Plaza bars await final ruling of alcohol regulators

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA PLAZA – Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Administrative Law Judge Alberto Roldan has ruled that the alcohol serving licenses for Arcata bars The Sidelines and Toby & Jack’s be revoked.

The recommended decision follows a four-day hearing in Eureka last month in which allegations of drug dealing in the bars, with knowledge of the licensees, were aired. The charges were developed during a months-long investigation in late 2017 and early 2018 conducted by ABC in cooperation with the Humboldt County Drug Task Force and other agencies.

According to Subdivision (c)(2) of Government Code section 11517, ABC Director Jacob Appelsmith now has 100 days to take any of five actions:

• Adopt the proposed decisions in their entirety.

• Reduce or otherwise mitigate the proposed penalty and adopt the balance of the proposed decisions.

• Make technical or other minor changes in the proposed decisions and adopt them as the decision. Action by the agency is limited to a clarifying change or a change of a similar nature that does not affect the factual or legal basis of the proposed decision.

• Reject the proposed decisions and refer the case to the same administrative law judge if reasonably available, otherwise to another administrative law judge, to take additional evidence.

• Reject the proposed decisions, and decide the case upon the record, including the transcript, or upon an agreed statement of the parties, with or without taking additional evidence.

The bars are owned by Costanzo’s Genco Olive Oil Company, which is owned by Salvatore Constanzo. A Vietnam veteran, Costanzo took the decision in stride. He said he’d wait for the ABC di

rector’s final ruling before deciding how to respond. Roldan’s findings are laid out in his twin decisions.

The Sidelines

Roldan’s ruling on The Sidelines lists 13 instances during which ABC contends that drugs – mostly cocaine – were transacted on the premises, with knowledge or participation of employees of the license holder.

The buys were made by ABC undercover agent Samantha Scott, who testified extensively during the recent four-day trial.

Roldan’s ruling reiterates in detail Scott’s testimony regarding the various drug buys. Her approach was generally to enter the bar, order a beer and chat up the bartender. Gaining familiarity, she would introduce the idea of a “hookup” for one drug or another. Sometimes she asked for “white girl” or cocaine, other times “acid” or LSD, or cannabis.

According to Scott’s testimony, she had little difficulty gaining the employees’ confidence, and that of various shady figures known to the employees who were said to be able to provide the substances. In one case, she even took a selfie photo with some of the suspects before “we get high.” This photo was later introduced as evidence in the trial.

In due course, various baggies of drugs were provided. These tested positive for drugs and were booked into evidence.

Various current and former Arcata Police officers provided contradictory testimony as to the “epidemic of drug activity” at the bar and the responsiveness of the license holder, Costanzo, in addressing it.

Roldan concludes that Costanzo’s denials that he was aware of the drug dealing were “found not to be credible.”

Toby and Jack’s

Roldan’s decision on Toby and Jack’s includes 17 allegations of drug dealing at the bar, including sales of cocaine, MDA and MDMA methamphetamine.

As with The Sidelines, the Toby & Jack’s ruling documents Agent Scott’s drug-seeking forays into the bar. Young, blonde and friendly, she was readily accepted by patrons and bar personnel alike, according to testimony.

Patrons in the bar’s back area openly smoked cannabis in her presence. In one instance in the pool table room, she asked one self-described cannabis dealer for “white” (cocaine). In response, he unabashedly exclaimed “That’s my game!” and showed her cell phone photos of a white, powdery substance.

A number of drug buys are detailed, and Roldan notes that preventive measures such as installation of a security video system weren’t taken until charges were filed against the license holder – despite years of complaints about drug dealing at the bar. The “lax approach,” Roldan concludes, “clearly warrants revocation” of the bar’s liquor license.




An impressionistic view of Arcata's famed Tavern Row by Union Editor Jack Durham.



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