"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
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
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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