As Chicago police probe whether a gang dispute sparked a weekend shooting that left two dead and 13 others wounded at a “pop-up party” inside a Park Manor garage, city officials announced Monday that a previous tenant had been arrested in 2019 for running an illegal cigar lounge.
Monday morning, police spokesman Tom Ahern said investigators are “looking to see if there’s some kind of a gang nexus” that led to the shooting early Sunday at 6798 S. South Chicago Ave.
“They’re still looking into motive and they’re still talking to the witnesses [and] they’re talking to the victims. They’re just trying to piece together what could have possibly led up to this,” said Ahern, noting that police also are trying to determine whether a “personal conflict” precipitated the violence.
On Sunday, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said the site of the shooting is a garage that houses a towing company and doubles as an event space for parties.
“There’s actually a bar set up inside, so at one point it may have been an old lounge that is obviously converted just for the pop-up party,” Brown said.
Isaac Reichman, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said South Side Think Tank was issued cease-and-desist orders following a July 2018 referral for operating at the same address “as a cigar lounge with liquor, food and entertainment without the proper business licenses.”
That move against the company, which is owned by Jerome Riley, came after the business was referred to the agency by police, Reichman said. Taboo Lounge, another business that operated at the same address and was also owned by Riley, was issued cease-and-desist orders the following April for the same reason, Reichman said.
The business was cited and shut down, according to Reichman, and Riley was arrested for running it despite those orders from the city. The outcome of that case could not be determined Monday.
The structure housing the party site has multiple addresses, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Monday the history of violations for that location.
“What I can tell you is that ... Business Affairs and Consumer Protection are working in cooperation with the police department to understand exactly what happened and take appropriate action. Obviously, that was an unauthorized use for that facility and, given the history, I would expect there would be some significant activity taken,” the mayor said.
“If they violated prior admonitions about uses in that building, then we’re gonna take stern action against them.”
In a statement, Riley sought to distance himself from the latest illegal party, saying he doesn’t “own or lease, nor have an interest in any entity that owns, leases, or hosts events” in the area. State records show Taboo Lounge was involuntarily dissolved last February, though South Side Think Tank still holds a city business license for business and management consulting at the Park Manor address.
“Any further attempt to associate me or an entity owned by me with the tragic events that recently occurred at or near 6798 S. South Chicago, Chicago, IL will be deemed an intentional and willful attempt to besmirch my name and defame my character,” he wrote.
The building where Sunday’s party was hosted is owned in part by Stonedry LLC, according to records kept by the Cook County clerk’s office.
Stonedry’s registered agent, Andres Schcolnik, said South Side Think Tank rented the space until last year, though an awning with that company name remains mounted over a door. Schcolnik said he has rented office space in the building to Hardy’s Towing & Recovery Inc. in recent months.
Schcolnik doesn’t know whether his tenant hosted the deadly party; that would violate the lease, he said. He also said he’s never seen a bar in the building.
Schcolnik said he reached out to police after the shooting and has spoken to detectives.
Asked if he’s concerned he may be held responsible, Schcolnik said, “That’s a question for my attorneys.” And as for any parties being held on site, he added, “I had no knowledge of this happening until yesterday.”
The other part of the building is owned by Mako Properties, a Summit, Ill.-based company whose late president, Boris Nitchoff, and two sons were named in a federal search warrant looking into business dealings involving Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) and her chief of staff Chester Wilson, the Sun-Times reported in 2019.
The Sun-Times later reported that Nitchoff, who died late last year, had let the taxes lapse on seven south suburban properties he owned for years, amassing $861,000 in overdue bills. Then, through a shell game involving three companies Nitchoff and a grandson own, they bought those tax debts at a Cook County property-tax scavenger sale, paying a fraction of what was owed for the right to eventually shift ownership from one of the family’s businesses to another — without having to pay the back taxes.
Since 2018, Mako Properties has been billed over $23,000 in property taxes on its share of the building in Park Manor. Cook County records “indicate there is a balance due” for each of the past years.
The Nitchoff family lives in Lemont and operates several companies that together have gotten tens of millions of dollars in contracts from the city of Chicago to soundproof homes near O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport and rehab or replace porches and roofs for low-income homeowners across the city.
Nitchoff’s grandson, Jordan, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), whose South Side ward includes the Park Manor site, said she has never received a single complaint about what she thought was a “car lot/towing company.” It’s located “on a side of the ward where there are nothing but businesses, with a freight train” running behind it, Taylor said.
“I was shocked because that’s not what that business is there for. Not a business that I’ve ever had any contact with. … There would really be nobody to complain because of what’s in front of it and what’s on the same side. So who would be there to complain in the evening time?” Taylor said.
Taylor said she is praying for the two people who died as well as for the 13 partygoers who were injured. She demanded that the city hold the business owner accountable.
“They need to lose their business license and be held accountable to those families. We can’t do illegal stuff like that and then, when something happens, nobody is held accountable,” Taylor said.
“First of all, we’re still in COVID. So the thought that you’re having an event — I’m sure people weren’t social distanced. From the numbers that I’ve heard, there were a lot of people there. I’m prayerful for what should happen next. But I also hope that [the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] and CPD does their job.”
Contributing: Sophie Sherry