State and local authorities are reportedly working toward closing numerous illegal Houston bars and night clubs.
Many of these clubs are known sites of crimes, ranging from underage drinking, to assault and rape to murder.
A recent report in a Houston newspaper showed Harris County District Attorney Vince Ryan obtained restraining orders on 22 clubs, which either operated without a license or selling alcohol after the mandatory 2:00 a.m. closing time.
The fight against illegal clubs, however, is anything by a downhill battle:
Since many of them operate without licenses, rental lease agreements, or other forms of paperwork, according to investigators, parties responsible for opening and operating these clubs are often hard to find; some clubs may use the license of a legitimate establishment to launch their own illegal enterprise, while others may file paperwork with false information.
Court documents from Ryan’s office show these clubs can turn into centers for drug trafficking, prostitution, sexual assault and gang violence.
The documents also show at least 50 people murdered and dozens more wounded, assaulted or robbed at these underground hotspots.
Even when the operators of these illegal clubs do face the law, police say the penalties may be too light to serve as much as a slight deterrent, with some operators going right back into business.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issues licenses to legitimate establishments, but the agency allegedly comes with little-to-no power to go after those who serve alcohol without a license.
“It’s a criminal enterprise,” Celena Vinson of the Harris County Attorney’s public nuisance office said in an interview with a newspaper. “They’re just criminals playing with a system that kind of allows them to.”
According to prosecutors, the biggest factor in the rise of these clubs is the rise of social media:
Through the various platforms, illegal clubs can reportedly promote themselves online, attracting a crowd and staying one step ahead of the law.
“Social media has driven this after-hours phenomenon,” Assistant County Attorney Rosemarie Donnelly said in an interview. “It is more prevalent for that reason.”
If you would like to report any illicit activity around Houston, contact your local authorities or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.