FLX Live

(Editor’s note: This is Part II of a two-part series. Today’s finale asks if blame for FLX Live’s closure can be determined and/or placed).

Prior to a specific night of hip-hop at FLX Live, nightclub owner Ian Pattison says he talked to Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua about having a couple of officers in the area just in case trouble arose. Passalacqua was happy to oblige.

After Lt. Eric Heieck retired, Passalacqua became Ian’s go-to guy in the police force. It was March 8, an evening that Ian described as “flawless.” He said the night was documented by the GPD and in information eventually given to the State Liquor Authority. However, it noted that police were required to be there the entire night. How does Ian know this? Months later he received a notice from the Liquor Authority with a citation for two violations (incidents) one of which was from March 8, the night Ian claims was trouble-free.

“There existed a sustained and continuing pattern of noise disturbance, misconduct or disorder on or about licensee’s premises related to the operation of the premises or the conduct of its patrons, which adversely affects the health, welfare or safety of the inhabitants of the area,” the letter from the SLA said. “(FLX Live) failed to exercise adequate supervision of its licensed business.”

The Liquor Authority also cited an incident on Dec. 18, 2018, when FLX Live allowed the “licensed premises to become disorderly by suffering or permitting an altercation and/assault to occur on licensed premises.”

Ian was required to provide a response to the violations. He did so within days, by fax, in early April of this year.

As reported previously in the Times, Liquor Authority spokesman Bill Crowley said the FLX Live case “was a referral from the police department,” which Passalacqua agreed is the typical way cases end up before the agency. Crowley claimed Pattison did not respond to a certified letter from the Liquor Authority outlining the alleged violations, resulting in an automatic loss of his liquor license. Yet Ian has the time-stamped documentation to confirm his fax was sent and received by the Liquor Authority — evidence that would be critical to his defense.

It was later, on June 19, that Ian first came to realize he had a serious problem. Liquor Authority officials called to tell him his liquor license would be picked up within three days. They claimed they never received his response.

He resent it that same day, but his liquor license was canceled the following day, effective June 20.

Without a liquor license Ian’s nightclub would be unable to survive. A decision was made to close up shop and liquidate assets to recoup some money.

Ian has not heard another thing from the State Liquor Authority — to this day.

Not only was he apparently denied his chance for a hearing, he wasn’t offered an option to pay a fine. Instead, this first-time offender had his license revoked, which I have since learned is very unusual.

I reached out to Crowley to ask why Ian was not afforded the same process as others — especially considering Crowley was quoted in an earlier Times article as saying, “In general, (the Liquor Authority) will allow them to have their day in court,” and added that “most businesses don’t lose their liquor licenses for their first violations.”

That is when Crowley offered what I considered a bombshell response last week: “Our office received a request for reconsideration from the licensee on June 19, this request will be reviewed by the Members of the Authority at an upcoming meeting of the Full Board of the SLA.”

When I called Ian last week with this news, he paused and said, “I need to process what you just said.” Clearly, he was stunned. After all, he had closed up shop and liquidated assets. The Liquor Authority took his license, yet had not contacted him once about anything, including whether his response had been accepted or any upcoming hearings were scheduled.

I asked Crowley by email why the Liquor Authority revoked Ian’s license when Ian said he had proof he sent his response within the required time.

Crowley’s answer: “You seem to be implying as a fact that we lost his fax.”

My response: “Yes, I believe it was apparently misplaced on your end. Ian has proof it was sent and delivered.”

“(Ian) should’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure his response was received ... “ Crowley countered.

What is clear is the Liquor Authority is unwilling to take any sort of responsibility for any problems on its end — issues that ultimately resulted in someone’s career being derailed, a business being closed and a half-dozen people put out of work.

That should not really come as a surprise, though. There is a long timeline of documented problems regarding the Liquor Authority. As far back as the 1980s The New York Times reported on a state investigation that determined the following: “There is tremendous unevenness in their approach to regulation. Sometimes there is overkill and other times total negligence. This bizarre behavior may well suggest a pattern of improper influence on what they go after.”

Decades later, it doesn’t appear as if much has improved. In fact, in 2009 an article on Crain’s New York Business website stated that “New York’s State Liquor Authority is understaffed, vulnerable to corruption, and has suffocated small businesses around the state because of its inadequacies and licensing delays.” The article was based on a report by the state Law Revision Commission.

Shortly after Ian’s license was pulled, he received a call out of the blue from a “consultant” that told him his license problem could be “fixed” for $20,000. The timing seemed more than a coincidence.

Ian passed on the offer.

Passalacqua said he found it unusual that Ian’s license was revoked rather than FLX Live being fined.

“I think he was doing what he should have been doing to make his business successful,” Passalacqua said. “He not only came in to talk to us, but he contracted security with body cameras. The problems came with the disturbances.

“It’s sad because it is not very often you have this kind of relationship,” Passalacqua added, referring to Ian working with GPD to head off any potential problems.

FLX Live was a great addition to a city that wants a vibrant and culturally active downtown. Most everyone seems to agree that Ian was trying to do things properly. But, it was all for naught because the Liquor Authority operates, at least in this case, as if it had not learned anything from past mistakes. Too bad Ian had to suffer as a result of it.

Author’s note: For the sake of full disclosure, I am friends with Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua, former FLX Live owner Ian Pattison, and the person who was convicted of assault for an August 2018 incident at FLX Live and is now in prison.

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