Alcohol license revocation decision postponed

Published 9:13 am Thursday, July 13, 2023

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A local business owner claims he made a mistake on an alcohol license application. Now, it’s up to county commissioners to decide if he can continue in a complicated situation involving alcohol sales to minors and corporate structure.

Sami Uddin was denied a beer and wine license on June 6 due to the discovery that he had previously been charged with selling alcohol to a minor. When Uddin applied for the license for the Super G convenience store at 2744 Hamilton Rd., which he partially owns, it was discovered that he had provided false information on a sworn statement in the application indicating that he had not been convicted of a misdemeanor within the last 10 years.

It was later confirmed that Uddin had been convicted of underage sales in 2017. That conviction was not discovered until after he was approved for a beer and wine license at the nearby Happy Stop convenience store in 2021.

When Uddin was told that he would likely not be approved for the Super G license, he told county staff that he already has a license at the Happy Stop. Staff then discovered that Uddin made the same false statement on the previous application that somehow slipped by for approval.

Uddin was asked on both applications, “Have you ever been convicted of any misdemeanor offenses during the past ten (10) years?” He answered no on both applications, according to County Planner Ruth West.

In June, representatives of Uddin — who does not speak English well as it’s not his first language — said that the sworn statements on both applications had simply been a mistake.

At the time, County Attorney Jerry Willis noted that whether or not Uddin intentionally provided false information to get the first license, he is not entitled to the second one because of the 2017 underage sales conviction. County policy is to deny alcohol licenses to individuals with underage sales convictions within 10 years, but the commissioners have the discretion to approve it.

Because the license never should have been approved to begin with, Willis recommended revisiting the inadvertently issued beer and wine license. Uddin was sent a letter on June 21 indicating that the license would be under consideration for revocation, and he could request a hearing before the commissioners. Six days later, Uddin formally requested the due process hearing.

During the hearing, West noted that the license was under consideration for revocation on two grounds, licensee qualifications and the false sworn statements.

Attorney Lonnie Haralson, who represents Uddin, did not deny that his client had sold alcohol to a minor or made the false statement but said he did so unintentionally.

“He’s not originally from America and his English is, I think, his second or maybe his third language, but either way it’s not his primary language, nor is reading and writing English his primary language,” Haralson said.

Haralson said that Uddin had paid a $405 fine and thought that was the end of it.

“Someone who’s not from here doesn’t know the criminal laws. Yeah, he should have had a lawyer back in 2017. There’s no doubt about that. But what he did have on these applications and he’s consistently said, ‘No. I don’t have any misdemeanor or felony violations.’ I think that was because he didn’t understand what his prior thing was. His prior thing was a misdemeanor,” Haralson said.

“He paid a fine for it, but he paid it all that day. [He was] never put on probation, never put in jail. If you’re not from here, you just think that’s the penalty. You may not understand the repercussions,” Haralson argued. “The applications were not intentionally misrepresented because he wouldn’t have brought up the fact that he already had a license.”

Haralson said the problem they have is the way county ordinance is written. Uddin would not only be precluded from holding the license, it would also preclude the business that he is part of from getting a license because it is a member-owned limit liability corporation (LLC).

Under Troup County ordinance, every member of a member-managed LLC would need to be qualified to sell alcohol, but if it were just a regular incorporation, they could just hire a separate manager.

Haralson said that if the business is unable to get an alcohol license, it will likely have to close because, in a business of this type, alcohol makes up more than half of its sales.

Haralson asked the commissioners to either use their discretion to allow Uddin to keep his license or postpone the decision to give them time to reincorporate and find a manager that is qualified to have the license in their name.

County Attorney Mark DeGennaro said that if the decision is postponed Uddin would be allowed to continue to sell alcohol in the meantime because his license has not been officially revoked.

“The board has got some discretion and can determine whether or not there are sufficient safeguards in place to mature the underlying purpose of this — someone is responsible for not selling alcohol to minors. Now, the burden on that, frankly, is on Mr. Uddin to convince this board that that’s the case and whether that’s through a manager or through some sort of structure of the entity that’s doing the sales,” DeGennaro said.

The commissioners seemed inclined to let alcohol sales at the business continue because they could have simply revoked the license and be done with it, but they wanted to make sure the underage sales stop.

“I think that all of us in the room would agree that the most important thing is how do we protect our youth. It’s a little bit of a shell game today when you start moving members and this and that. At the end of the day, you’re just shuffling that around, and they can still do what we don’t want to do. But on the other hand, I realized that we made a mistake in 2017,” Crews said, saying he would support tabling the issue for a short time to make sure the right people are in place.

The current ordinance does allow a bona fide manager to be issued a license. It does not allow a surrogate, where one person is swapped for the other for the express purpose of getting around the ordinance. The applicant would need to show that it’s a bona fide manager and it’s not a substitute surrogate, DeGennaro said.

DeGennaro asked Haralson if the decision is delayed so that a manager can be found, what kind of reassurances can be made that alcohol will not be sold to minors in the interim.

Haralson said that Uddin has had no violations since the 2016 incident and if he violates the ordinance it would be a criminal act.

“You’ve got safeguards. In fact, you’d be arrested for breaking the law, not to mention your license could be revoked. That’s a safeguard in my opinion,” Haralson argued.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted 4-0 to table the issue and continue the hearing until Aug. 15 to allow Uddin to find a manager for the store. He will be allowed to sell alcohol in the meantime.