Even though it's best known for conducting undercover sting operations to catch clerks selling alcohol to minors and busting up beer-tasting events, the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission has handled a variety of cases in Oklahoma City in recent years.
Since 2010, the ABLE Commission has issued at least 12 fines in excess of $2,000 in the state's western district, which includes Oklahoma City.
The state agency also has revoked or demanded the surrender of at least six licenses and required that more than one establishment surrender its inventory.
Dozens more liquor stores, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other businesses required to hold a state license have been fined smaller amounts since 2010, many of them repeatedly.
Two recent cases involving improper ownership of liquor stores in the metro area demonstrate how complex the agency's cases can become.
Dale Blackburn, who had a controlling interest in four liquor stores in 2010, was forced to close a liquor store in Oklahoma City and sever direct financial ties to two others as part of a settlement with the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
In Oklahoma, it's against state law to own or having a controlling interest in more than one package liquor store.
John Maisch, the agency's general counsel and prosecutor, said a veteran ABLE agent noticed the four stores — located in Oklahoma City, Norman and Edmond — had similar names, logos and company colors.
“They had shared software systems … point-of-sales systems … it was all coordinated,” Maisch said. “They were very much integral parts of one another.”
Another recent case involved a woman named Minori Schweitzer, who owned a package liquor store and three nightclubs in the Oklahoma City area.
Like Blackburn, the woman was in violation of Oklahoma law because she owned nightclubs and a liquor store.
The liquor store Schweitzer owned, Richard's Liquor Store near Tinker Air Force Base, was also fined $3,150 in 2011 for selling high-point beer in low-point packaging, which is against state law. The activity was discovered in June 2010 during an inspection.
Schweitzer, who agreed to a settlement in January 2011, could not produce receipts for the high-point beer on the shelves, commission records show.
In both cases, the owners were required to forfeit roughly $200,000 in inventory, which then was auctioned off.
“The amounts in seizure cases are all based on the inventory of the store that's being shut down,” Maisch said.
Blackburn remains in the liquor store business, Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement records show, while Schweitzer chose to stick with nightclubs.
On the scene
Recent alcoholic beverage law investigations also have uncovered instances of “refilling” and show just how competitive the nightclub and liquor store industries are.
In 2010, the owner of Tree Lounge, a club near the state Capitol complex, was fined $4,000 for refilling two bottles of Patron Tequila.
According to commission records, agents discovered the bottles while they followed up on a previous complaint that the club was purchasing liquor from a retail store.
Oklahoma City police records show that such practices are well-known to law enforcement.
“A full and sealed bottle were obtained from the establishment liquor storage area,” the report states. “Two bottles were filled to a point above where the manufacturing process fills the bottles.”
The report states the discrepancy indicates the bottles were filled by hand and likely not with Patron Tequila.
“This liquor is of a high quality,” the report states, “and violations of this sort have been detected in the past where establishments will use a less expensive liquor of the same type to refill bottles.”
A more recent episode led to a $4,500 fine for Club ATL in Oklahoma City.
In March, police and ABLE agents raided the club when they noticed a line of people waiting to enter it at 2:25 a.m. — nearly 30 minutes after clubs are legally required to close and stop serving alcohol for the night.
When agents and officers finally cleared the club out, they searched a liquor storage cabinet and found two bottles of Crown Royal with different color fluid inside of them.
Commission records show the club was never actually cited for refilling, but the trend is real in the Oklahoma City area.
The well-known Oklahoma City nightclub City Walk was fined $7,500 in 2011 for buying liquor from a retail store.
The liquor store, Sam's Wholesale, faced the same fine, and two City Walk employees essentially were placed on probation for meeting a man who was delivering the alcohol.
The roughly 130 bottles of hard liquor, when broken down into single servings, would be worth nearly $20,000 inside the nightclub, ABLE records show.
Maisch said the City Walk case demonstrates how competitive the nightclub and liquor industries can be.
“We don't know who gave us that tip,” he said. “It could've been another nightclub owner or it could've been the owner of another liquor store.”
Maisch said the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission becomes involved in cases involving topless bars because the state Legislature requires the agency to do so.
Most of such cases are initiated by undercover police officers investigating lewd behavior by topless dancers.
Those cases, however, are not pursued quite as vigorously as others, the attorney said.
“We do act on those referrals,” Maisch said. “But there's a point at which you have to make a decision for the sake of judicial economy.”
Currently, the commission has a case pending against Little Darlings, which was raided by Oklahoma County sheriff's deputies earlier in the year. Numerous dancers were arrested.
In September, the club Centerfolds was fined $2,250 by the ABLE Commission after Oklahoma City police raided the establishment as they investigated lewd behavior.
And while punishments meted out by the ABLE Commission typically come in the form of fines or license suspensions and revocations, they can vary as well.
One man, for instance, was required to attend a year's worth of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after he was cited in May for selling alcohol to a minor at a liquor store in Oklahoma City.
Randell Leroy Easley, who is 55, sold a bottle of vodka to a 17-year-old girl who was working for the ABLE Commission as an undercover informant.
Records kept by ABLE show the mature-looking girl had dyed blue hair at the time of the purchase.
Along with the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Easley must complete the terms of his probation from a driving under the influence case in Canadian County.
If he doesn't go to the meetings or successfully complete his probation, Easley will have his Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement license revoked for five years — in addition to whatever actions the criminal courts will take against him.