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Officials pushing to revoke Rumrunner's liquor license

Kyle Hopkins
Bob Hallinen

It's been a year since police say a bouncer severely beat a handcuffed customer at Rumrunner's Old Towne Bar & Grille. In that time, investigators have caught the downtown bar breaking liquor laws more often than any other business in the state, according to the head of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Anchorage Assemblyman Patrick Flynn said Friday that the bar management repeatedly promised to make improvements but has now run out of chances. He will urge the Assembly to protest renewal of the Rumrunner's liquor license, which expires at the end of the year.

At stake is the bar's ability to serve alcohol.

"When we've got a bad operator like Rumrunner's, it becomes time to start demonstrating to other operators that we're serious about people operating in a responsible manner," said Flynn, who represents Downtown. Two groups have expressed interest in buying the liquor license and the bar, he said.

Rumrunner's owner, AB&M Enterprises, has not applied to renew its license but could still do so before the license expires, said Shirley Cote, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Cote strongly recommended the board to deny Rumrunner's a renewal in an Aug. 24 memo. Meeting two weeks later in Nome, the board decided to wait for guidance from the Anchorage Assembly, she said.

The bar owners are awaiting a January trial on charges of evidence tampering, falsifying records and felony assault, said state prosecutor James Fayette. Police say former Rumrunners bouncer Murville Lampkin and possibly other bouncers severely beat customer Johnny Brown on Oct. 23, 2011. Brown said he suffered a fractured skull and other injuries.

Lampkin, a three-time felon, also has been charged with assault. He no longer works at the bar, Lampkin's attorney said earlier this year.

Unlike some states, including California and New York, Alaska does not require bouncers to undergo criminal background checks or complete mandatory training before starting work.

Brown, the 26-year-old patron who police say was assaulted by Rumrunner's bouncers, filed a civil suit in March against the business. Rumrunner's customer Roman Gimeno told the Daily News that he too was handcuffed and punched by bouncers more than a year earlier. He filed a lawsuit against the bar owners and the bouncer in May, court records show.

AB&M Enterprises is owned by Anchorage restaurateur Basilio Gallo, according to a biennial report filed this year with the state Commerce Department.

Gallo could not be reached for comment Friday. When a reporter called the bar and asked for Gallo, the call was forwarded to man who said Gallo likely would not want to comment.

"You guys are full of s--- and do whatever you want to do, buddy," the man said before hanging up the phone.

Contacted by phone and email Friday, Rumrunner's attorney Tom Amodio did not provide a comment for this story from Rumrunner's owners or answer questions about the criminal case and recent alleged violations.

 

FOUR VIOLATIONS IN 2012

Amodio told alcoholic beverage board members in September that one of the bar's former managers, Mike Shomer, was no longer involved in the operation, a change he said would improve "business matters" at the bar, according to minutes of the meeting provided by the board.

The ABC Board had issued four notices of violations to Rumrunners in 2012, as of Aug. 24, according to Cote. The notices allege the business broke liquor rules at least five times -- the most of any liquor licensee in Alaska over that time period, according to Cote. Some of the notices were for violations alleged in late 2011.

Those violations included:

• Two people arrested for being drunken on Rumrunner's premises in December. State law says it's illegal for businesses that sell alcohol to allow people to remain on the property if they are drunk. The law is aimed at stopping bars from over-serving people who have had too much to drink, said Lt. David Parker, a police spokesman.

In response to one of the notices of violation, a Rumrunner's office manager responded that the bar was continuing to train employees to identify and remove people from the bar if they are drunk. The ABC Board told the bar about the violation months after the fact, making it difficult to know what actually happened, the manager wrote.

• A Rumrunner's security guard allowed two 19-year-olds to enter the bar after checking their IDs. The pair were working undercover with ABC Board investigators and one bought alcohol from a bartender. Allowing the teens in the bar and selling one of the women alcohol represented two violations, according to Cote.

The security guard later pleaded guilty to a related misdemeanor, court records show. The guard was fired following the incident, Amodio told the board.

• A Rumrunner's waitress was working at the business with an expired alcohol server's card, according to Anchorage police. Rumrunner's said the waitress had a valid server card when she was hired and was fired after the encounter with police.

 

'ABNORMAL' NUMBER OF PROBLEMS

The business has received 27 notices of violation since 2005, according to Cote's memo to board members. That's an "abnormal" number of problems, she said.

"I don't think it's what anybody expect from licensees. Having a (liquor) license isn't a right; it's a privilege and they have to follow the laws because of the dangerous nature of their product," she said.

The ABC Board director had also recommended that the board deny liquor license renewals this year to the Pioneer Bar in downtown Anchorage and a Fraternal Order of Eagles hall in Chugiak because of multiple violations over the past decade. At a Sept. 5 board meeting in Nome, however, Cote said the board should only consider Rumrunner's for non-renewal because the number and seriousness of violations at that bar far exceeded any other licensee, according to the minutes.

If Rumrunner's license expires, it cannot be sold or transferred, Cote said. "Anchorage is above their population limit for their licenses. So if it expires, that license dies."

Flynn, the Downtown Assemblyman, said he'd rather see Rumrunner's lose the license than be allowed to sell it.

"My concern is, if we allow an irresponsible owner to basically run as long as they can in an irresponsible manner and cash out at the end, we're not setting a very good example," he said.

 

INTEREST BY TGI FRIDAY'S

Liquor licenses in Anchorage generally sell for about $250,000 said Dan Coffey, a former Assembly chairman and a lawyer who often represents bars and restaurants in liquor license issues.

Flynn said he has asked the Assembly's lawyer for help drafting a resolution that, if approved, would urge the ABC Board to reject renewal of the Rumrunner's license. The board generally follows the Assembly's recommendations on liquor license applications.

It's unclear if Rumrunner's is negotiating or has agreed upon a sale of the business or liquor license.

Cote said Rumrunner's has not applied to the state for a transfer of its license. She would not say if the bar had otherwise indicated to the ABC Board if it was working toward a transfer.

Flynn said a lawyer representing the owner of a TGI Friday's in Anchorage contacted him and expressed interest in the location and liquor license. Asked if TGI Friday's was considering a restaurant at that location, a spokesperson said the chain is "always reviewing opportunities" but only announces new locations once a contract has been signed.

A group of former or current Rumrunner's employees have also shown an interest in owning the liquor license and business, Flynn said.

 

 

 

 

Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at khopkins@adn.com.

 


By KYLE HOPKINS
khopkins@adn.com