A Gloucester City nightclub faces possible sanctions from city officials after a rapper was shot coming out of a show early Wednesday.
The shooting, which left a 24-year-old man from Willingboro in critical condition, is the latest in what police call a continuing problem of fights and gang activity at D' Place Bar & Restaurant on Route 130.
"It is a violent place," said Gloucester City Police Chief George Berglund. "They're on a major roadway; we can't have bullets flying around. That place is the biggest problem we have."
A venue for South Jersey hip-hop acts, the club came onto town officials' radar last summer after months of reports of underage drinking and drug dealers operating in the parking lot. In May, police arrived to find a man lying unconscious outside and a puddle of blood at the front door after what was described as a large fight in the parking lot.
In August, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D., Camden) set up a meeting with city officials on the club's behalf. Fuentes knew the owners, Carlos Vasquez and Aramis Ramirez, and had held a political event at the club in January 2010, he said Friday.
Fuentes said he was trying to mediate a tense situation between two local businessmen and the city, assuming a role he had taken for bodega owners when he was a councilman in Camden.
"We have a moral obligation because we represent everyone," he said.
But Gloucester City Mayor Bill James, a Democrat long at odds with the county political establishment, said he was surprised that a state politician would intervene.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "If someone was telling me this place is acting up . . . I would kind of stay away from a situation like that."
Ramirez and Vasquez could not be reached for comment. Their attorney also did not respond to requests for comment.
A rap promoter, who declined to give his name, said he had put on shows at D' Place but did not want to talk.
"Sorry, bro," he said. "Nobody's going to talk. It's bad publicity."
Detectives from the Camden County Prosecutor's Office are investigating Wednesday's shooting but so far have no suspects, Capt. Mark Nicholas said.
"As usual, everyone's uncooperative, including the business owners," he said. "We're trying to pull some video."
A working-class town on the Delaware River, Gloucester City has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Ten percent of the city's homes are vacant, up 15 percent from 2000; police say drug arrests are up.
Bob Booth, a travel agent and head of the local business association, said he had received worried phone calls since the shooting.
"It's a walking town, and it needs to feel safe and secure," he said. "Something like this hits us right between the eyes."
Gloucester City officials are weighing their options.
The council adopted an ordinance this fall allowing the city to shut down "nuisance" businesses, as it has landlords who do not maintain their properties.
It has not exercised the nuisance provision yet; Gloucester City Solicitor John Kearney said such a move would likely precipitate a legal challenge. Instead, he said he was considering imposing early closing hours and other sanctions related to D' Place's liquor license, which is up for renewal in July.
"The real hammer the city has is the liquor license," he said. "This operation looks like a threat to public safety. We can't let that go unanswered."
City fire inspectors fined the club $2,000 in March for overcrowding and other code violations. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control cited the establishment for buying alcohol from unauthorized vendors and for employing felons.
For now, the club remains open, Berglund said.
"But we're through playing games," he said. "Before they were just a pain-in-the-ass bar. Things have gotten a lot worse since then."