A weekend shooting at a North Liberty Street establishment in Mahoningtown has left a 36-year-old New Castle man wounded and New Castle police searching for answers.
Maurice Moore suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach around 2:30 a.m. early Saturday morning at St. Marguerite's Club, where disturbances have been brewing and the establishment is facing multiple citations filed by the Pennsylvania State Police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.
According to information from New Castle police, Moore suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach while he was inside the bar area. He was treated at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh and later released.
According to city police Chief Bobby Salem, police are looking at possible suspects and a motive for the shooting.
Salem said, in a phone interview Monday, that police have been working with other agencies for several months to try to resolve problems surrounding the club.
Earlier this month, the state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement cited the club for serving alcoholic beverages to non-members on various dates in September 2019. The charges will go before an administrative law judge, who has the authority to impose penalties ranging from $50 to $1,000 for minor offenses and up to $5,000 for more serious offenses. The judge also has the power to impose a license suspension or revocation, based upon the severity of the charge.
Under the state liquor code, St. Marguerite's Club has a club and catering license, meaning it must operate for the good of the club membership and in a fraternal sense. The sale of alcoholic beverages must be secondary to the reason for the club’s existence.
A club is not an organization used to accommodate a private bar operation, under the law. “Catering club” licensees may allow groups into the establishment for weddings or private affairs with prior arrangement. Hours of operation permitted are from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. and they may be open seven days a week.
Salem pointed out that only sworn members and their guests are allowed in the club under the licensing laws.
But the club, historically an Italian social club with a cultural heritage, lately has had a shift in management and clientele.
Salem said the crowd that been gathering at the club has been coming not only from New Castle but from Ohio and other places, and police have continually been receiving complaints about noise and late-night or early morning arguments in the parking lots when the patrons leave at night.
To alleviate some of the problems of noise disturbance and other issues, the club has hired New Castle police officers as parking lot security, who are in the lot from 11:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. every night, and paid by the club, he said.
“People have to have respect that they are in a residential neighborhood and it's 3:30 in the morning," Salem said of the clientele, "so when they walk out (of the club), we ask them to keep it down. If they are out there screaming, the officers will handle it.”
He added that people turn up their radios loud when they leave, which is hard to enforce.
Kayla McKnight, a resident of Wabash Avenue, said she has a 10-month old baby, "and this violence is way too close to home."
She said that cars from the bar have pulled up near her house with the bass on their radios booming during early morning hours. She described the neighborhood as a tailgate party at a concert.
"The people who go there don't show up until 2 a.m. when other bars close," she said.
"Our job is to enforce any disorderly, loud noises coming from (St. Marguerites)," Salem said, adding that licensing violations will be enforced by Liquor Control Enforcement.
"We have also been addressing other issues, and we have been working with other agencies on it," he said, adding that future meetings about it will continue until they have a resolve to the problems.
The club lately has been under the supervision of Ryan Fair, who Salem said is unofficially its manager.
Fair, contacted by phone Monday afternoon, said he was unable to talk and requested a call back later in the afternoon at a specific time. He could not be contacted on his cell number later at that time.
Nick Perrotta, the previous club manager and president, said in a phone interview Monday that he resigned as the club president in August and "has had nothing to do with the club" since then. He was contacted at the club's listed phone number, but he said he's had trouble with the phone company switching the number off of his phone.
The problems at the club have been a major disturbance to Russell Hall, 76, of Wabash Avenue, and his wife, Sondra, 74, who live across the street from the club. The couple say they have complained to the city multiple times.
Hall emphasized that the club has a license to operate as a club and catering business and cannot operate as a bar.
"But that is what they've done since the last week of September until today," he said. "That is a violation of Liquor Control Board regulations. There's no community being served here."
He said he and his wife have taken 60 to 70 videos of what goes on outside of their bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning.
"They should have been shut down a month after this started," he said. He took exception to the club paying the city police to guard the parking lot, questioning how the police can remain objective if the bar is paying them to work."
He said that after the shooting Saturday morning there were seven police cars with their lights on outside of his house, and "cops were jumping out with rifles, walking down the streets and in my back and side yards.
"Is this how I'm supposed to live? I'm almost 77 years old," he said. "This is what's going on down here. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 2 to 4 a.m., we are roused out of our beds because of what's happening in this parking lot."
"They yell from one end of the parking lot to another, and they holler, up to 4:00 in the morning like it's in the middle of the afternoon," Sondra said. "We try to ignore it, we try to go back to sleep, and 20 minutes later it starts again. After that you can't even go back to sleep."
Sondra said when she heard about the shooting, "I was shocked and stunned. This is a small community and everybody knows everybody."
She added that more people in the community are concerned about what's going on at the club, now that there's been a shooting.
The club bylaws were initiated 70 years ago, and the club once was a nice facility, Sondra said.
"The men would go there, their sons would go there, and they'd go home in the evenings to be with their wives. It was a family atmosphere with baptisms, weddings and graduations there. Now it's a late-night bar," she said.
"This neighborhood until now has been very quiet," Sondra said.