The Herald Bulletin

April 22, 2013

Prosecutor, mayor work to make deal on former Alexandria bar

Some of demolition money to come from Neal settlement

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — A former bar and now condemned building continues to pose a hazard to surrounding buildings and the downtown area.

But Mayor Jack Woods and Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings are working out a deal that would offer the former site of Happy Times Bar to the city along with about $18,000 to help with the demolition. Cummings said the money comes from a fund set aside from the John Neal case, which shut down Happy Times and 10 other establishments for good in 2009.

Woods said the total cost for the demolition is estimated at $43,500. During a winter windstorm, several sheets of roofing from the building were blown onto Harrison Street, where the building rests. The building is currently owned by Madison County.

“Everybody’s agreed it needs to be torn down. It’s a danger to the city and it’s important to clean up our downtown,” Woods said. “Rodney has been gracious in assisting us in the matter.”

Woods also said the adjacent building likely needs to be torn down to make room for a permanent stage that will host summer concerts. There still needs to be an asbestos inspection before the demolition, and Woods is also expecting funds from the county food and beverage tax to help with the cost. The Madison County Council will meet in May to decide how the tax funds will be apportioned across the county. Woods said he’s not sure the council will approve the amount needed, but he’s hopeful.

The case against Neal started in 2006. Neal was accused of running a multimillion-dollar criminal gambling enterprise out of Happy Times and more than 20 other bars in the area. During his first stint as prosecutor, Cummings brought the charges against Neal, which included 71 counts of money laundering, gambling and illegal promoting.

The case wrapped up in a 2009 settlement agreement requiring Neal to plead guilty to promoting gambling, serve a six-month prison sentence, forfeit about $2 million and roughly half of his businesses.

Cummings said Neal’s presence to the county was detrimental, and he’s glad the businesses no longer plague the area, but he said he still had some misgivings about how he executed the case.

“I can say that it was my least popular decision as prosecutor,” Cummings said.

Cummings was also a police officer over much of the investigation of Neal before taking office as prosecutor. He said his approach in the case led to some unintended consequences, like loss of jobs and popular establishments in many of the affected communities. He said it’s one of the things he regrets as prosecutor.

“As an officer, your job is to look for the bad guys. And sometimes you fail to look at the big picture when you do that. I regret a few things, but I don’t regret that John Neal is out of business,” Cummings said.

Find Jack Molitor on Facebook and @AggieJack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.