Ken Cornell received a call on Friday, Feb. 13, informing him his fetish/bondage party was canceled.
A Touch of Evil was slated to take place that night at The Loft on Gold between Third and Fourth Streets. The plug was pulled on the show because the venue is zoned as a residence, according to Pete Dinelli, director of Albuquerque’s Safe City Strike Force. Dinelli says the person renting The Loft, Frank Belle, is not allowed to run a business—or charge a cover at the door. “In essence, he was conducting a business that was not authorized in that building,” Dinelli says.
As far as what went on with the event, I couldn’t care less about it. I’m not after the fetish thing.
Pete Dinelli, director of Albuquerque’s Safe City Strike Force
Belle says when he first signed the lease on The Loft, it was zoned for both residential and commercial activities. But because he plans to move to a new location this month, he has no problem shutting The Loft’s doors. “We’re not going to fight it, since we’re moving to a better venue anyway,” Belle says.
With The Loft out of commission, Cornell scrambled to find another venue to host his fetish event that same night. The owners of Black Market Goods Gallery on Morningside provided the new locale. The show started at 10 p.m. on Feb. 13 and ended around 2:30 a.m., according to Cornell.
During the performance, Black Market Goods co-owner Evan Moore says two uniformed Albuquerque police officers came into the venue. After a look around, the officers left. Dinelli says the officers were satisfied that nothing illegal was going on.
The next morning, Moore says, Black Market Goods got a call from a Safe City Task Force investigator. He said he wanted to ask the owners some questions about the fetish show. The investigator also asked for Cornell’s phone number.
That's not entirely the truth at all. Otherwise, they would have left it alone.
Ken Cornell, organzier of A Touch of Evil
Dinelli says he’s not hung up on the fetish show performance. He says he asked investigators to call Black Market Goods because he wanted to make sure the venue wasn’t selling alcohol during the event. He also wanted to find out whether the gallery is zoned for commercial activity. “As far as what went on with the event, I couldn’t care less about it,” Dinelli says. “I’m not after the fetish thing.”
Cornell doesn’t buy it. “If that’s the case and they’re just worried about the venue, then why did they ask for my phone number?” Cornell says. “That leads me to believe that that's not entirely the truth at all. Otherwise, they would have left it alone."
Dinelli says he wants to touch base with Cornell and make sure he's not having events in residentially zoned areas where alcohol is being sold. "We’d like to have a meeting to express concern and caution,” Dinelli says. “If he doesn't want to meet, he doesn't have to. I don't care. The fact is, if we start getting calls and complaints, it's going to be the police department that's going to be on his back.”
Cornell says he plans to contact the Strike Force “at some point in the future.”
Moore says the gallery is zoned appropriately and that there was no alcohol served during A Touch of Evil. He also maintains no one at the event was under 18 and there was no nudity. “I felt safer at the show, and the people were more covered up than on any given Saturday night Downtown,” adds gallery co-owner Moore. “We're a gallery that's here for all forms of expression, as long as they're legal."
Moore reports the gallery and the Strike Force have been in touch, and Dinelli confirms Black Market Goods has been cooperative.
Every participant in the performance—which includes restraints and light whipping—has experience with fetish shows, according to Cornell. No member of the audience is allowed to take part in the show, Cornell says. "We function well within the limits of the law. We are safe, sane and consensual about everything we do.”
Susan Wright, spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, says communication between law enforcement and fetish event promoters produces the best results. Cornell contacted Wright because her organization advocates for people who practice BDSM, swinging and polyamory. “What we recommend is that they talk to the Safe City Strike Force,” Wright says. “Usually, once you explain to the police, or in this case the strike force, what exactly is happening, they realize, OK, this is fine. There's nothing to be worried about here.”
Director Dinelli says the Safe City Strike Force formed seven years ago to target nuisance properties in Albuquerque. It consists of more than 25 city employees from five different agencies including the Planning Department, the Fire Marshall’s Office and the Legal Department.
According to Dinelli, the Strike Force investigates criminal activity and zoning violations, but it can only file civil (not criminal) charges. If owners of delinquent properties don’t stop engaging in illegal activities, Dinelli says the Strike Force can file a lawsuit in court.