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Portland bar owner wants liquor license after state drops charges

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Portland bar owner wants liquor license after state drops charges

PORTLAND — Fresh off a legal victory, the embattled owner of an Old Port bar wants the city to cancel a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 7 on its liquor and entertainment license.

In a letter to city councilors and the city attorney, Cactus Club owner Thomas Manning said the Department of Public Safety has dismissed six allegations against the bar. 

But city officials and the Police Department believe the council should proceed with the hearing and ultimately deny the bar's licenses, which would effectively shut it down.

Police contend that over the last year there were six administrative violations at the Cactus Club. They claim the bar over-served patrons and was the scene of a drug overdose.

But Manning argues that none of those violations could be traced to his business at 416 Fore St., and that police are unfairly targeting the bar for problems created by other Old Port establishments.

"As one reviews the alleged calls for service log in detail, it becomes apparent very quickly by any reasonable person that there is NOT MUCH going on here," Manning wrote. "There are a couple of alleged incidents that can easily be explained and/or attributed to other next door businesses and not the Cactus Club."

Included with Manning's letter to the city was a motion filed Jan. 13 in Portland District Court by Assistant Attorney General Michelle Robert. 

In it, Robert said allegations of six administrative violations against the club should be dismissed, since the Department of Public Safety is "unable to locate two key witnesses."

Robert confirmed on Monday that charges against the bar have been dismissed.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones wouldn't comment on the impact the dismissed charges would have on the council.

"I want to make sure the night we have the hearing that I'm open to the information brought forward by both the police and Mr. Manning and his attorney," Mavodones said.

City Corporation Counsel Gary Wood has recommended the council not postpone the hearing again, so if the council votes against the liquor license, he will have time to write a formal letter to Manning.

The City Council denied the bar's liquor license in 2009, but Manning's company, Allied Resources, appealed the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Manning won when the court ruled the city took too long to formally notify him of the council's denial.

If the council again denies the license, Wood said the city would have to provide Manning and the state liquor bureau with a formal letter of denial, approved by the council, no later than March 10.

Even though the alleged violations were dismissed, he said, the council may evaluate the club based on other standards, including public safety.

"That's a separate and distinct standard," Wood said.

Mavodones said that unless the Police Department withdraws its recommendation to deny the liquor license, the council will proceed with the scheduled hearing.

Police aren't backing down.

"I think the establishment is run poorly; and as such, that directly affects public safety in the neighborhood," Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Monday. "Without question, we're prepared to move forward."

Manning, who criticized police for not putting service calls to his club in context with other bars, accused the department of circumventing a "fair, unbiased analysis and review" in favor of a "pre-determined agenda."

"To think that any such unsubstantiated allegations which contain multiple levels of hearsay would even be considered in this process speaks volumes of how little else the police department has to discuss in this proceeding," Manning said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net