Pay phone attracts criticism, cast of unsavory characters

Special alert to Mindy Kaling of “The Office”: The area around Luv It Frozen Custard might become less sketchy as soon as the Las Vegas City Council approves removing a pay phone across the street.

She’s the actress who called the intersection of Las Vegas and Oakey boulevards “the most dangerous and sketchy neighborhood I’ve ever been to in my entire life,” sending local residents and downtown defenders into high dudgeon.

But at last week’s Las Vegas City Council meeting, people acknowledged that yes, in fact, crime happens at that intersection, and said removing a pay phone at the Ted Wiens automotive shop there would be a deterrent.

“I have arrested people for possession of heroin and possession of cocaine within a hundred yards of this phone,” said Las Vegas police officer Daniel Nunez. “In the high drug areas, if we can remove the pay phone, we can erase the activity.”

While other pay phones are at the intersection, which is home to White Cross Drugs and three convenience stores, this one simply begs to be used for crime, Nunez said.

“It’s in the dark,” he said, unlike the other ones, which are illuminated. “The business that it’s in front of closes at night, so there’s no one there to supervise it.”

There’s plenty to see in the daytime as well.

Darrell Wade manages the Ted Wiens location, and the front window offers a clear view of the parking lot and the offending phone.

Wade said he regularly sees people using the phone, waiting a few minutes until a car pulls up, engaging in some kind of transaction with the driver and then leaving. The drivers sometimes even block the entrance to Wade’s parking lot.

“This is a very interesting window to look out of,” Wade said. “We see what goes on every day. It looks like they’re using the phone as a drug deal phone.”

People regularly call police with descriptions of vehicles and people, and police are very responsive, Wade said.

They have their work cut out for them. The apparent drug dealing is just part of the daily parade of down-and-out miscreants who mill around the intersection, sometimes trying to establish a place to camp or practice prostitution.

“Metro’s been doing a pretty good job of late,” Wade said. “They have chased out a lot of the vagrants, so it’s not as bad as it has been.”

Mayor Oscar Goodman, meanwhile, wondered aloud if police should be using the phone instead of backing its removal.

“If I knew that there was a phone that was being used to promote drug trafficking, I would put a wiretap on that so fast they wouldn’t know what hit them, and I’d arrest the drug dealers,” said Goodman, a former defense attorney.

“I don’t understand why people aren’t being arrested. How are defense attorneys going to make a living?”

It’s a question of staffing, the mayor was told.

Other council members said removing nuisance pay phones in their wards had cut down on fights and crime.

The city had given the phone’s owner, CCN Inc. of Las Vegas, two weeks to remove the phone, but the owner appealed.

Council members voted to turn down the appeal Wednesday, but then had to reschedule the hearing because the owner didn’t get the proper notice.

The phone was still there Friday, so Kaling, unfortunately, should wait a little longer for her second custard run.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate @reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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