Flushing residents concerned about illegal activities in karaoke clubs

A woman standing in front of Ob Cavem, a karaoke club in Broadway-Flushing.
Photo by Maria Becce
By Madina Toure

An investigation into 109th Precinct officers accused of taking bribes from karaoke club owners in Flushing has reignited concerns among residents about illegal activities inside karaoke clubs throughout the neighborhood.

Yaytu Yam, 35, a detective who had been a police officer since January 2005, and Robert Sung, 50, a lieutenant, have been charged with accepting bribes from owners in exchange for letting them know when narcotics or vice units planned to schedule police raids, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Both officers have been suspended without pay and other officers are being invested, police officials said.

Maria Becce, second vice president of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners’ Association, said that about seven years ago convenience stores along 164th Street between Crocheron Avenue and Depot Road closed up and were replaced by karaoke clubs and spas.

Becce said Ob Cavem, which she described as “derelict-looking,” replaced a coffee shop at the corner. She noticed women wearing short skirts in front of clubs, along with groups of men going into the clubs very late at night and engaging in heavy drinking.

She said she is worried in light of the karaoke club bribe probe, noting that elected officials and the 109th Precinct have been responsive.

“When you have a block that’s surrounded, literally surrounded by residential homes and apartments and the same activity is going on, it begs the question: Is there a problem on this block, too?” Becce said.

One time, she saw a man knock on the door of a spa at about 11 p.m. or later and witnessed someone pulling back the curtain and allowing the man to enter the spa.

When a reporter visited a karaoke club in Broadway-Flushing Tuesday night, three men were standing in front of a karaoke bar in Broadway-Flushing smoking cigarettes and appeared suspicious. At another karaoke club in the area, an employee appeared nervous as patrons asked questions about the club.

Sung was upset when Yam told an officer he could not make arrests at Club JJNY at 147-38 Northern Blvd.—described as a known location for drug activity, including ketamine and marijuana—because it was Sung’s “place,” according to the criminal complaint filed by the DA’s office.

Yam got an officer to issue desk appearance tickets instead of a misdemeanor charge for two individuals who possessed narcotics while at Club Joyful at 33-46 Linden Place in September 2014, the complaint said.

Yam allegedly invited club managers to a barbecue at his home as well as police birthday parties, where he received his $2,000 payments per month for three years of protection, according to the complaint.

Yam also asked an officer to conduct inspections at China Bar, Babyface, Soho and Flower, other Flushing karaoke clubs, the complaint said.

Bob Hanophy, the homeowners’ association’s president, said members take photos on their smartphones and that he found a man asleep on his lawn once.

The association has received complaints about drunken behavior such as public urination, littering, drunk driving and drugs and

“There’s all kinds of things going on where they’re not good neighbors in the neighborhood,” Hanophy said.

State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) has been working with the association to address specific karaoke bars and neighborhoods.

“For the most part, the majority of them are legitimate, good operators and just like any other industry, there’s a few bad apples in certain neighborhoods,” Kim said.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said that in 2014, residents complained to her about illegal activities at the Internet café and KTV karaoke bar at 140-08 Holly Ave.

“It seems to me that properly regulated karaoke bars have a place in the community,” Stavisky said. “However, the real issue is properly regulated.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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