Court Denies ABC Appeal 

Through a series of ABC hearings, agents and officers maintained that Fahrenheit had become a “meeting place” for drug users and said the club’s liquor license should be forfeited. The ABC ruled that Fahrenheit and other clubs acted unlawfully by contributing to or knowing about an environment in which drugs are used and distributed.

Fahrenheit kept its license while it appealed to Richmond Circuit Court. Subsequently, Judge Theodore Markow ruled that Fahrenheit had not become a meeting place for drugs. His decision reversed the 2001 findings of the ABC Board. Markow also determined that the ABC investigation had been compromised because government agents were sent into Fahrenheit to solicit drugs.

The ABC appealed to the Virginia Court of Appeals. In its ruling last week, the court said the ABC Board erred in applying an overly broad interpretation of the statute governing what constitutes a club’s culpability in drug-related crimes on its premises.

A representative with the ABC could not be reached by press time.

“This finally proves my client is vindicated of all charges,” says Paul Buckwalter, who represents Fahrenheit and its owner, Ted Kastanos.

Buckwalter has maintained that the real targets of the sting were not individuals but the clubs themselves, and that the scrutiny by the ABC tarnished the club’s reputation, and caused it to close. Fahrenheit may sue the ABC in civil court, he says.

The series of cases related to Operation Ex-Clubs prompted the Virginia General Assembly this year to amend the Code of Virginia to make it easier for ABC agents to successfully prosecute clubs suspected of becoming havens for drugs.

Buckwalter says the question — with a new ABC director and board — is how freely the ABC will apply and interpret the newly modified language of the statute to target businesses where drug-related crime may or may not occur. — Brandon Walters


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