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As bureaus apply pressure to clean up building, longtime owner calls city ‘abusive’
by: JIM CLARK, City officials recently shuttered Cindy’s Adult Bookstore, citing building and fire code violations as well as a history of drugs and prostitution.

Police Sgt. Matt Engen can tell you that more than a decade ago, before there was a Chinatown gate at the corner of Northwest Fourth Avenue and West Burnside Street, there was a sign that said simply “XXX” — commemorating Old Town’s status as a haven for vice. And beneath that sign was Cindy’s Adult Bookstore. Today, the triple-X sign is history, and the porn shop called Cindy’s seems likely to soon become a thing of the past as well. Not only does a “for sale” sign hang on the building, but city officials turned out the lights at the store two days before Thanksgiving — citing what they say are building and fire code violations, as well as a history of drugs and prostitution. On its surface, the battle over Cindy’s is an issue of law enforcement, but it’s also about the transformation of Old Town, a historically crime-ridden area where business owners are now being asked to be part of the solution and not the problem. Cindy’s co-owner, Michael J. Wright, is struggling to fix up the building and have the power turned back on. And he’s not very happy with the attention he’s getting, most of it from Portland police officer Jeff Myers. “Officer Myers seems to have made it his mission to create problems for my business,” Wright said. Wright contends the city’s actions are to get him to drop the asking price on his building — currently $3 million — to make way for gentrification and extend the new look of the Pearl District toward the east. “I think they’ve had their eye on all of Chinatown for some time,” he said. Myers, a tall, blond cop who has become a familiar sight in Old Town in recent years, sees it a different way. “If Mr. Wright was willing, we’d be happy to have him participate and be a solution to the drug activity,” he said. Business gets several calls Cindy’s has long been a subject of police attention and neighbor complaints. But in the spring it came to the attention of a task force headed by city Commissioner Randy Leonard, one that has been conducting inspections of substandard downtown residential hotels to help clear out drug dealers and prostitutes. The task force uses “very aggressive actions” including building and fire inspections, to shut down trouble spots that, Leonard said, are clearly “egregious” in their violations and linked to criminal activity. The tactics are “cutting edge,” and represent actions that “other cities shy away from,” Leonard said. His main ally is Myers, the Old Town cop who recently spearheaded the task force’s focus on the Grove, a downtown residential hotel that the city recently purchased. Myers cites a list of 205 reports related to Cindy’s, all generated by police officers in the past five years. Most of them involve drugs, and some involve prostitution. He’s generated many of the reports himself, going into video rooms and coming out with crack pipes. He said he’s also spoken with prostitutes who say they’ve used Cindy’s as a place to do business. In addition to the self-initiated police work, there have been roughly 150 emergency 911 calls for service related to Cindy’s in the past five years, he said. “Essentially what we’re after is to make it a clean and safe building and abate the criminal activity,” Myers said. Leonard agrees with Wright that the goal is to improve the neighborhood, but he said that the city is playing by the rules. When the inspectors go in, “we don’t invent stuff,” he said. He points to the results of several recent inspections. A team of fire and building inspectors, accompanied by police, found exposed wiring, leaking ceilings, and signs of illegal occupancy in the supposedly vacant second floor. “It was pretty bad,” said the Bureau of Development Services’ building inspection manager, Hank McDonald, who called the situation “an imminent life-safety hazard.” On Nov. 21, a surprise visit discovered undocumented workers using metal shovels to remove the ceiling, exposing active wiring — which they also worked on. “They were removing electrical wires where the electricity was on, and nobody could figure out how to shut it off,” McDonald said. “They were removing electrical wires without realizing the wires were energized.” Not only that, but the paint contained lead, sparking an investigation by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division. Owner has a history Part of what makes the story interesting is the bookstore’s longtime co-owner, Wright. Much like the store, he is a throwback to another time in Portland — when, in the ’70s and ’80s, retired cops say the town was rife with vice and drugs, and a bit like the Wild West. In 1971 Wright was convicted for a murder that prosecutors said was arranged by his then-stepfather, Vincent L. Capitan — considered a major local crime figure by law enforcement officials. Wright also has done time for cocaine trafficking. According to a 1987 article in Willamette Week, he may even have been recruited by an allegedly CIA-affiliated company that was looking for “mercenary types” to help smuggle guns — and potentially drugs — in Central America. “That’s another story” is all Wright will say about his alleged work for Uncle Sam. Now, Wright says, he’s just a businessman trying to make a living as co-owner of the building with his ex-wife, Linda, as well as business partners Daniel Cossette and his wife. With all his tough-guy credentials, Wright faces a foe he doesn’t like fighting: City Hall. “It’s pretty sad when they can use all these bureaus to accomplish whatever they want,” he said. “That just seems a little abusive.” Doug Jones, supervising inspector at the Bureau of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, admits it looks a little strange that a 2005 inspection found only two code violations, while one earlier this year found 30. His bureau doesn’t want to get caught up in other people’s agendas, “and I think this (situation with Cindy’s) is something where we risk that,” he added. But Jones expressed confidence that the bureau is doing its job properly. “Bottom line is, we have to work in present time, and (deal with) what we see now,” he said. At press time, Wright and city officials seemed to be trying to sort out their differences. If such efforts fail, a nasty legal battle is possible. Wright said he has consulted with a lawyer, while Myers said the city may pursue legal action to close the property “in the very near future.” In the meantime, the issue has divided Old Town denizens. Closing down Cindy’s “would be great,” said neighborhood activist Larry Norton, who writes a blog on Old Town for Oregonlive.com. “All the neighbors are against the bookstore,” he added. Others are more sympathetic. Blaming Cindy’s for the drug dealers in Old Town is “ridiculous,” said Amy Vulk, a bartender at the nearby Republic Cafe. She faults the lack of police presence on the street. “They say they want to do better, but I don’t see any evidence of that,” she said. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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