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Motel Hell

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Cormier resides in the former Elvis Presley Suite, a round penthouse atop the Regency's tower. "It has probably one of the nicest views of any high-rise in the city, overlooking Coors Field, the lights of the cityscape and the hustle and bustle of I-25 and I-70," he says. "I appreciate it very much."

Far below are the multitudes of Mexican immigrants who frequent Cormier's tequila-drenched dance nights in the hotel's grand ballroom, which he has rechristened Los Caporales (which, loosely translated, means "bosses of the ranch hands"). The revelry also spills over into the hotel's basement-level conference center, which now holds a mechanical bull and a pool hall. Legend has it that the Devil visits Los Caporales from time to time, appearing as a handsome cowboy. About three years ago, one story goes, the Devil rode the mechanical bull, going faster and faster until there was a flash of light and one of his boots fell off, revealing a hoof. "Everyone screamed," says Cormier, who wasn't there himself.

The Hotel Regency's original discotheque on the same floor, which was initially called Shakespeare's Boogie, is now packed on Friday and Saturday nights with Mexicans in their teens and twenties dancing to Latin-infused techno music of the sort favored by DJs in Sonoran and Chihuahuan border towns.

The cover charge at Los Caporales ranges from $15 to $40, depending upon the star status of the headlining band in the ballroom. The hotel's liquor license allows Cormier to legally serve more than 7,000 people, based upon the huge square footage of the ballroom. Yet very little of the money that Cormier rakes in at the door or from his bar sales appears to have been devoted to restoring the Regency to grandeur or splendor. The vibe inside the hotel's eighteen-story tower and adjoining 230-room expansion is that of a grim public housing project transplanted to the innards of a decrepit hotel. Street kids, binge drinkers and gangbangers pool money for rooms, where they party and crash. They are the temporary neighbors of cleaner-living Mexican immigrants, some of them families with small children. On weekends, many of the rooms are occupied by groups of friends or couples who get a room after dancing until the wee hours at Los Caporales.

Early on the morning of March 21, 1999, after Cormier took over the Regency's ballroom but shortly before he purchased the entire property, the hotel's manager called 911 to report a riot in the tower. Hundreds of people were running amok in the halls, the manager reported, and two people had been stabbed. Cormier later claimed that none of the people involved in the hotel fracas had attended his club night next door. The only other high-profile emergency call to the Regency in recent years came in February last year, when a guest set his bed on fire on the fifth floor. Because the Regency was built before 1970, it was not required to have a sprinkler system, and the blaze spread quickly. Numerous motorists on I-25 called police to report flames shooting out of the tower's windows. Sixty rooms were damaged, but no one was killed or badly burned (one guest was hospitalized for smoke inhalation).

Official scrutiny of the Regency has focused far more on the nightclub portion of the business. The City of Denver briefly suspended Cormier's liquor license in 1999 after undercover investigators reported that at least of a third of the crowd inside the hotel's ballroom appeared to be underage, that patrons were passed out inside and that bartenders were serving after hours. Denver City Councilmember Debbie Ortega says that in 1999 and 2000, she received dozens of complaints from constituents who lived or owned businesses in the largely Hispanic neighborhood near the Regency. They told her about drag racing and public urination in their neighborhood on weekend nights, all of which they attributed to Cormier's clientele. Ortega branded the Regency "a nuisance property" and called for stricter police and building-code enforcement.

In June 2001, echoing his defense of El Fugitivo, Cormier went public with accusations that his club was being unfairly targeted because his customers were mostly Mexicans. "With Los Caporales, we cater to hardworking people who come here to the United States to help build our highways and clean our offices and build the new high-rises in downtown Denver," he says. "That's who my clientele is, the hardworking people who make Denver the beautiful city it is. And it's time to leave them alone and give them the respect they deserve."

Cormier also threatened to sue the City of Denver and Ortega for $4 million for "engaging in a prolonged, organized, and deliberate effort to ruin the hotel and nightclub business."

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse