The former downtown Cleveland nightclub head who was indicted in federal court earlier this month for leading a cocaine distribution scheme is connected to at least three, and possibly more, Cleveland police officers, according to sources and documents obtained by Scene.
We reported last week that Gilbert Mendez, 37, was among the seven men indicted for their roles in a cocaine distribution ring that operated in the former Club Sin, a West 6th Street nightclub that informants said Mendez owned with a Cleveland police officer, and across Cleveland's West Side.
This wasn't the first time Mendez appeared in federal court. He was indicted in 1997 on federal charges for dealing cocaine around Cincinnati's nightclubs, and was sentenced to 57 months in prison and five years of supervised release. In 2004, in the midst of his probation after finishing his prison term, Mendez was again indicted on federal cocaine charges following a local DEA investigation, which said he dealt more than five kilograms of the drug. Mendez copped a plea deal, agreeing to become an informant for the feds in current and future investigations for a reduced sentence, and served 63 months at a federal prison in Florida.
When he got out of prison a second time, records and sources say he immediately began working at Club Sin, while serving his five years of supervised release. In 2011, halfway through his probation, Mendez made a push to get off probation, having his lawyer, Edward LaRue, file a "motion to terminate supervised release," and attached three "letters of recommendation" to judge Donald Nugent. The first came from his fiance's mother.
The other two character references for the twice-convicted large-scale cocaine dealer came from veteran Cleveland police officers: Detective George Redding and captain Dan R. DePiero.
Here is what detective George Redding wrote:
Honorable Donald Nugent:
This is a character and personal reference letter for Gilbert Mendez; He is on probation to you and would like his probation to be terminated. I have been acquainted with Gil since about 2001 or so. We met when I was a patrol officer while he was waiting to to pay his debt to society. Gil has been a positive and law abiding family guy since I've known him and since he's returned. He has been gainfully employed and I have not observed or have any knowledge of things being any different.
Since becoming a detective, I do a lot of undercover work and have observed Gilbert Mendez's actions on several occasions. And I have not seen anything that would indicate anything different than the above.
Det/ George Redding #2327
And here's what Dan DePiero wrote, in a letter dated September 12, 2011:
Dear Judge Nugent:
I have known Gilbert Mendez for the last two years. During this time, Gilbert has led a law abiding life, established a relationship with his daughter, is a good father, and has held steady employment.
Dan R. DePiero
Cleveland Police Captain
We are checking with the city to see if Redding and DePiero were on Mendez's payroll, working secondary employment at Club Sin. What is known, however, is that those two are not the only Cleveland police officers connected to Gilbert Mendez.
Sources back up law enforcement records obtained by Scene that a business partner of Mendez's in Club Sin was Cleveland police officer Jose "Tito" Torres (we reported last week his name was Juan Torres because of a misspelling in an affidavit).
The 2011 letters to the judge from Redding and DePiero vouching for Mendez were sent just months after the Northern Ohio Law Enforcement Task Force — comprised of FBI and local police — began the investigation that ultimately brought the indictment against Mendez and others this month. In the summer of 2011, an informant told the task force that a man named Alex Febres (also indicted) was selling large amounts of cocaine from the V.I.P. room of Club Sin, which he said was owned by Mendez and Cleveland officer "Tito" Torres. Mendez would ultimately become the main target of the investigation.
Mendez, who became a federal informant following his 2004 DEA bust, was detained by the task force in December 2013 after he discovered a GPS tracking device on his car. Like before, he again took a deal to become an informant, identifying to the task force his cocaine supplier as Ivan Salcedo Torres, and then wore a wire and conducted controlled buys from Salcedo Torres to gather evidence for the feds in 2014.
Ivan Salcedo Torres, who was indicted along with Mendez and others this month, is known by his associates in the Cleveland nightclub and music industry as "Bully" or "Bully Cashtro" (sometimes spelled "Bully Ca$htro"). He was a promoter at Rumor nightclub on West 6th Street, and Anatomy on West 9th.
If you know anything about this operation, including any association with police officers Jose "Tito" Torres, George Redding, Dan DePiero, or others, please email Scene staff writer Doug Brown at [email protected]. All emails will be kept 100% confidential.