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Why can’t the city put a nude massage parlor out of business?

Photographs by Charles Steck

The building at 1712 14th St. NW, in Logan Circle, has not always looked as sad and dilapidated as it does today. There was a time, in fact, when the red bricks of the three-story edifice were not blackened with grime, and a tidy little diner, Frank’s Carryout, thrived on the ground floor.

Frank’s was one of the few white-owned businesses in the area to have survived the devastating riots that swept the neighborhood in 1968. The proprietor, Frank Pelecanos, was the grandfather of famed D.C. noir author George Pelecanos, whose family still owns the building.

But the restaurant succumbed to a fire more than a decade ago, replaced by one of those ubiquitous, depressing corner grocery stores. A beauty shop opened on the second floor. And up above on the top floor, a place called International Body Concepts (IBC) opened for business in April 2000.

IBC registered with the city to do business as a massage parlor. But D.C. police officers who happened by the place after a fight on the street on the evening of July 31, 2000, quickly surmised that the business was more than that. If the company’s all-female staff and rooms fitted out with lamps, oils, and massage tables weren’t enough to go on, the officers’ discovery of a number of condoms clinched their suspicions.

“We knew upon entering the place that this was a little bit more than massage,” recalls Officer Justine Tolson.

The police were not focused on trying to make any prostitution busts that night, however. They were preoccupied by the fight, allegedly between a 19-year-old employee of the massage parlor, Nina Abdul-Haqq, and the owner, Fatima Thomas. After hearing Abdul-Haqq’s account of being kicked, the police arrested Thomas and charged her with assault with a deadly weapon.

That street fight turned out to be just the beginning of the troubled relationship between IBC and its struggling neighborhood. The business was a locus for unsavory customers seeking nude massages, according to police and neighbors. Ads for the establishment placed in the Washington City Paper promised “a nude body therapy session that will make your toes curl.” But when a determined neighbor, a dedicated city cop, and a D.C. government agency finally began an assault on IBC, they discovered how easily a wily opponent could use massive loopholes in the city’s regulations to stay in business.

If you want to run a sex business and thumb your nose at the District as you do it, IBC offers a pretty good paradigm.

George Pelecanos says he was not amused when Lt. Diane Groomes told him last spring that the former site of his grandfather’s lunch counter housed a massage parlor. Noir, it seemed, had hit a little too close to home.

Pelecanos, who declined to be quoted for this article, has always drawn on his old neighborhood, the U Street corridor, to lend some authentic grit and local color to his fiction. A Pelecanos novel requires a signature tough guy with a checkered past and quixotic tendencies, a protagonist with a private code of justice and a terminal inability to quit. A guy, in other words, like David Dienstag, 45—a onetime Afghan freedom fighter who says he’s reached “a point in my life where I don’t see all the tough-guy stuff in such a good light.”

In the early ’80s, the three-time college dropout went looking for a cause. He found it in the form of Afghanistan’s struggle against the Soviet Union, which he supported as a lobbyist until 1988 and then, he says, as a soldier of fortune. Back in the states after a few months, Dienstag found himself tormented by the comparative banality of his life and the memories of the horrors he had witnessed in Afghanistan. Seeking relief in a career as a motorcycle courier, he came remarkably close to finding death instead in a racing accident that mangled his foot so badly that doctors were prepared to amputate. Luck was on Dienstag’s side that night, however. The attending physician was himself a veteran of the Afghan war, grimly familiar with the task of saving feet shredded by land mines. It took Dienstag an agonizing year to learn to walk again.

So when Dienstag became the resident manager of the building at 1718 14th St. NW, he wasn’t looking for a fight. But he found one when he started documenting the activities of the drug dealers and hookers who operated on his block with impunity. He started photographing their every move in March 2000, hoping to collect enough evidence to force the police to take action.

During his months of surveillance, Dienstag noticed that a lot of the activity on the block centered three doors down, on 1712 14th St. and its grocery/carryout shop.

“When you start seeing a collection of sketchy-looking people in front of the E&I Carryout, not seeming to do anything, or a well-dressed young man with a cell phone and gold chains, and they all seem completely comfortable there, connect the dots,” Dienstag says.

The resident manager of the 1712 building, Michael Equale, is one of Dienstag’s former commercial tenants. That arrangement did not end well; according to Dienstag, Equale set up a beeper store that attracted a rather questionable clientele—the same type of clientele, Dienstag says, that now frequents 1712. When Equale failed to pay rent, Dienstag says, Dienstag sued to have him evicted. For his part, Equale denies any knowledge of illegal activity among his tenants. “I like to work with the community,” he insists.

Dienstag’s attention was further drawn to 1712—and to IBC—when men began knocking on the door of his building in May 2000, mistaking it for the entrance to IBC.

Dienstag says he complained to authorities, but both police and city officials brushed him off. He says he began to wonder if the struggle against crime on his block was a lost cause. “I don’t want to be Don Quixote,” he says. “I want to come away from this with something to show for it.”

In the autumn of last year, Dienstag found someone else who was also tilting at the windmills of crime in his neighborhood—Groomes, who had been assigned recently to his police service area (PSA).

An 11-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Groomes had earned the nickname “Lieutenant Blondie” in her previous posting, in the 5th District, because of her long hair. Her perseverance, meanwhile, had won her the enthusiasm of her constituents and the enmity of local drug dealers.

Groomes’ outrage at those who repeatedly flout the law is rivaled only by her disgust with the bureaucratic negligence that she believes allows criminals to go unpunished. She enunciates both viewpoints in a folksy drawl that makes her indignation seem almost quaint.

When she arrived at PSA 309 that fall, Groomes held an informal meeting with the owners of the carryout, suggesting that they forbid the alleged drug dealers from holding meetings in their store. She lobbied her superiors to authorize an undercover operation against the dealers on the block, which eventually came to fruition last July.

Groomes also committed herself to the task of shutting down illegal massage parlors on her beat. But she knew that the proprietors of such businesses understood the increasingly rigid criteria necessary for undercover officers to make a prostitution bust—and thus were savvy about avoiding arrest. The best way to shut down such establishments, Groomes concluded, was citing them for violations of the commercial code, rather than actual criminal offenses.

The District’s commercial code does not consider a simple certificate of occupancy sufficient to legally run a massage parlor. Beyond that certificate, each such establishment must also have a massage license, issued by the D.C. Department of Health. To operate a jacuzzi or sauna, a spa license is also required.

Groomes’ first target was a massage parlor at 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW called Osaka, which claimed to be an exercise studio. In December 2000, Groomes, working with Ward 2 Neighborhood Services Coordinator Clark Ray, found that Osaka’s business license was invalid and brought in health inspectors to order the club closed. The owners refused to comply, Groomes says, continuing to operate despite daily citations.

In response, Groomes says she decided to try to cut off Osaka’s cash flow. According to an account of her efforts published on the MPD Web site, a group of constituents brought her the license plate numbers of frequent customers, and Groomes traced the cars, drafting letters to their owners informing them that Osaka was under investigation. She also had officers put police tape across the building’s driveway. Within a few weeks, Osaka was gone.

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One evening in mid-February 2001, Groomes, Ray, and health inspector Ronnie Taylor paid another visit to the building to make sure that Osaka had actually vacated the premises. On impulse, Groomes suggested that they also pay a call on IBC, which she’d heard about from the officers who had arrested Thomas the previous summer.

Once inside, Groomes met Thomas for the first time. Until that evening, Groomes says, “IBC had never been touched. They didn’t think the police were going to do anything.” Another massage parlor owned by Thomas, ICM Body Concepts, has operated at 1829 M St. NW without apparent police interference for nearly three years.

Groomes says that although Thomas’ certificate of occupancy described IBC as a massage studio, Thomas possessed no massage license and was thus operating illegally. Taylor issued an order for IBC to cease doing business until Thomas obtained the proper license.

But Thomas ignored the order and continued to operate. Incensed, Groomes sent officers into IBC each day for several weeks, she says, to issue further citations for operating in contravention of Taylor’s order. She says she also contacted the Prostitution Enforcement Unit to request an undercover operation and a prostitution bust.

“It’s like pulling teeth to get them involved,” she says of the Prostitution Enforcement Unit.

There was another complicating factor in her efforts to shut IBC down. Groomes says that Thomas had hired a recently fired 3rd District cop to act as her security guard, making an undercover operation considerably more difficult. No prostitution sting ever occurred at IBC.

Groomes and Ray consulted with city officials to try to find a way to have the premises chained shut until Thomas obtained a license. To Groomes’ chagrin, they were told that there was no law on the books that would allow them to deny Thomas access to 1712 14th St.

“You can’t tell me that the city cannot shut down an unlicensed business,” says Groomes incredulously. Yet the division of authority between different city agencies involved in licensing massage parlors made it harder to find an appropriate course of action.

“No one knows who enforces these violations,” says Groomes.

Ray concedes that an effective strategy for coping with recalcitrant owners of unlicensed businesses has yet to be perfected. “I don’t know why this procedure isn’t commonplace,” he says. “When we get a standard operating procedure, it will go a lot quicker.”

Thomas declined repeated interview requests from the Washington City Paper, despite numerous phone calls, requests submitted to her lawyer, and a visit by a reporter to her home.

To further frustrate Groomes’ efforts, IBC’s manager, Velda Bomar, began attending neighborhood PSA meetings. Bomar showed up for at least three meetings, recalls PSA Co-Chair Eric Stults, lingering outside in an attempt to discover what action was planned against the massage parlor. The strategy was not particularly subtle: Bomar, according to police, stands just over 5 feet tall and weighs some 300 pounds.

Thomas also resorted to blunter measures. She began, for example, to simply refuse to open the door when city inspectors came by. On one occasion, Groomes recalls, Thomas’ employees stuck their heads out the windows and laughed at police officers and inspectors from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the Department of Health as they stood at the door.

“As police, we feel like idiots,” Groomes says.

But if you were one of the well-heeled men who made up IBC’s clientele, you were treated much more hospitably. According to customer testimonials posted on a Web forum, clients were ushered into one of several little rooms off a long hall, past a sign reading “No prostitution,” and onto a massage table. They emerged an hour or so later after a nude massage from one of the women on Thomas’ staff or some time in the jacuzzi. The highlight of the hour was being brought to the point of “full release,” as Thomas’ ads in local newspapers, including the City Paper, described the sensation. The cost of a session was around $140, but clients didn’t need cash. Most major credit cards were accepted.

Because Thomas declined to answer the City Paper’s questions about her life, her business, or the city’s attempts to shut her down, her portrait must be assembled in large part from the vast paper trail she has left in her wake.

Now in her late 20s or early 30s (she has given various birth dates to police), Thomas lives with her two children in a new $400,000 house in Bowie, Md. Maryland vehicle-registration records indicate that she owns two SUVs, and she’s also been seen driving a Mercedes convertible.

But Thomas’ wealth has come at the cost of much irritation and inconvenience. She has been facing criminal and civil actions almost without interruption over the past four years, combating the claims of angry creditors, landlords, and law enforcement agencies alike.

Yet she has emerged from this legal barrage nearly unscathed, apparently by avoiding powerful adversaries and trying to intimidate weaker ones. Thomas is living proof that if you fight the law long enough, the law eventually loses interest.

Police records indicate that Thomas beat her first battery rap in 1992, when prosecutors declined to pursue the charge. Thomas made her D.C. debut in early 1996 with a massage parlor at 1108 K St. NW called the Washington Therapy Center. Despite the squeaky-clean moniker, ads for the business invited customers to “let us oil all over your private places till you cum with delight.” A similar Thomas-owned establishment called the Georgetown Spa, at 3210 Grace St. NW, according to DCRA records, opened its doors a few months later.

The Washington Therapy Center operated without municipal interference for nearly two years before congregants of the neighboring Asbury United Methodist Church began to complain to police.

“There was constant traffic,” remembers Herman Thompson, a member of a church-organized patrol to combat prostitution on the block. Cars would drive up to the building, most of them bearing Virginia tags, he recalls. The clientele was largely middle-aged, and “some of them dressed very nicely,” Thompson says. Although the establishment claimed to be a beauty salon, Thompson says, “it was mighty funny hours to be doing your nails.”

The MPD opened an investigation, and according to court documents, two undercover officers were offered nude massages by employees of the business, providing a police task force with grounds to obtain a search warrant. On Dec. 12, 1997, police raided the Washington Therapy Center; they later arrested Thomas on charges of operating an unlicensed business. (A judge dismissed the charge when prosecutors failed to show for a court appearance.)

In response, Thomas filed a lawsuit in December 1997 against then-Mayor Marion Barry, then-Acting Police Chief Sonya Proctor, and Miriam Helen Jones, then the head of the DCRA’s Office of Compliance, seeking to block enforcement action against her business.

The suit argued that the article of the District’s commercial code requiring licensing of massage parlors was a violation of the Constitution and the D.C. Human Rights Act.

What actually occurred inside the Washington Therapy Center was not much in dispute. Thomas’ own attorney, John C. Floyd III, in a June 1999 filing in the case, noted that “some of Ms. Thomas’ employees in addition to body manipulation were performing a procedure called a ‘release’ which can best be described as assisted masturbation.” But Floyd argued that Thomas’ business “was not involved in prostitution as defined by the D.C. Code,” and that both the MPD and the District’s Office of the Corporation Counsel had determined that assisted masturbation was “not illegal in the District of Columbia.”

D.C. Superior Court Judge Rafael Diaz was unpersuaded, and he granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Aug. 27, 1999. The Washington Therapy Center remained closed.

At the same time Thomas was waging war in the courts against city officials, she dragged her landlord, Jackson Prentice, into court as well. In March 1998, after Prentice evicted Thomas from 1108 K St. NW, claiming he was owed more than $20,000 in unpaid rent, Thomas sued him for interfering with her business and demanded $400,000 in damages, court records show.

Though it was Thomas who had brought the suit against Prentice, Floyd filed a motion for a continuance of the suit in May 1999, claiming, “Ms. Thomas is currently under the care of a licensed psychiatrist who is of the strong opinion that her patient’s mental health would be seriously compromised by the numerous lawsuits that she is currently a party [to] unless she can regain her stability.” Floyd submitted a letter from Barbara Young Johnson, a psychotherapist with the Afro-American Counseling & Psychotherapy Institute, who noted that “to stabilize client’s emotions it is imperative to keep client as calm and stress free as possible.”

The suit was settled in August 1999, with each side dropping all claims against the other. Prentice refused comment on the case.

However stressful it has been for her, Thomas has had an impressive winning streak in the legal arena. She has faced more than half a dozen criminal charges since that 1992 battery count, yet she has never been prosecuted—let alone convicted—on any of them. Not one of her alleged victims has ever testified against her.

On June 28, 1997, for example, a man named John Jackson swore out assault charges against Thomas, with whom he said he was romantically involved at the time. Jackson claimed that Thomas had struck him in the groin with a shoe after catching him with another woman in a Silver Spring car dealership. According to Jackson’s application for an arrest warrant, when a police officer arrived on the scene and asked Thomas if she had struck Jackson, Thomas replied that she did not recall if she had done so or not. The officer then went inside the dealership to speak to potential witnesses. Jackson claimed that Thomas waited until the officer was out of earshot before turning to him and telling him that “she would get someone to fuck him up.”

There is no evidence to suggest that Thomas ever made good on her alleged threat against Jackson, and the case was subsequently dropped before going to trial. Jackson declined to comment on the case.

Yet another charge against Thomas, by a Washington Therapy Center employee named Christy Williamson, also alleges that Thomas made threats against those who annoyed her.

On Aug. 9, 1997, Williamson called Prince George’s County police, complaining that she had been receiving telephoned death threats from her former employer, warning her that “[she’d] be sorry when they met up.”

“She first called at my job,” wrote Williamson in her application for an arrest warrant. “I got so scared that I left work and drove home.”

Upon her return home, Williamson wrote, “[Thomas] and a male friend were waiting outside for me. She scream[ed] and threatened me some more, and stayed outside of my apartment complex for approx. 35-40 minutes waiting for me to come out.”

The police charged Thomas with stalking, a misdemeanor. Later that evening, wrote Williamson in a subsequent charging document, Thomas arrived at her house with a group of five or six men: “[They] threw a large rock through the sliding glass door to my apartment and then ran up into my house.”

Only when the intruders discovered that Williamson had guests at the time, she added, did they beat a hasty retreat. The incident created yet another flurry of legal mayhem connected with Thomas: She was charged with fourth-degree burglary and destruction of property. Thomas responded by accusing Williamson of embezzling money from the Washington Therapy Center. Williamson, in turn, filed a civil suit against Thomas, demanding three weeks of unpaid wages.

Thomas subsequently obtained months of continuances in both the criminal and civil proceedings. By the time the cases came up for trial, eight months later, Williamson had stopped making appearances in court. Both civil and criminal cases were dismissed for want of prosecution. Williamson declined to be interviewed for this article.

The latest legal mess that Thomas has found herself in is a lawsuit brought against her by FNF Capital Inc., from which Thomas leased $50,000 worth of equipment in 1998 for a beauty salon, Beautiful Image, she planned to open in Mitchellville, Md. Although Thomas never moved into the proposed shop, the suit alleges, she neither returned the equipment nor paid the accrued leasing charges. Instead, the suit alleges, Thomas moved the equipment to a self-storage facility in Cheverly, Md., where her creditors could not get at it.

Having delayed proceedings in the suit for more than a year, until July 23, 2001, Thomas called in sick the day of the trial, saying that she needed to have surgery. The trial was postponed to late September. On the appointed day, Thomas failed to appear, and a default judgment was entered against her for $25,000, according to Peter Rosenberg, the attorney for FNF Capital.

Even Abdul-Haqq, the employee whom Thomas allegedly assaulted in front of the IBC building in July 2000, never showed up in court; the charges against Thomas were dropped. Abdul-Haqq also declined to be interviewed for this article.

As the pressure brought by Groomes and others on IBC mounted, Thomas called upon the services of an old friend—attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz, founder of the D.C. branch of the New Black Panther Party.

The two met in 1991, Shabazz says, years before he drew publicity for making anti-Semitic remarks during a Howard University speech and, later, for a failed run for the D.C. Council.

“We dated on and off for various periods of time,” says Shabazz, who testified on Thomas’ behalf in her Washington Therapy Center lawsuit.

Shabazz sees Thomas as an African-American heroine doing battle with systemic racism.

“She’s a young black person in business making good money,” he says. “Some people don’t like to see that. I believe there’s some racial overtones.” Thomas, he maintains, “doesn’t do anything illegal; she stands up for her rights. She’s a fighter.”

Late last winter, Shabazz joined the struggle over IBC. On March 2, Groomes, Capt. Barry Malkin, and the then-3rd District commander, Mark Beach, received a fax from Shabazz declaring that he represented IBC and threatening a lawsuit if what he termed the “harassment” of Thomas’ business continued.

Shabazz’s letter was neither the first nor the last attempt by Thomas to pressure police officials to call off Groomes’ investigation. At home one February evening, Groomes says, she received a call from Malkin, her direct superior, asking for the details of her investigation of IBC. Groomes says she subsequently received similar calls from Beach.

“Evidently,” says Groomes, “[Thomas] called downtown and said that Lt. Groomes was harassing her. They get scared when people complain.”

Beach conducted what he terms “two very strong conversations” with Thomas. “She was very upset,” says Beach. “She felt that we were zealous and singling her out for enforcement.”

Thomas and Shabazz contacted him “in an attempt to circumvent our enforcement efforts,” asserts Beach. “They came after us hard.” But they didn’t get the level of sympathy they were looking for. “I wasn’t going to call off Diane Groomes,” he says.

Groomes says that Malkin has received a number of calls from another Thomas attorney, Roosevelt Brown. Groomes says that when, at Malkin’s direction, she returns Brown’s calls, he never calls her back.

After conversations with Groomes, her superiors decided to back her efforts. “Once they knew it was something that we were supposed to be doing, they were all for it,” she says. But Groomes was nonetheless furious that Thomas had made Groomes’ conduct the focus of scrutiny. “She’s totally illegal, and we’re the ones getting all the pressure,” Groomes complains.

Scrutiny of her investigation wasn’t the only obstacle Groomes faced. As she discovered, the District’s bureaucracy that governs licensing of businesses was doing its part to help Thomas along.

The day after the issuance of the cease-and-desist order by the Department of Health, on Feb. 14, 2001, for example, IBC’s manager went to the DCRA and simply obtained a new certificate of occupancy—for a different kind of business—in a single afternoon.

“That’s unheard of,” insists Groomes.

The application for the new certificate has a line reading, “Date of scheduled certificate of occupancy inspection.” The space next to it is blank, and no inspection appears to have been scheduled, yet the inspection status has been marked “Approved” and bears the signature of Allen T. James.

The new certificate was a setback for Groomes’ investigation. It stated that IBC was a “physical culture and reflexology establishment,” rather than a massage parlor. Thus, with the stroke of a pen, the enterprise became a type of establishment that, according to Thomas’ lawyers, requires no special license.

The loophole was wide enough to stymie health inspectors. Suddenly unable to shut IBC down for operating without a massage license, they resorted to finding minor infractions or searching for evidence that IBC was still carrying on activities requiring a license, to provide the basis for new cease-and-desist orders.

Groomes lambasted DCRA officials for granting Thomas a second certificate and pressured them to continue inspections of the property.

It’s difficult to ascertain precisely what actions the DCRA has taken against the massage parlor. DCRA communications officer Gina Douglas says the agency had found, on Feb. 26, 2001, that Thomas was operating in variance with her certificate of occupancy, and revoked her articles of incorporation. Douglas also says the DCRA issued an order to discontinue unlawful business practices on March 23.

Yet the DCRA refused to turn over documentation for any of those statements. The city’s Office of Corporation Counsel also declined to supply information or comment on the case. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents on IBC and Thomas’ past enterprises, DCRA FOIA officer Robert Henry refused, saying that the case was under investigation by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General.

That office declines to confirm whether it is conducting any investigations involving Thomas or the DCRA.

After a reporter visited the DCRA and showed that many of the requested documents were easily accessible to the public, Henry relented, releasing some documents relating to IBC and Thomas’ other enterprises.

The few DCRA documents the City Paper was able to obtain paint a vivid picture of how a series of DCRA decisions permitted Thomas to continue operating her business.

On Feb. 28, Thomas was cited for not having a certificate of occupancy by inspector James Delgado. But when the citation went up for adjudication on May 17, documents show, Delgado never showed up. Thus, the citations that he had issued against Thomas were dismissed.

DCRA documents show that a similar charge was dismissed at the request of DCRA inspector Cliff Dedrick, also in May. He asked that fines levied against IBC be dismissed because IBC did in fact have a certificate of occupancy—the one Thomas obtained after the Department of Health ordered the shutdown.

On May 17, Thomas filed to have IBC reincorporated, under the same name and at the same address. Despite all the controversy surrounding the business, the DCRA approved these new articles of incorporation, which bear the signature of Maxine Hinson, the DCRA’s acting superintendent of corporations.

The reincorporation meant that Thomas was eligible to apply for yet another new certificate of occupancy.

For the moment, at least, IBC is no longer operating. It shut down in early June.

But its premises appear more dormant than abandoned. A phone still sits on a desk at one end of the front room, a fax machine upon the mantel on the other. The massage tables are still in their rooms, tiered baskets of lotions alongside them. A TV, a VCR, and a stereo system sit waiting to be flipped on.

Groomes thinks Thomas is preparing to reopen the business. One day in June, she sent her officers up the fire escape to the third floor to make sure there was nothing going on inside. Suddenly, a furious Thomas drove up in a white Mercedes, leaped out of the car, and began screaming at the officers, according to Groomes.

In early July, Groomes herself went by 1712, where she found the front door open. She walked in and encountered construction workers on the second floor. The lady from upstairs, they told her, would return in a couple of weeks.

But not if Groomes could help it. Stymied again and again by Thomas’ savvy machinations, Groomes had decided last spring that it was time for a new tactic. She picked up the phone and made irate calls to Equale, the property manager, and Pelecanos, encouraging them to oust Thomas from the building. If she couldn’t shut Thomas down, Groomes concluded, she would try to have Thomas thrown out.

Thomas hasn’t been evicted yet, although Equale filed to evict her on April 6, contending that she owed two months’ rent and was operating a sexually oriented business in contravention of zoning violations. Once contacted by Groomes and Pelecanos, Equale says, he initiated efforts to evict Thomas immediately.

Equale swears that he will never allow the business to reopen and will not rest until the eviction process is complete. Until it is, however, Thomas still has a key and access to the building, he notes.

Predictably, evicting Thomas has proved anything but simple. Thomas’ response to the eviction papers was to contest them, noting that they had not been served in English and Spanish, as required by her lease, and had not been delivered to her business, but only to the door outside. She got her eviction trial delayed from early June to Aug. 6, at which time the case went to a pretrial arbitration hearing. A trial date has yet to be set.

If Thomas does try to reopen IBC, Groomes says she’ll be waiting for her.

“She thinks we can’t touch her,” Groomes says, grimly noting why Thomas might have that belief. “That’s what the city’s message is.” CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Charles Steck.