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.”