As the usual group of regular adults at the Speakeasy Pub gathered around the televisions to take in the ups and downs of March Madness during the afternoon of March 13, some eight State Troopers and two investigators from the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) are said to have come through the door not to catch the latest game, but to shut the quiet bar down.
It was an act that some close to the situation said coincided almost too closely to an unrelated matter involving one of the men cited by the ABCC who is the property owner of the bar building – Revere businessman Charlie Lightbody. The ABCC investigation into the nine-year-old “clerical error” committed by the bar started in earnest just one day after Lightbody was indicted for a host of allegations involving the land transfer of the Everett property where the Wynn Casino is to be located, as well as an assault charge for allegedly slapping former Suffolk Downs worker Louis Ciarlone in a 2013 dust up on Broadway over the casino issue.
The ABCC, in a ruling dated March 10, 2015, found that the owner of the building where the Speakeasy is located, Lightbody, and long-time bar owner Eric Srbaccia violated four provisions within the liquor licensing laws – specifically regarding clerical work on the license some nine years ago.
Specifically, the Speakeasy is said to have violated state law by transferring control of the license without approval, signing the annual license renewal in 2006 and 2007 by an unauthorized person, making a false statement on a license application and hindering the efforts of an investigator.
“I would like to know why they didn’t act on it nine years ago?” asked Lightbody this week, who said he was simply the landlord. “They said they knew about it for nine years, but did not act on it. For 22 years that bar has had no problems. It’s a nice place and probably the friendliest bar in the city. It was a simple clerical error. It was just an oversight and that’s all it was. They revoke your liquor license for serving to minors and for having repeated violations. I don’t think it’s common to take a long-standing liquor license for a minor clerical error. So, they’ve taken away several jobs and they’ve taken away a place where older people, 80 year old guys, like to go every day.”
He said he believes that his tenants will try to appeal the decision, likely going in to apply for a new license. If that doesn’t work, he said he would be forced to find another business to occupy the space.
However, the ABCC saw the situation much differently and presented a case that was very concerning to them – a case where they asserted that Lightbody had taken over a liquor license without permission and had hindered the recent investigation.
“As the Commission acknowledged [in case law], no other sanction is available for the Commission to consider given the express language of the statute,” read the ruling. “The Commission has no discretion here and must revoke the license forthwith.”
The first charge centers on the ownership of the bar since its inception in 1994. Joe Ristino of Everett and Revere had been the sole owner listed on the license from that time until he passed away in 2005. However, after his death, Ristino’s widow, Janet Allen, testified during a personal injury case that her family had no interest in the bar, and that she never knew that her husband, Joe, had an interest in the bar.
The ABCC used that information to assert that Ristino might have been a straw owner of the license. On that charge, the Commission concluded that there had been an illegal transfer of the license – or that the license had been transferred at some time without approval.
On the second charge, the ABCC found fault with the Revere License Commission for accepting and approving an application for renewal both in 2006 and 2007 – an application that was signed by Lightbody.
“The Local Board approved this Licensee’s 2006 and 2007 renewal applications although they did not comply with the renewal requirements expressly set forth in [state law],” read the ruling. “Consequently, this Licensee’s license was renewed by the Local Board contrary to the requirements of, and in violation of, [state law]. The application should have been treated as an application for an original license. It was not. Notwithstanding the fact that the Local Board approved two of this Licensee’s annual renewals with an unauthorized person’s signature, the Commission cannot let stand an action of the Local Board that it could not lawfully authorize in the first place.”
Those two charges are what inevitably led to the license being stripped as prescribed under state law.
“I can’t speak for what was done six or seven years ago; we can only look at what we’re doing today,” said License Commission Chair Joe Quarantello, who was not on the board in 2006 or 2007. “As we go forward, we make improvements…We’ve taken other steps now like requiring a driver’s license or passport for proof of management if everything on the application stays the same. If there is a change, of course, they have to come in anyway. It’s a process.”
Another charge by the ABCC found that Lightbody had hindered investigators.
That charge read that investigators demanded on Oct. 2, 2014 that all paperwork relative to the business operation of the Speakeasy be turned over to the ABCC by Oct. 8, 2014 – exactly four business days. Lightbody was indicted on federal and state charges for the casino land deal also on Oct. 2.
“The Commission is extremely concerned with evidence presented regarding the conduct of Speakeasy for not complying with a demand notice…,” read the ruling.
Former City Councillor George Rotondo, who represented the area where the Speakeasy is located nine years ago, said he felt the situation was politically motivated.
“When I was the Ward 4 councillor and when I was the at-large councillor, I never had a problem with Charlie Lightbody or the Speakeasy for that matter,” he said. “I am surprised they would close down a neighborhood bar when there are other bars with bigger problems that have not been closed down. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened…Usually, they just let the establishments fix the problem without closing them down. I feel it was more politically motivated than anything else.”
Concluded Lightbody, “I still would like to know why they didn’t act on it nine years ago if it was that important. They said they knew about it nine years ago, but didn’t act.”