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Part 2: ABC revokes Golden Pine restaurant's license to sell alcohol

Note this issue has died and the Golden Pine closed several years ago. This stands only as a historical record.

Part 1: Dancing Banned in Pound, VA

By O'DONNA RAMSEY, March 18, 2003

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has revoked Golden Pine Restaurant's license to sell alcohol. In a decision issued March 11, administrative hearing officer Michael J. Oglesby concluded the license should be revoked because evidence presented by ABC law enforcement officials established a pattern of illegal drug possession, use and distribution on the premises.

During a Jan. 30 hearing, Oglesby heard about seven hours of testimony from ABC officials and Golden Pine representatives pertaining to administrative violations the agency issued against the restaurant in July 2002.

The eight violations followed a nearly eight-month investigation that ended with police arresting one of the restaurant's bartenders for selling illegal drugs.

Rodney Wayne Masters, 42, of Norton, who also was general manager, was arrested May 9, 2002, on two counts of distributing cocaine, one count of distributing marijuana, one count of distributing the prescription painkiller Lortab, one count of possessing cocaine, and one misdemeanor charge of possessing marijuana.

At the time of his arrest at the Golden Pine, Masters allegedly had in his possession two grams of cocaine and a small amount of marijuana.

ABC subsequently filed violations against the establishment's license holder, William L. Elam Jr., charging his employees sold alcohol to intoxicated persons, allowed intoxicated persons to consume alcohol, allowed people to bring onto the premises beverages for which the establishment was not licensed to sell and allowed people to consume the beverages.

ABC further charged that the restaurant had become a meeting place for drug users and drunks, and that Elam allowed his employees to use or sell illegal substances on the premises.

During the Jan. 30 hearing, Elam did not contest seven of the alleged violations and stipulated that evidence would be sufficient to show that the violations had occurred.

However, Elam did contest having any knowledge of the violations as they were occurring or allowing his employees to use or sell drugs on the premises.

One of the violations alleged Elam's wife, Diane Elam, sold alcohol to an intoxicated person. While Elam attorney Susan Oglebay did not contest the violation had occurred, she did contest the allegation that Mrs. Elam knowingly sold alcohol to an intoxicated person.

Oglesby didn't comment much on the evidence in the opinion, which was made public Thursday, other than to say it substantiated seven of the eight violations against Golden Pine.

HEARINGS OFFICER'S FINDINGS

The hearings officer found that evidence was not sufficient to prove Elam knowingly allowed illegal drug use or trafficking on the premises. Elam was never accused of using drugs or selling drugs himself.

". . . the evidence establishes that the licensee, William Lafayette Elam Jr., at the very least suspected that illegal drug activity was occurring on his premises and certainly was placed on notice of such by the odor of marijuana emanating from the restroom while he was cleaning it on one occasion," Oglesby wrote in the opinion. "That situation, however, is not sufficient to establish that the licensee knowingly allowed an employee, agent or other person to illegally possess, distribute, sell or use marijuana or other controlled substances upon the licensed premises during the period alleged."

The Golden Pine's current license to sell wine and beer for on-premise consumption and beer for off-premise consumption was issued on Aug. 26, 1996. That license, which was scheduled to expire July 31, was issued after Elam bought the restaurant, but the Golden Pine had been a licensed establishment for more than 20 years.

During the Jan. 30 hearing, an undercover agent for ABC testified that he observed people using and selling drugs throughout his investigation, which began around July 2001 and ended around February 2002. He described the bar as having a strong odor of marijuana. He testified that Elam was frequently at the bar when the activity was going on, but he said he saw nothing that indicated Elam knew what Masters was doing.

The agent said he had purchased drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and prescription medication, from Masters on four occasions. A part-time bartender, who quit the bar shortly after the investigation began, also offered to secure drugs for him, but he did not, the agent testified.

During the investigation, the agent claimed, he also saw bartenders, including Mrs. Elam, selling alcohol to intoxicated persons and was allowed to bring in unauthorized alcohol, which he shared with others, including bartenders.

Elam testified during the hearing he was not aware of the illegal drug activity and would never have knowingly allowed it. Elam and his employees testified that he has taken measures following Masters' arrest to ensure that drugs are not used or sold at the bar, and to ensure that employees do not violate state law by selling alcohol to intoxicated people. Measures taken, they said, included the posting of signs prohibiting such activity and banning from the bar people who might be involved in illegal drug activity.

'TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE'

After reaching his conclusion that the restaurant had violated ABC regulations, the hearings officer had a variety of options for penalizing the establishment for the offenses.

According to the opinion, substantiation of the first six charges collectively would result in a significant sanction short of revocation of the license. However, Oglesby states, it was the substantiation of charge seven - the allegation that the restaurant had become a meeting place for drug users and drunks - that led to his decision to revoke the license.

The hearings officer notes that he does recognize the efforts Elam took to address the situation. "These efforts, though, amount to too little too late, prompting the following decision," he wrote.

According to ABC spokesman Becky Gettings, Elam has until April 10 to appeal the hearings officer's decision to the state ABC Board. Elam can keep his ABC license until that appeal is completed, she said.

If the board upholds the revocation, she said, Elam can then appeal his case to Wise County Circuit Court. During his circuit court appeal, Gettings said, Elam can request the ABC board issue a stay on his license, which would allow him to keep it during the court appeal. However, she said, a stay is not always approved.

Oglebay Thursday said she discussed the hearings officer's decision with Elam and advised him to discuss the matter with his family and decide whether he wants to appeal it to the ABC Board.

oramsey@coalfield.com

©Coalfield.com 2003

Note the business closed and the lawsuit went nowhere.


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