County commssioners spent a significant portion of their last meeting of the year last week wrangling over an appeal for a beer and wine license for a Hwy. 29 South convenience store.
The original application for an alcohol license for Kwik Chek on Hwy. 29 South in Dogsboro was denied earlier in December due to misinformation and inconsistent addresses for the business owner.
The BOC ultimately stood by its original decision to deny the license, voting 3-2 to deny the appeal for Amir, Inc. (dba Kwik Chek). Commissioners Jim Escoe and Mike Youngblood voted against the denial.
The controversy stems back to the store’s previous owner, Muhammed Shafiq, who was arrested in August on two counts of fraudulent entry on a voter registration card. That same month he was charged with battery under the Family Violence Act and cruelty to children in the third degree.
In December, a new owner, Irfan Hameed, appeared before the BOC asking for a beer and wine license continuance for the store.
County commissioner Stanley Thomas reiterated many of the same comments last week that he made at that meeting, saying the paperwork for the applications were shoddy, citing wrong dates, misinformation, false information and several different addresses for Hameed, none of which the BOC was able to confirm.
Thomas said county ordinances give the BOC authority to deny a license if the applicant doesn’t appear to have a sufficient financial interest in the business or if he or she appears to be a surrogate or “fronting” for someone else.
Attorney Chris NeSmith represented Hameed during the appeal, presenting copies of bank transfers for monthly lease/purchase payments to Shafiq, as well as copies of electric bills showing a service address in Hameed’s name on Lombardy Circle in Athens.
Thomas questioned why a Bedford Drive, Hull address had been given on the applications. NeSmith replied that Hameed “simply moved. Hameed told commissioners in halting English that the Bedford Drive address was just “too close to the business.” County attorney Michael Pruett said several certified letters concerning the hearing were sent to the Lombardy Circle address, and all were returned as undeliverable. NeSmith explained that Hameed receives all his correspondence at Kwik Chek. He also pointed out that all 2013 state licenses for Kwik Chek had already been approved.
NeSmith told the board that it “almost seemed” as if there had been an investigation looking for a reason to deny the application.
“Let’s set politics aside, we had an election,” NeSmith told the board. “I hope that the dust has settled.”
Thomas denied that the matter had anything to do with politics and pointed out that Kwik Chek “has some history,” with the previous owner, who is involved in the lease/purchase with Hameed, including criminal charges that are still pending.
He also pointed out that addresses on Bedford Drive, South Milledge and Lombardy Circle had all been submitted on the applications as addresses of the owner, and that all were rental property that belong to Shafiq.
In a letter from Hameed submitted to the county, Hameed tied possible reasons for a denial to “dislike for Mr. Shafiq, or because of a sudden overzealous attempt to mistreat us as Pakastani-Americans who seem somehow all related and in cahoots.”
To this Thomas pointed out that of the 17 county beer and wine licenses issued in the county, only five were issued to U.S. citizens. “Your comments (concerning Pakastanis) is totally off-key,” he said.
NeSmith, who said he was unaware of the letter sent by Hameed, said no one believed that the BOC was racist, but that the commissioner’s argument for denial was not enough to disqualify the application. He also suggested the BOC approve the license renewal on a 60 – 90 day probationary period. County attorney Mike Pruett agreed that this was an option for the board.
Chairman Anthony Dove told the board that they could approve the license with or without a probationary period, and revoke it at any time. “That way it would not affect the business, but put them on notice that we are watching them,” Dove said.
Commissioner Jim Escoe made a motion to approve the license, seconded by commissioner Mike Youngblood. That motion failed when commissioners, Thomas, John Pethel and Pete Bond all voted against it. A second motion, by Bond to affirm the denial based on “unknown adresses” then died for lack of a second. A third motion by Escoe and Youngblood to approve failed again, 3-2.
Chairman Anthony Dove told the board that they needed a motion to move forward. Thomas then made a motion to deny based on begin unable to confirm a legitimate address and on the appearance of having a “surrogate” for the business. This was seconded by Bond. That vote was 3-2 to deny, with Pethel providing the third affirmative vote.
Following this hour long hearing, the board unanimously approved a second beer/wine license appeal for two stores, Country Superette and Neese Grocery. Attorney Victor Johnson represented Sara Elaine Sexton and her husband Byron Sexton, who own both stores.
In his arguments, Johnson pointed out that after Mr. Sexton pled guilty in 2011 to federal gambling charges related to cash payouts for video poker machines, he transferred the business to his wife, who applied for a beer/wine license in her name. This license was granted without issue for 2012. Two store employees gave verbal testimony that Mrs. Sexton was indeed running the business at this time.
There was some discussion as to whether a continuance or a renewal of the license was needed, with Johnson pointing out that another county store, Adams Clover Farm, had been sold with a name change to Golden Farm Store and did not have to have a continuance. Chairman Dove said later that this was not correct and that Cover Farm did file a continuance for a beer and wine license with its change of ownership.
The board voted unanimously to approve the license and Youngblood issued an apology to the Sextons for having them come in.
He suggested the board have a work session this year with all beer and wine licencesses in the county to address any confusion. Pruett also suggested the board might want to address the ordinance itself and make some changes.
Finally, an application for a continuance of a beer and wine license for Tiny Town Minit Market was approved unanimously. The store is currently being leased by applicant Amanda Singh. The application was not signed off on by the sheriff Kip Thomas, who cited issues with the background check concerning pending charges. Pruett said this was not a reason to disqualify the application and told the board the license can be revoked if there were to be any convictions.