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Police arrest 10 in Char-Pal Lounge drug sting

TAMPA — The sordid history of one of Tampa's very own mob landmarks gained a new chapter Thursday when police arrested 10 people in an undercover drug sting at the Busch Boulevard bar.

Most people know Char-Pal Lounge as the place where notorious New York enforcer Henry Hill and accomplices beat a local bar owner until he agreed to pay his gambling debts.

The scene was immortalized and exaggerated in Martin Scorcese's film Goodfellas when the on-screen Hill threatened to throw the debtor to the lions.

Now, the bar is a part of a new probe after numerous complaints of drug activity, Tampa Police said. Officers began watching Char-Pal Lounge, at 3711 E Busch Blvd., in early July after getting tips about drugs, loud noise and illegal parking.

Police say undercover officers confirmed that many employees, including manager Willie Jenkins, 34, were selling narcotics out of the bar. Investigators obtained a search warrant, and about 10:30 p.m. Thursday they arrested six employees and four customers.

Charges included cocaine and marijuana trafficking, delivery and possession. Police said several guns were also seized.

"They were making more money off their drug sales than their business," Lt. Ken Morman said.

The family that owns Char-Pal has faced this sort of scrutiny before. In 1970, the bar became the centerpiece of a federal extortion case against New York mobsters Hill, Jimmy Burke and Cosmos "Casey" Rosado.

Raul and Luis Charbonier called upon the enforcers to collect a gambling debt from a Temple Terrace bar owner.

Instead of throwing Gaspar Ciaccio in the lion cage at the zoo as the film shows, Hill, Burke, Rosado and the Charboniers were accused of kidnapping him, pistol-whipping him, taking him back to Char-Pal's back room and beating him until he agreed to pay $8,000 in bets on baseball.

One of the men threatened to drown Ciaccio in a pond at Busch Gardens, stuff his children into a refrigerator and force his wife into prostitution if he didn't pay.

The Charbonier brothers were convicted of federal gambling and extortion charges and served more than three years of their 10-year sentences. Both men died early in the decade, but Char-Pal is still owned by Raul Charbonier's widow Laura; son, Raul III; and daughter, Gisele, according to county property records.

Morman said the investigation is far from over. The bar's owners agreed to close until they can meet with investigators about cleaning up the business.

"We'll try to do it gentlemanly, and if that doesn't work, we'll take the other route," he said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Police arrest 10 in Char-Pal Lounge drug sting 12/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 5, 2009 12:13am]
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