MANCHESTER — Following a federal drug bust last month, questions are being raised about a West Side pizza restaurant that was allegedly closely tied to the drug ringleaders and that was permitted by the city to have video poker machines.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the arrest of 10 men in the Manchester area on charges of being involved in a drug ring that smuggled large shipments of high-grade marijuana from Canada to New Hampshire. The men were also accused of dealing, in smaller amounts, cocaine and MDMA, known as “Molly.”
The alleged ringleaders were Alkis Nakos and Kosmas Koustas, both 35.
Nakos’ father owns the Amory Street House of Pizza, and Koustas had worked there, according to the federal complaint. The younger Nakos is also listed as a member of the limited liability company the restaurant is registered as with the Secretary of State.
Following a tip in 2009, the New Hampshire State Police put the shop under surveillance. State police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration work together in the state’s Drug Task Force.
“We’ve never seen a pizza come out of that operation,” state police Sgt. Jennifer MacKenzie testified at a hearing in federal court on June 30, the same day that prosecutors held a news conference announcing the bust.
MacKenzie further testified that police seized records from the shop that indicated the business spent $12 a month on food supplies.
At the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s meeting on July 1, Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann questioned how such a business was able to function for years, and he noted that the establishment also had poker machines.
“Like they say, marijuana is a gateway drug to other things. Well, poker machines are a gateway to other crimes,” Hirschmann said during an interview on Tuesday.
The shop remains in business. A sign in the window on Tuesday advertised a slice of pizza for $1.50. A man who identified himself as a manager answered the phone and insisted that there were “no drugs here.” He declined to give his name or answer additional questions before saying “Thank you, buddy” and hanging up.
The business was licensed to have three poker machines, according to Office of the City Clerk, which is responsible for issuing licenses for the devices.
A license for a gaming machine costs $2,000 a year. According to City Clerk Matt Normand, video poker machine licenses generated about $240,000 in revenue for the city in the 2014 fiscal year.
The machines aren’t supposed to be used for gambling, although they’ve long reputedly been used for that purpose. The Manchester Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit is responsible for investigating both illegal gambling and drug crimes.
An assistant to Police Chief David Mara said he had no comment on the pizza shop and referred all questions about the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Mara and his deputy chief were present at the press conference announcing the drug sales arrests last month and stood next to a photo showing the bags of marijuana and weapons seized in the raids.
A spokeswoman for the New Hampshire U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to questions by deadline concerning the seizure of records or assets from the pizza shop.
The shop has passed its health inspections the past three years, with only one critical violation, according to city Health Department records that were requested by Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur.
The most recent inspection was conducted on June 11, when an inspector found that the dishwasher had an improper design, the business lacked dishwashing chemical test papers, and the walls were not in good repair. All three were considered non-critical violations.
Public Health Director Tim Soucy said it’s unlikely that an inspector would be able to determine whether a restaurant was being operated as such. “We do inspections based on what we see, whether they’re busy at the time or not. That’s not something we would document anyway,” he said.
At the aldermen’s meeting earlier this month, the board briefly debated Hirschmann’s motion to have the Committee on Administration review poker machines in the city.
Mayor Ted Gatsas said the amount of money generated by the devices should to be taken into account.
“You might want to refer that to the budget process because it’s quite a bit of money,” he said.
Hirschmann replied, “We’re not going to have money collected through crime.”
The board voted to send the matter to the Administration Committee, which is expected to hold its next meeting in August.