Oct 122010
 

Singleton's Mini Mart, at the corner of Garfield and Millaudon streets in the Black Pearl (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

After a six-month investigation culminated in raid police say yielded three pounds of marijuana and nearly $14,000 in cash, the New Orleans Police Department is now seeking to seize the Black Pearl convenience store where the drugs and money were found, authorities said.

The owners of Singleton’s Mini Mart protest that they have nothing to do with drug sales, however, and neighborhood residents are left with mixed feelings about the store.

New Orleans police first received a tip about drug sales at the store over the Crimestoppers hotline back in February, and began investigating the case through informants on the streets, said Sgt. Sammy Palumbo of the NOPD Second District. After an undercover agent managed to purchase marijuana inside Singleton’s, police obtained a warrant to search the store, Palumbo said.

On Aug. 5, police swept into the store and found three pounds of marijuana (roughly $13,000 worth, based on a police estimate of marijuana’s street value), a shotgun, an assault rifle, a handgun and $13,848 in cash, according to a news release from the following day. Owner Bau Nguyen, 49, and his wife, Lua Nguyen, 46, were both arrested, as was a third man, 38-year-old John Bias, who was in the store making a drug transaction at the time of the raid, Palumbo said.

Of the nearly $14,000 in cash seized, only about $300 was from the register, Palumbo said, and “the rest was easily identifiable as proceeds from drug sales,” he said. The Nguyens rarely sold less than an ounce at a time and were unlikely to sell to strangers, but weren’t particularly secretive when selling to people they knew, Palumbo said.

“If they knew the guy, they did it right out in the open, over the counter,” Palumbo said. “It didn’t really matter if customers were in the store or not.”

Sitting on the corner of Garfield and Millaudon streets, the building consists of the store downstairs and a two-bedroom dwelling upstairs where the Nguyens live, police said. The Nguyens made bond after their arrest, and the store remains open as the case proceeds. On a recent Friday afternoon, as they served po-boys from behind the counter, they complained bitterly about the police raid.

The drugs, Bau Nguyen said, belonged to Bias, the third man in the store at the time. Police were chasing him, he ran inside, and when the officers caught him there they accused Nguyen of being involved, he said: “They said this is my store, so I’m responsible,” Nguyen said. Nguyen characterized the seizure of the money in the store as theft, repeatedly describing himself as being “robbed by the NOPD.”

“We’re not that kind of people,” Bau Nguyen said. “I never thought the NOPD would steal from people, but now I believe it. … I get so angry when I think about it.”

Nguyen said he believes the police targeted him because the neighborhood does not like his store. “There’s certain things I cannot control outside of here,” he said.

Just down the block from Singleton’s, a small group of people sat talking in a shady spot on the sidewalk. One of them, Troy Taylor, said he did not believe that the Nguyens were selling drugs.

“Police work off whatever they hear, and maybe they got a call,” Taylor said. “I never go in there and see people selling drugs. In 40 years, I never saw drugs come out of that store.”

Other neighbors, however, complain about the store, particularly about people loitering outside it, said John Stockmeyer, president of the Uptown Triangle Neighborhood Association. In a phone interview this week, Stockmeyer described the store’s impact on the neighborhood in relative terms.

“Has it been a problem? Yes,” Stockmeyer said. “Has it been one of our primary problems? No.”

On one hand, Stockmeyer said, the store is well kept and relatively quiet. He drops by several times a week for lunch, and he said that the Nguyens have proven helpful turning in some dangerous characters roaming the streets.

On the other hand, it has an alcohol license, and a handful of people congregate outside in the mornings drinking, Stockmeyer said – but they typically leave after a while, and usually clean up after themselves. Many bars in the area have been bigger nuisances, he said.

“If they did not sell package liquor, that would be better,” Stockmeyer said. “But it’s not a concern where people are outside, drinking by the dozens, and throwing their bottles on the ground.”

The neighborhood’s most significant problem, Stockmeyer said, is the repeated gun battles on Hillary Street, which he said were caused by a separate feud completely unrelated to anything at Singleton’s Mini Mart. Yet, after those gun battles, the Singleton’s case is probably the “second biggest” public-safety concern for Black Pearl residents, so much that he expects those two topics to dominate the police portion of the neighborhood association’s Oct. 20 meeting at Benjamin Banneker Elementary.

Nguyen expressed confidence that Singleton’s will remain open, but the store’s fate likely lies in the court system. Both the cash seized from him and the property itself now have forfeiture actions pending through the district attorney’s office, said NOPD Capt. Mike Glasser, who oversees the department’s asset forfeiture section.

“If the forfeiture is successful, it will become the property of the city of New Orleans,” Glasser wrote in a recent email. “I can’t tell you at this time what the eventual destiny of the property will be.”

Contact Robert Morris at rmorris@NolaMessenger.com, or post your comment below.

  15 Responses to “After marijuana raid, Black Pearl mini-mart may become city property”

  1. Great article, duly hung on the Ladder.
    But, I’m wondering:
    “Of the nearly $14,000 in cash seized, only about $300 was from the register,” Palumbo said, and [“the rest was easily identifiable as proceeds from drug sales,”] he said.
    How is that? Could you perchance do a follow-up, Update or something about how NOPD could determine that the extra cash was from the pot sales? Additionally, there is no statement of Where in the store this money was found.
    I ask because many many small stores keep that much cash, particularly butchers and fish mongers. I’ve family with just such a small business, but they keep it in a safe. I’ve know people who wrap it in tin foil bricks and keep it buried in the bottom of the freezer. I mean really, this is not that uncommon.

    Finally, I hate it when some one answers a question with their own question/answer ala Donald Rumesfeld. He perfected that technique to avoid answering a direct question. I find it a disgustingly evasive tactic.
    Stockmeyer should get no such liberty, especially considering that he has vested interests in this neighborhood.

    Thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment and the link, Editilla. I’ll most likely see Sgt. Palumbo tomorrow and will try to ask him more details about the cash – though, it being an open court case now, I suspect I’ve most likely exhausted the level of detail he’s willing to broadcast.

      Regarding Mr. Stockmeyer, he didn’t come across as evasive to me, but merely as thinking out loud. My impression was that he was trying to place the Singleton’s case in the context of the neighborhood as a whole, rather than simply dismissing it as “good” or “bad,” ie, he likes the place for lunch but he gets complaints about it, too. That sort of contextual approach is often left behind in journalism – when we try to atomize events into “articles” – so if it doesn’t come across here, I’d fault the writer more than the speaker.

      Thanks again for raising some interesting points.

  2. Too bad. They have delicious spring rolls.

  3. I’ll be honest. I’ve been a regular at Singleton’s since I moved there in 2004 and I’ve never seen or heard anything about drugs being sold by anyone who works there. I have a hard time imagining this being true. They have a great store, and are my favorite po-boy place in town. They’re working on converting the place from a convenience store to more of a restaurant, and just put tables in the store.

    They’re incredibly nice people, and they always have all their kids working at the store with them. I’m glad they’re remaining open.

  4. Was it good pot? Finding good pot around this area is a pain in the ass… I kinda wish they’d just keep it open now that I’ve heard about this place. Are there more like it? Was it grown here or just imported? You should support your local grow effort, if you come across one… The narcy neighbors deserve to have their windows smashed…

  5. this is BS. I know that family personally. they are the nicest and most productive family in that whole neighborhood. I don’t know whether they were selling weed or not, I never saw or heard anything. but even if they were!!!! who cares?!?!? they’re good people and everyone knows that weed shouldn’t be illegal anyway.

    this is a perfect example of GOOD PEOPLE going to jail because of some BULLSH*T law.

  6. I used to live two houses down from this store. Bau and Lua made a family out of that block. They protected and regulated that block and made it the safest block in that area. Stockmeyer and people like him need to move to Metairie and close all their ABO establishments down. This is New Orleans and we like our beer and when you try and tear down a decent establishment like Singleton’s you ruin the neighborhood’s fabric. Anyone who has ever visited this store knows that Bau and Lua and their family take a lot of pride in their business. They keep a clean store, they know their clientele and they actively monitor the activity in the neighborhood. The neighborhood association should work WITH this family and not AGAINST them.

    If they lose their store for this nonsense they will lose everything that they have worked for decades to create. They were the first business back after the Storm and they have continually invested in the improvement of the Black Pearl. We are lucky to have people like the Nguyens in this City.

  7. Ridiculous….New Orleans you have “bigger fish to fry” than attacking a small family run grocery, whether or not they were or were not involved!! AND I truly doubt they were involved! Whenever in NOLA we drop by and grab a poboy….Bau and family are always there…the entire family is a productive, well educated and contributing to the GOOD of society and the LARGER picture! Our gut and instricts have NEVER left us with any level of concern for our safety or that something other than good food was being served up!! In addition, I can not imagine running any business in NOLA with out a drawer FULL of personal protection…at this time your nuts not to have them!!!!!
    I hope that the truth prevails here, the Nguyens can go back to their family business, helping the neighborhood and providing the public with some great food and service!!

  8. Simply put,
    Any who knows Bau and Lua would agree how great of a family they have and how hard they work for sucess..This whole story seems fiction….The truth will come….always remember….Good things happen to good people and Bau and Laura will prevail !!!!!

  9. WHEN THE CHARGES ARE DISMISSED ON THE SINGLETON’S STORE, I WANT THE NEIGHBORS TO LOL BECAUSE THE TRIANGLE ORGANIZATION DID NOT GET WHAT THEY WANT

  10. What a joke the nopd lying on these two outstanding people I would trust anyone of these folks speaking of the Bau and Lua with my life. Thats more than i can say for the stinking, dirty, lying, no good, rotton, stealing, did i say STINKING!!!!! nopd. Just like the bums that they are insted of fighting real crime they attack two hard working honest people, a mother and a father. Way to go nopd which by the way stands for NO POLICE DEPARTMENT.

  11. I’ve lived in this area a few houses down for YEARS. Ive been to Singleton’s HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of times. They do NOT sell drugs. The Nguyen’s are good, law-abiding citizens. This is a clear smear campaign with a bogus tip and planted evidence (whether by the guy inside allegedly “buying pot” or by the cops). The Nguyens work hard for a living and make some of the best hot food in the city. Go try their PHO!!!

  12. There are obviously a lot strong opinions on this case, and I appreciate everyone who has shared theirs here. In general, though, please keep the conversation civil. I’m happy to provide a forum for people to share their opinions, but I cannot allow anonymous attacks on individuals.
    Thanks again to everyone who has shared their thoughts so far. My email address is rmorris@nolamessenger.com for anyone who’d like to discuss our comment-moderation policy further.

    • You can write a story filled with lies and hear say with no problem from a department that has ben shown for what they really are, you know false reports lies shooting unarmed men and women. Thats the facts sir sounds like you want to gag free speach are at least you don’t like to hear from people who have strong opinions that differ from yours. What’s worst these attacks with words on the nopd are the attacks with guns and clubs and flashlights on the people of New Orleans humm i think the latter.

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