Porta has liquor license revoked by town of Amherst

Four Amherst Police Department officers testify

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Porta has liquor license revoked by town of Amherst

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

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In a public hearing on Wednesday April 24, the Amherst Board of License Commissioners unanimously voted to revoke the liquor license of Porta Pizza Co.

The hearing was scheduled following multiple incident reports filed with the Amherst Police Department on April 17, 19 and 20. The liquor license, which was issued in its current state on April 12, is no longer in effect at the restaurant.

In an April 22 letter sent to Porta’s owner Richard Annunziata, Board Chair Douglas Slaughter said the hearing was held concerning Amherst Police Department reports filed on April 17, 19 and 20. The reports indicated numerous alleged liquor violations of both local and state law, including failure to check IDs, serving alcohol to minors and providing alcohol for free.

Board members emphasized the decision to revoke wasn’t driven by a desire to be strict, but in response to the several violations in a short period of time.

“There’s a flouting of rules and I think that’s very troubling,” Board Chair Douglas Slaughter said.

Annunziata did not attend the hearing, but sent an email to Town Licensing Coordinator Steven McCarthy which was read prior to the vote objecting to the proceedings.

“My attorney advised me to object to these proceedings as 47 hours is not enough time to defend these charges. I [sic] will not participate unless I’m allowed due process,” Annunziata wrote.

Slaughter said Annunziata was informed of the hearing on April 22 and clarified the notification process did follow state laws concerning open hearings.

Following the decision, Annunziata initially declined to comment but later said he felt there was not due process. Since he began working in the town,  Annunziata said everybody he’s met has said “the town does what they want.”

Several APD patrol officers provided testimony to the board prior to the decision regarding the reports made this past weekend. Officer Benton Carr spoke about his first visit to Porta on April 17 with Officer Tyler Martins on a plain clothes assignment. In a personnel narrative included as evidence by APD, Carr noted he and Martins were asked to show their IDs, which were visually inspected by both the owner and a bartender rather than being scanned.

While seated at the bar, Carr did observe a female patron, who appeared to be underage, provide an ID to the bartender which was later returned. According to the narrative the bartender “shook her head….and the female went back into the crowd.”

Regarding the reports on April 19, Officer Matthew Frydryck noted in his testimony that APD received “multiple anonymous calls” concerning the restaurant, including allegations of underage drinking and that female patrons were being asked to show body parts to get in.

At 1:30 a.m., a time when Porta was supposed to be closed, Frydryck saw over 100 patrons still in the establishment. After multiple police officers arrived to the parking lot, the crowd quickly cleared out, Frydryck said.

On April 20, Officers Justin Satkowski and Matthew Ziomek worked on a special assignment in plain clothes. In an APD supplemental narrative, Satkowski stated he observed a female bartender “randomly get up from her seat, serve patrons alcoholic beverages, then return to her seat to drink her beverages.”

In the narrative, Satkowski said an underage male party seated nearby the officers went behind the bar himself to serve alcohol. Satkowski ordered a “cheap draft beer,” but the male party was unable to operate the tap system and returned “half a glass of foamy beer and a Corona.”

“I told him I didn’t want the Corona, so he drank it himself,” Satkowski testified at the hearing.

Before leaving Porta, Satkowski and Ziomek asked the male party how much money they owed for their drinks. The male party stated the debit card machine was not working and that the men “could leave him whatever [they] thought was appropriate.” Ziomek left a five dollar bill, which was pocketed by the male party as a “tip,” according to the narrative.

Later, the male party stated to other officers he was not an employee of Porta.

After being asked by board member Gaston de los Reyes whether he had observed other establishments with similar patterns, Satkowski responded in the negative.

Satkowski and Ziomek contacted Frydryk and Officer Scott Soverino before leaving the establishment. Frydryk responded to the call, and he told the Board the night had been “a free-for-all” in terms of serving alcohol.

Three underage female students from the University of Massachusetts told Frydryk they were served and consumed alcohol without being ID’d. APD officers seized three suspected fake IDs from the women, according to police reports.

Soverino told the Board one patron who was carded was a 16-year-old “high school student,” whose identity was confirmed through the APD dispatch center.

Following the officers’ testimonies, APD Chief Scott Livingstone commented to the Board that in over four decades of experience in police work, he has “never witnessed such egregious violation in a licensed establishment.”

“This owner doesn’t deserve to do business in this town,” Livingstone said, adding that there was a “complete disregard” for local and state laws and regulations.

In deliberations, board members expressed safety concerns over serving alcohol in an unsafe environment, which could potentially lead to other crimes, including driving under the influence.

Going through each of the allegations listed in the notice of hearing, the Board confirmed all but one, which alleged the purchasing of alcohol from retail establishment for use of sale, as it was not referred to in testimony.

Board member Hallie Hughes noted the offenses were not the first at Porta, given a previous suspension of their license, and there had been “no demonstration” of improvement in the restaurant since the last hearing.

Another board member, de los Reyes, said to revoke the license was “a very serious action,” which he had previously said he didn’t feel was “unjust.” He suggested the possibility of another license suspension and an additional hearing with the owner.

Slaughter noted Annunziata will have the ability to appeal the decision to the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission within five days of receipt of the Board’s decision.

On Wednesday afternoon, the restaurant was not in operation and no staff were present, but the building was unlocked. A broken window near the front of the building was covered in cardboard. Broken glass on the floor and open containers of alcohol could be seen through other windows on the premises. Shortly after 2:15 p.m., a man who identified himself as a former manager arrived and locked up the building, informing a woman approaching the establishment the business was not open.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @KathrineEsten.