By John Schaffner
Cars lined Londonberry and Powers Ferry roads and side streets in posh neighborhoods of southwest Sandy Springs. Buses shuttled patrons from a nearby shopping center. Throngs lined the driveways, waiting to get inside the crowded party pads.
“It is sort of like the ‘perfect storm,’ ” Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry Sult said of the illegal Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties that each drew 700 to 1,000 people to revel in large Sandy Springs mansions.
Sandy Springs’ top cop vows to shut down similar parties anytime and anywhere they occur in the community.
“If you want to run a nightclub, let’s run a nightclub,” he said. “The problem that I have with it is the way they are irresponsibly run. If you contact the city for the appropriate permits, check to make sure you have the right zoning, and that sort of thing for what you want to do, that is great.”
The chief said the two parties his officers shut down may have started out being for just 100-200 people, “but they got out of hand.”
The problem: These were not just normal parties. They were commercial ventures held illegally in residential neighborhoods. At the first party, people paid separately for drinks and food. At the second, a cover charge at the door covered the alcoholic beverages.
“It is legal to have a party in a house. It is illegal to run a nightclub out of a house,” Sult said “These were not non-profit fundraisers that someone opened their home for. They were literally commercial ventures.”
And they were staged without any permits, Sult said.
“You have the economy that creates these large homes that are virtually vacant, combined with a desire for quick cash flow, a lack of concern for the surroundings and technology capabilities on the Internet and social networking mediums have for communicating,” Sult said. “It is like a firestorm.”
“Even if it is held in a properly zoned area for a commercial venture, you still have to make sure that the bartenders are properly licensed, that you have the proper ABC permit for that location and things along those lines. If people are doing things on the up and up, they should check with the government body where they are going to do it and they will help you work through that process. We will help you in order to make sure you don’t violate the law and that your party is a success without negatively impacting our citizens.”
But he warned that if promoters hold similar parties in a residential neighborhood, have 2,000 people show up who block the roads so emergency vehicles can’t get through to render aid to the community, they will have to deal with the Sandy Springs police.
“There are no checks and balances.” For instance, he noted, the police department does background checks on everybody who pours liquor in the city. Because there were no permits, the checks were not performed.
“Common sense should tell you that it is not right. The community out there has a right to complain,” he said. “It is a hazard for the first responders, a hazard for the community. “It jeopardizes people’s lives. It is not just going out there and having a good time,” the chief added.
So far, Sandy Springs municipal judges have agreed with Sult.
For the first party, held Halloween night, promoter Anthony Epps and homeowner John M. Rochetti were fined $13,500 — $9,000 for Epps and $3,000 for Rochetti with an additional $1,500 in fines as restitution for hours of out-of-service time on the part of Sandy Springs Police and Fire/Rescue units.
For the New Year’s Eve party at 645 Londonberry Road, police charged Magid A. Girgis, son of the out-of-state owners of the home, and promoter Krista Renee Gable with maintaining a disorderly house and took the two to jail in Doraville.
Their case has not yet been decided.
Sult said he hopes the court will order repayment to his department for the cost of repairing two police cars that were keyed as people left the party. The estimate for repairs to one of the cars reaches $3,000.
“The promoter is about making money,” Sult said. “You charge X number of dollars and the more people that walk through the door, the more money they make. That is why I think the fines have to be heavy. If the fines aren’t heavy enough, there is still a money making event and there is very little deterrent, other than we are going to shut it down.”