dispatches officers to bars after midnight.
Pasko, an officer for 22 years, can sound off the various thefts, brawls, liquor violations, shootings and the occasional slaying at some or all of the establishments with ties to Salem.
“And that’s just the major crime,” he said.
“It’s hard to say when Joe sold one place and bought another,” Pasko said. “[But] the reason I’m going through this in a timeline is because the one consistency is that the [crime] issues occurred when Joe was the liquor permit holder.”
“That’s just the way he operates,” said Bob Hoch, a city councilman who has kept a close eye on Salem’s businesses in Ellet over the years. Hoch said there have been numerous instances when Salem built patios or made bar improvements without pulling construction permits.
In civil court, Salem has been sued 62 times, with 63 percent of the cases coming after 2012. Since 1990, the Ohio Department of Taxation has come after him 38 times.
Since July 2015, he’s been fined at least three times and bounced three checks to the state on the liquor permit for 627 S. Arlington St.
Bad blood and a bar
A reporter met Salem at his Hibachi Xpress on St. Patrick’s Day. He dismissed Pasko’s report of criminal activity at his bars.
“That’s absolutely false,” he said.
Salem, who turned 61 Saturday, said his problems started in 2008 when he entered a land contract to buy Tiny Tavern on Albrecht Avenue from Riley, the Akron police officer.
Court records show payments stopped in 2010. Salem says there was a dispute over the selling price: $150,000.
“There was never a discrepancy on the sale price. We had a contract, and he signed it,” Riley said. “He had an attorney. I had an attorney. The only discrepancy was that he didn’t pay it.”
Riley said he had received only $30,000. After he took Salem to court to get his bar back, Riley said he discovered a private collector from New Jersey had initiated foreclosure on the property for taxes Salem hadn’t paid.
“I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’?” Riley recalled. “So immediately I had to go get $12,000 and call this company in New Jersey and reverse the lien to get it out of sheriff’s sale.”
Riley went to court to get his liquor permit back from Salem and his daughter, who runs the Zodiac Bar on Triplett Boulevard where a man was beaten to death in January.
Salem eventually opened the Tailgate Grill and Pub across the street from Riley’s Tiny Tavern. He said Hoch and Pasko were personally motivated to object when he applied for a new liquor license, which the state granted despite concerns from the cop and councilman.
Salem sold the Tailgate Bar and Grille. The subsequent owner, he said, was run out of business by cops who pestered customers.
“I know it’s retaliation,” Salem said.
For proof, Salem shows 9-month-old surveillance footage from his Hibachi Xpress from 12:46 a.m. June 26. A dozen or more police officers pour into his hibachi club on Brown Street.
In the footage, Pasko and the cops fan out into the kitchen and behind the bar. They talk to patrons as Salem throws up his arms in disbelief. They try to enter a private office. Off screen, there’s commotion. Officers bend over and lift Salem by his arms, which are handcuffed behind his back.
Pasko said Salem refused to stay out of the office while police searched for receipts that would affirm lawful alcohol sales.
Salem said he was not obstructing police business, for which he was charged.
Pasko said he knew Salem might be carrying a gun. But Salem failed to say so, earning him a concealed carry violation as well as failing to post proper signage prohibiting underage drinking.
Nine months later, Salem said police still have his handgun, which he bought after a business partner was shot and killed at the Carriage House in 1987.
Salem said the footage is proof that police are motivated by a personal vendetta. But a police report detailing what happened at Game 7 Bar and Grille at 627 S. Arlington the night before tells a different story.
24 hours earlier
Shortly after midnight 24 hours before the raid on the Hibachi Xpress, Akron police Officers Patrick Mazzei and Thomas Parr responded to a fight that had spilled onto the sidewalk in front of Game 7.
The crowd pointed to a man they said made threats with a gun. Mazzei pushed past customers who he said were blocking the door and ordered the man to put his hands up.
“Just shoot me,” the man reportedly replied in a slurred voice.
The responding officers described in their report the crowd yelling profanities and throwing drinks at them. One man took Mazzei’s police-issued can of pepper spray and deployed it at the officers. Mazzei tackled the man at the front door and then noticed blood dripping from his partner’s head, possibly from a flying beer bottle, he wrote in the report.
Backup came minutes later. All told, 15 officers charged eight club patrons with public intoxication, fleeing arrest, rioting or their role in assaulting a police officer or each other.
Less than 24 hours later, police marched into Salem’s Hibachi Xpress looking for answers from the man listed as the liquor permit holder for Game 7.
Salem said he was unaware of the mayhem two blocks away the night before at a bar he’s since sold.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug .