ST. CLAIRSVILLE - St. Clairsville lawyer Michael Shaheen - a member of the Ohio Liquor Control Commission - could face administrative action based on the board's 2010 decision to reinstate liquor permits to two Cincinnati restaurants that lost them, Ohio Inspector General Randall J. Meyer said this week.
A complaint filed with the Ohio Inspector General's Office alleges Shaheen, then serving as chairman of the commission, and Vice Chairman Paul M. Booth ignored a mandate from the Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals when they signed orders returning permits to the Rookwood Mews and Nicholson's Pub bars. The permits previously had been pulled when the bars failed to pay filing or withholding taxes they owed, according to the Ohio Inspector General's report.
The third member of the board at that time, Robert Gardner, did not sign the order. He has since been replaced by former Republican congresswoman Deborah Pryce, who now serves as chairwoman of the three-member commission.
Meyer is recommending the board work to "ensure the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code pertaining to the application and renewal of liquor permits are followed."
Secondly, he wants the commission to determine if "administrative action is warranted against Michael Shaheen and Paul Booth for the reinstatement of the of the liquor permits held by Nicholson's Pub and Rockwood Mews."
Meyer also has asked Pryce to respond within 60 days with a plan detailing how the recommendations will be implemented.
The report states the case began in May 2009, when the Ohio Tax Commission Office notified the Division of Liquor Control two bars were delinquent in their taxes, that non-renewal orders for their liquor permits were in effect, and that their sale of liquor after June 1, 2009, "would be illegal."
The bars filed numerous appeals and requests to continue selling alcohol before dismissing a final appeal on April 14, 2010.
"By dismissing the appeal, all (future) appeals were exhausted," Meyer wrote in the report.
When a permit is defunct or revoked, it is returned to the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control, and these permits are considered "null and void" and can't be reissued, according to Meyer.
A new permit, though, can be issued to a different establishment.
The report continues that two new permits should have been made available to other establishments in the geographical areas where the bars were located, and that there was a waiting list for the permits.
The two bars that lost the permits hired a new attorney, Mark Gutentag, in August 2010. He filed a motion before the liquor control commission to reopen both cases and requested a stay. The motion was granted on Aug. 31, 2010, and signed by Shaheen and Booth.
Gardner noted his dissent on the order, believing it could set "a dangerous precedent." He noted the two permits were defunct, and thus the stay request was nullified. He added that the case had run its legal course, and that there also was no confirmation from the Ohio Department of Taxation that the outstanding taxes had been paid for both permits.
Shaheen did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
But on Dec. 16, 2011, representatives from the Ohio Inspector General's Office met with Shaheen "to get a better understanding of why the decision was made ...," according to the report. It notes Shaheen said that "while there did not appear to be a statutory mechanism to renew the permits once dismissed in the court of appeals, the commission had broad discretion to act, and that the renewal of the permits resulted in numerous jobs being saved."
Shaheen later provided a list of cases believed to be similar in nature in which the commission had taken similar action to renew permits. These cases, though, had documentation from common pleas courts remanding them back before the commission, or they contained some verification that past delinquent taxes had been paid, the report states.
Shaheen's term on the commission extends through February 2013, and Booth's until February 2015, according to information provided by the commission.
Shaheen lost a bid for Belmont County treasurer in the recent Democrat primary election.