Four-day ABC hearing on drug dealing at Plaza bars concludes

The two Plaza bars could lose their alcohol-serving licenses over the alleged drug violations. Cartoon by Terry Torgerson

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

EUREKA/ARCATA – The four-day administrative law hearing into alleged drug violations at two Plaza bars is over. Judge Alberto Roldan has 30 days to render a decision as to whether or not the liquor licenses for the Sidelines and Toby & Jack's should be revoked.

Roldan's decision will be submitted to ABC Director Jacob Appelsmith. He could approve the judge's verdict (as is usually done), reject or modify it.

ABC alleges 13 counts of sales and possession of illegal drugs and facilitation of drug sales at both bars, with the licensee’s knowledge. Some 12 individuals were arrested in April after a 10-month investigation. 

The bars are owned by Costanzo's Genco Olive Oil Company, which is owned by Salvatore Constanzo. He attended the hearings at the Eureka DHHS office with his son, Michael, and attorney Patrik Griego. ABC was represented by attorney Colleen Villarreal and Agent Samantha Scott.

Over four days in a small conference room at Eureka's DHHS office, the state Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) laid out the case against the bars. ABC's investigation was conducted in cooperation with Arcata Police, the Humboldt County Drug Task Force, Sheriff's Office and California Highway Patrol.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the hearing involved the Sidelines, though there was some "cross-pollinization" of testimony regarding Toby & Jack's, since the two bars have some common personnel and the same owner. Thursday, and Friday morning, the quasi-court considered the case against Toby & Jack's.

Scott, the ABC undercover agent, had little difficulty gaining familiarity with the bars' bartenders and security personnel, as well as customers, including several low-level drug dealers. She was able to buy cocaine, MDA and MDMA on three occasions, with the alleged knowledge, cooperation and facilitation of several employees, including since-dismissed secretary of the owning corporation, Nicole Costanzo. 

ABC's case rested on Scott's testimony and the evidence – an assortment of baggies and bindles containing drugs, as well as a blue MDMA tablet. The agency also called several present and former Arcata Police officers and City Manager Karen Diemer to testify about the alleged availability of drugs at the two bars.

Defense attorney Griego also called APD officers, including former Police Chief Tom Chapman, to testify that the bars were unexceptional in terms of drugs, and pro-active in their enforcement. Griego disputed the drug evidence on several grounds, including sloppy handling, shoddy and incomplete labeling and the accuracy of the "TruNarc" spectrographic device used to test the drugs. He also questioned the training and competence of its operators.

Friday, Griego sought dismissal of all the TruNarc findings on those grounds, but Roldan ruled that his objections weren't significant enough to merit disregarding the drug evidence.

Another complication involved some missing documentation for evidence which hadn't been provided to the defense during discovery, and only became available during the hearing. Roldan ruled that the late-arriving documentation didn't materially impair the defense.

A number of those involved in the alleged drug dealing were unavailable to the civil hearing, since they are also accused of felony drug violations in connection with the ABC investigation.

Nicole Costanzo, bartenders Mykie Rae Bastidas and Joshua Michael Cuppett, and Jasmine Cerise "Carly" Oakeshott all invoked the Fifth Amendment in order to avoid offering testimony that might be used against them in their criminal trials. All made brief appearances in the civil hearing to plead the Fifth before and after their arraignments in the criminal cases at the Humboldt County Courthouse.

Those individuals were arraigned Thursday in Humboldt County Superior Court, along with alleged drug dealers Elijah Calvin Browning and Ryan Johnston. Arrest warrants were issued for two individuals mentioned frequently in the ABC hearing who failed to appear for their criminal cases, Scott Clinton Gamar and Jeffrey Franklin Shields Jr.





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