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  Dossier #7: Tear & Compare
"Tear and Compare" was an old cigarette advertising slogan. You were supposed to rip open your chosen cancer stick and compare the contents with that of the touted brand. I have no idea what criteria you were supposed to employ, but as a small child I liked the idea of tearing open cigarettes. Much to my nicotine addicted parents' disapproval. I was lucky that nicotine was their addiction. Now many parents go for heroin or cocaine. In April, 2001, a hefty amount of both were discovered in the basement of Compare Supermarket at 22 Quail Street in Albany, New York. Compare was operated by Mr. Ramon Gutierrez and was/is located near the corner of Central Avenue, at about the exact point where Albany's downtown neighborhoods of West Hill and lower Pine Hills meet. Lower Pine Hills is referred to as the "Student Ghetto" because myriad students from local colleges call the area home and conditions are ghettoesque. West Hill is a racially mixed working class neighborhood which was once cohesive but now teeters on the brink of becoming the Everyman Ghetto. Both areas have had consistent problems with drug trade and related crime.

Compare Supermarket opened with official, revitalizing huzzahs in November 1999. Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings led the cheers. As typical with ghettos, the area is underserved by grocery stores. Compare was somewhat bigger than the typical corner bodega. Compare Supermarket may have been an independent-- or possibly part of a small chain of medium size grocery stores with other inner city locations in New York State, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and North Carolina. In April 1998 Ramon Gutierrez purchased Compare under the name 22 Quail Realty Corp. 22 Quail Realty is still listed as an active entity with the NYS Department of State Division of Corporations. Guiterrez bought Compare with money made from selling a former store plus a $380,000 loan from the Loan Source, based in New York City. Both NYS Entity listings for "Loan Source" show them to be foreign business corporations. Only one is active. Gutierrez renovated Compare to the tune of roughly $200,000. The renovation money was a package deal. The lion's share ($139,000) was U.S. taxpayer money from HUD by way of an Enterprise Community grant. The rest flowed from city of Albany not for profit business start up agencies. Including $25,000 from the Capital District Community Loan Fund, which specializes in providing equitable access to capital in economically disadvantaged communities.

On April 19, 1999, DEA agents, New York State police and the Albany police, raided Compare Supermarket. The investigation originated in Newark, New Jersey. Alleged transport of drugs across state lines made the case a matter of federal jurisdiction. 4.4 pounds of still packaged heroin and cocaine were seized and Ramon Gutierrez was arrested. After the arrest Compare remained open. Which Mayor Jerry Jennings of Albany supported, saying "The owner still owes the city money." Store clerk Cherly Almonte (identified as Shirley Almonte by the Albany Times-Union)  an accounting student at a local college, was declared Compare's new acting manager.

A year and a half later, in September of 2002, Ramon Gutierrez was convicted of first degree criminal sale and criminal possession of a controlled substance. But Mr. Gutierrez wasn't in court to get the news-- he disappeared the day before the verdict was delivered and is now believed to be in the Dominican Republic. A country which according to the DEA "has become a safe haven for an ever increasing number of Dominican nationals who are criminal fugitives from the United States". Another fun DEA fact is that within the structures of Columbian drug trade, Dominicans traditionally serve as middlemen.

But back to Albany. In mid November, a New York State Supreme Court judge ordered that Cherly Almonte be removed from her position at Compare* and demanded an accounting of all store funds. The suspicion has arisen that Compare's profits were being shipped to Gutierrez in the Dominican Republic. The shelves at Compare have become strangely bare. Gutierrez's bail bondsman is understandably concerned that Compare, which is part of bail collateral, will be stripped to the bone. It was the bail bondsman's attorney who brought the matter to official attention. Should Albany's other citizens be equally concerned? Was the money Mayor Jerry Jennings said Gutierrrez owed the city made good? Given the Albany debt, and the fact that taxpayer supplied HUD funds benefitted Gutierrrez, did anyone monitor Compare's finances during the year and a half between his arrest and final flit?

Speaking of monitoring, the story goes that Gutierrez was storing the heroin and cocaine for later distribution in New York City. O lucky drugs! First a trip from a sunny foreign clime to Newark, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from New York City. Then up to Albany, New York's historic capital. Then back down to New York City. From there back up to Albany! Because drugs sold in Albany are widely reported to originate in New York City-- bought in small amounts by individual dealers then trucked upstate.

As mentioned, neighborhoods in the area of Compare Supermarket have had drug crime problems. Gang presence has been of special concern in West Hill, particularly because young people have wound up dead in gang related drug turf disputes. Numerous newspaper accounts document arrests of street dealers in both nabes. During 2001, the Albany County Sheriff's Department Drug Interdiction Unit busted several groups of heroin and cocaine dealers working the student ghetto in fairly sophisticated, mobile fashion; using cell phones and making home deliveries. A not uncommon, and easily observable lower Pine Hills phenomena. Since peripatetic thugs don't carry the majority of the product on their backs, yet need to access supplies quickly, you have to ask-- where's the beef? Or more accurately, where's the beef being stored? Definitely not at Compare: after the initial load of heroin and cocaine was hauled away, scrutiny of the store must have been merciless. In fact, my theory is that Ramon Gutierrez skipped the Capital Region dressed as a woman-- counting on chivalry to keep the investigative urge to tear and compare at bay.

Catch you later!

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

*In 2008, Cherly Almonte contacted Mondo QT. Ms. Almonte, who was in her late teens when she worked at Compare, maintains that she was only a clerk and knew nothing of Ramon Gutierrez's drug activities.

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Copyright (c) 2002 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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