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Thorny issues plague License Commission

Date: 8/8/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The Board of License Commissioners was confronted with several thorny issues at its meeting on Aug. 1 and the least of the discussion was Duck’s Place, the location of several violations and the site of the city’s latest homicide.

Mayor Domenic Sarno requested the Board deny an application for a common victualler’s license for a restaurant co-owned by a man arrested as allegedly a “major heroin dealer.” The Board also had to decide what action to take in the case of another restaurant in which an owner was out of the country, but wanted to appoint a new manager of record.

Although the owners of Duck’s Place were supposed to appear, Attorney Thomas Rooke asked and was granted an extension for the violations that took place on April 26 and May 5 to a final hearing Sept. 5.

The soonest the Board can begin to conduct hearings on the violation surrounding the murder will be Aug. 15.

Rooke said the business would remain closed until the investigations are complete and will not open at the State Street location again. He said the owners are now looking for another location in the city.

When asked by Commissioner Orlando Ramos why the owners don’t simply surrender the license, Rooke said the owners are operating within state regulation for liquor licenses by keeping the license and expressed a concern they might not be granted a new license for a new location.

“It’s more difficult to get something back,” he said.

Board Chair Peter Sygnator read into the record a letter from Sarno concerning the common victualler’s license for El Morro Restaurant at 599 Page Blvd.

Sarno wrote, “I am authoring this letter to express my opposition to the issuance of a common victualler license for the establishment known as El Morro Restaurant, located at 599 Page Blvd. As you may be aware, this establishment commenced [as] a business prior to applying for and receiving approval from the licensing department. An application was not submitted until June 3, 2013, approximately two months [sic] after it opened and occurred as a result of a federal investigation that ultimately resulted in the arrest of an alleged major heroin dealer identified as Luis Cotto. Upon booking, Mr. Cotto, the husband of applicant Neidy Cruz, identified himself as the manager of El Morro Restaurant. This is an on ongoing federal investigation and it remains unclear if Mr. Cotto was utilizing this establishment in relation to drug related activities. As such, it would not be in the public interest to approve this establishment until the investigation has been concluded.”

Assistant City Solicitor Stephen Reilly corrected the mayor’s letter stating the restaurant operated without the license for six months.

Attorney Vanessa Martinez characterized the lack of a license as a misunderstanding.

“She thought she had everything place,” Martinez said. She also took responsibility for not realizing the application had not been filed.

Martinez emphasized that Cruz was the sole owner of the business, although she did admit that Cotto’s name is in the lease.

Cruz’s employees attended the meeting in support and one spoke on her behalf. Martinez said the eatery was the source of income Cruz had to support two children.

Because federal investigators seized the restaurant’s books, the Board could not determine the Cottos involvement in the business, Reilly noted.

The board decided that Cruz needed to present an amended lease with her name only and meet with the East Springfield Neighborhood Council before the Board would consider granting the license.

The Board was to consider a change of manager request for El Pilon Restaurant at 662 Carew St., but discovered that owner Jose Gonzalez was out of the country and that his candidate for manager, Antonio Jimenez, did not have the training required by the Board. After contacting Gonzalez in the Dominican Republic, Jimenez said through an interpreter that until Gonzalez comes back to speak with the Board on Aug. 15, the restaurant will stop serving any alcohol.