The real gangs of Portland, Maine

Contrary to some wildly erroneous and irresponsible reports in the press recently, Portland has a serious and growing gang problem. The Crips and Bloods are harmless compared with the menacing groups roaming the streets of Maine’s largest metropolis, perpetrating crimes in broad daylight with no respect for the law or common decency. Here’s a rundown of the most notorious gangs plaguing Portland today:

The Code Enforcers: These nefarious characters have thoroughly infiltrated city government. They are known to walk into local shops and restaurants without warning and make unreasonable demands, strong-arming mom-and-pop proprietors to follow arbitrary and capricious rules, known as “The Code,” and shaking them down for a variety of dubious permits and fees. If you refuse and don’t pay up, they can and will shut your place down. “They told me I didn’t have proper ‘signage’ above the ‘hand-washing station,’” said one restaurateur, who was too frightened to give his name. “I think they were talking about the sink.”

The Munjoy Hill Yuppies: Police say this scourge has spread here in recent years from bigger cities like Boston and New York. Their main racket is real-estate speculation, buying up multi-unit apartment buildings and converting them into condos, thereby kicking working-class residents to the curb. Some have been known to operate “art galleries” downtown that the cops suspect are fronts for less legitimate business, since these “galleries” are only open a few hours a week and the “art” consists of unimaginative, over-priced work that no one actually buys. Law-enforcement officials say the members of this gang are easily identified: They’re the only people in the state who actually read Maine magazine.

The Forest City Foodies: Loosely affiliated with the Munjoy Hill Yuppies, this knife-wielding criminal organization has snapped up every available restaurant space in town, converting affordable eateries into the kind of places where a grass-fed, locally sourced burger, humanely harvested fries and a craft draft beer can cost unsuspecting customers over a Jackson (with tax and tip). A recent investigation by The Huffington Post (“The 22 Most Hipster Foods on the Planet”) uncovered a host of questionable menu items this gang attempts to foist on the hungry masses, from rotten cabbage and cold coffee to a mysterious moonshine-like concoction called “Kombucha.”

Too happy to be legal: Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia.

Too happy to be legal: Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia.

Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia: Former Rustic Overtones keyboardist Spencer Albee organized this cabal several years ago. The Mafia’s 2009 manifesto, “Candy, Cake and Ice Cream,” was a collection of upbeat pop songs so sickeningly catchy and sweet that listeners complained of brain-ache. Under pressure from critics, Albee allegedly disbanded the group, but authorities warn it could reconvene under the guise of a “reunion show” at any time.

Biker Gangs: The motorcycle gangs former Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood warned us about have been replaced by an even more dangerous threat to public safety: bicycle gangs. Identified by their indecently tight-fitting shorts, Day-Glo bike-club “colors” and intimidating calves, gang members have pressured city officials into giving them their own lanes on the public’s streets and are known to menace motorists with withering glares if you cross their path without signaling. Many are also suspected of “doping.”

Anthony Barrasso: Also known as “Tony,” “Elvis” and “Grampa,” Barrasso is the most powerful and respected figure in the Old Port underworld. Working out of his subterranean lair on Middle Street, Anthony’s Italian Kitchen, Barrasso brazenly flaunts his affinity for organized crime. Memorabilia from “The Sopranos” hangs all over the restaurant, in addition to dozens of snapshots of “The Family,” and Barrasso and his accomplices regularly impersonate another infamous group with mob ties, Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack,” during dinner-theater performances at his establishment. Investigating undercover as a “customer,” I’ve observed Barrasso and his network of lunchtime associates. On weekdays between noon and 1 p.m., a steady stream of judges, cops and lawyers line up at the counter to pay tribute, in the form of cash or major credit cards, to this Don of Dough. Anthony’s is a short walk from the county and federal courthouses and the police station, and the pizza and sandwiches are quite tasty, but that doesn’t fully explain the sway Tony holds over these powerful figures. Clearly more research, and another delicious Boston Italian, are needed to crack this case.

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Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.