Porno King Tied to T.J. Hot Spot

San Diego's Donald Wiener denies owning part of Baby Rock

The cover story in the February 24 issue of U.S. News and World Report dealt with the "inferno next door," the narco-corruption in Mexico. In the story, reporter Linda Robinson wrote that "trafficking has become so deeply woven not only into the livelihood of Mexico's corrupt police but into the larger economy and culture of cities like Tijuana. At Baby Rock, an elaborate faux-cave, four-level disco that is one of the Tijuana cartels' hangouts, 1600 guests boogied to popular Narco-ballads' about traffickers who outwit or buy off officials."

One such ballad tells of two girls dressed as nuns who set out from Durango with "white powder and evil weed," claiming it is powdered milk for orphans. Another contains the lines:

  • They say they came from the south
  • In a red car
  • They had 100 kilos of coca
  • They were on their way to Chicago
  • That's what the snitch [said]...
  • An M-16 appeared
  • When the air roared.
  • The spotlight of a patrol car
  • Blew in the air.
  • That's how the fighting started
  • Where that massacre was...

While few citizens of Tijuana are willing to speak openly about anything specific related to narco-traffickers, it's not hard to find locals who will privately acknowledge that U.S. News had it right: Baby Rock has been a preferred nightclub for some of the super-rich exporters of illicit drugs and their hirelings. A Tijuana resident cognizant of the goings-on in the border city said that the notorious Arellano Felix brothers - the second most powerful narco ring in Mexico and much sought after by U.S. authorities - used to patronize Baby Rock, although the last sighting of them was two years ago. It is still a popular place for young lower-level executives of the narco trade.

The disco, located across from Guadalajara Grill, opened in December 1989 in the Zona Rio section, right in front of the Abraham Lincoln statue. Pyrotechnics, hot lasers, popular Latino bands, and special events (the 1994 wake for two Mexican youths killed at a San Diego rave party) have made it a favorite for the younger set on both sides of the border, although the American trade has fallen off in recent years, as have the crowds, which I'm told are smaller now than in earlier years. A reputation for violence (countered by full-body frisks at the door) may have frightened off some customers. Baby Rock is one of a chain of individually owned discos of the same name that have been successful in the major Mexican cities and resort areas. The cavernous rock palace in Zona Rio, which one reviewer in a Tijuana weekly described as "the Flintstones meet Alice Cooper," also stages professional boxing. Last Friday, Extreme Fighting was launched, which is not permitted in California and other states. One Baby Rock employee said the exhibition was so well received they would be staging more in the future.

However, music remains the primary draw. Pop singer Ricky Martin — who warbles "Go the Distance" in the Spanish version of Hercules — has performed there, as has the Chilean rock band La Ley, an Argentine pop group called The Sacados, ranchero star Pedro Fernandez, and singers Paulina Rubio and Monica Naranjo. A $10 cover charge pays for two mixed drinks; shows are charged according to the performer. What is not generally known about Baby Rock is that an American is part owner and has been since the place opened. An American who was once described in a January 15, 1986, San Diego Union article as "the Porno King of San Diego."

Donald J. Wiener, 60, has fought legal battles with the city and county of San Diego and with the state and federal government since the late 1960s. By May of 1969, he'd already been arrested nine times on charges related to the display and sale of what law enforcement called obscene films and magazines in several adult bookstores he owned downtown, including Fifth Street Arcade and Chuck's Books, and Northpark Magazines in North Park.

By 1975 he had six convictions on his record, all involving pornography and all resulting in fines or probation. Other arrests suffered by Wiener and his associates and employees were either dismissed or charges were never filed.

Wiener complained publicly of official harassment, but in March 1977, he was convicted and sent to prison for one to ten years on a felony count of possession of obscene material for sale. Some of the material depicted children performing sex acts. (Two years earlier he had affirmed before San Diego Superior Court Judge Douglas Woodworth that he was "out of the [porno] business.") In September of 1985, while still on probation for the 1977 offense, he was arrested on similar charges, convicted, and handed a six-month sentence.

Around that time Wiener's son, Steve, began to get more involved in the family business. In 1992, state, federal, and county authorities swooped down on Wiener-owned businesses: the Mercury Bookstores, one on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and another on Balboa Avenue, and Fantasyland in Spring Valley. They also searched the home of Steve Wiener, which is listed as being in Bonita.

In 1995 Don Wiener was placed on three years' probation after being convicted of failure to properly label sexually explicit material. (In February of this year his attorney convinced the court to end the probation and to reduce the original charge to a misdemeanor.) Wiener was also warned by the court to refrain from selling pornography that depicts bestiality, scatological acts, or acts that involved children. In 1993 National City won a long-running battle with Wiener and closed his Chuck's Books on the grounds of zoning violations. County officials are likewise trying to zone Fantasyland out of Spring Valley.

An account of Wiener's activities in Mexico was supplied by a former employee and by several of his friends. In the early 1970s, say these sources, Wiener was the driving force and principal financier behind the construction of the Quinta del Mar Hotel in Rosarito Beach and of the oceanfront property that went with it, including the then-popular Beachcomber Bar. Wiener later complained that his Mexican partner in the venture deprived him of his share of the business while he was serving time on his 1977 conviction. Oscar, a 20-year resident of Rosarito and now a desk clerk at the Quinta del Mar condo section, says only that Wiener "had a share [of the enterprise] but lost it."

With his Mexican wife Wiener also owned a thoroughbred horse ranch in Rosarito and raced horses at the Caliente track. All the property was in his wife's name, and when they got divorced he told friends that she had taken everything.

Despite these problems, Wiener seems to have done very well. Aside from Baby Rock - to whose December '89 everything-on-the-house inaugural he invited some racetrack friends - he also owns a nightclub in Spain, and he still owns and races thoroughbreds at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. One of his acquaintances says that Wiener sank over two million dollars into Baby Rock. (Ironically, almost directly across the street from the disco is an adult video store, with the same kind of hard-core porn found in similar U.S. shops. The manager said it was the only place of its kind in Tijuana. He also stated that Don Wiener - whom he had heard of - had nothing to do with the store.)

Reached by phone on May 14 at his residence in Rosarito (he also owns and rents a gated luxury condo in Tijuana, directly behind the American consulate building), Wiener denied that he owned a piece of Baby Rock (although four different sources say he told them otherwise) or of ever having owned a business in Rosarito. He claims he is out of the San Diego pornography business and that he moved to Mexico "for peace and quiet. I can't handle any more pressure," he said. "I'm an old man, just doing nothing."

Wiener refused to discuss his business ventures. "I know there are still pressures over there [in San Diego], still a lot of problems. People can't seem to accept things. It's the year 2000 now, and they're still running around trying to tell people what to look [at], and see, and what to do.

"All this will do is make another problem for me. Every time something happens, it stirs up a lot of crap. I'm not a bad guy."

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