Manager: ‘Sneak attack’ on Cooper Street
Cooper Street Pier manager Charles Wolf said his bar and restaurant was a victim of a “sneak attack” by state liquor authorities and the Aspen Police Department.Cooper Street closed Wednesday after the Colorado Department of Revenue suspended the bar’s liquor license for 30 days, citing violations of the state liquor laws connected to drug dealing on the premises.Wolf on Thursday said the corporation that owns the business, Wolf’s Mountain View Inc., recently received a “show cause” order to appear at a liquor license suspension hearing in Denver. He said the company declined the hearing because Department of Revenue agents had already made up their minds.”It made more sense to just take the 30-day suspension and end it,” he said. Ken Peterson of the Department of Revenue said Charles Wolf’s father, Heinz Wolf, reached an agreement with the state to take the 30-day suspension rather than go to a full hearing on the matter.Charles Wolf said the bar was closing soon anyway. He said the Siamese Basil restaurant, now operating in the Cooper Street basement, will expand into the upper floors in July, although it will not serve alcohol until after the 30-day suspension ends and the Siamese Basil license is amended. A plan is under way to remodel the entire property, but that is not expected to begin until next year.In its order, the state alleged that Cooper Street management “failed to conduct the licensed premises in a decent, orderly and respectable manner and permitted activities offensive to the senses of the average citizen and residents of the neighborhood.”The “offensive” activities, according to the state, were 10 incidents between June and November in 2005, when undercover agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency bought cocaine from five different individuals on the Cooper Street premises.The purchases were part of a lengthy investigation by local, state and federal agents of drug trafficking at Cooper Street and a neighboring restaurant, Little Annie’s Eating House. The investigation led to a dramatic Dec. 2 raid on the two businesses.”What are they going to do with undercover work?” Wolf said. “Just what they did. Sneak attack!”Wolf said he believes the investigation and the raids were part of a specific “agenda against Aspen” of federal and state authorities upset about the community’s perceived relaxed attitudes about low-level drug sales and use.”We were a convenient target, to send a message,” Wolf said. “This could happen to any bar … it’s not hard to get somebody to sell you some drugs. This is a threat against Aspen, not just Cooper Street.”Efforts to contact Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson on Thursday were unsuccessful.But Peterson, speaking for the Department of Revenue, said Wolf’s suspicions are “absolutely false.” He said the investigation in Aspen was in answer to a complaint and was “absolutely standard” according to the department’s policies.”Having an agenda with Aspen, no, I don’t,” he said.Wolf maintained that only one of the alleged dealers actually worked for him. That employee, he said, was a prep cook named Gabino Velazco-Estrada, who police say sold to agents on Sept. 8 and Nov. 11, and had cocaine in his possession on the night of the raid.The rest of those named in state documents, Wolf said, were “just kitchen employees around town” who did not work for him.Wolf said authorities made the problem worse through their undercover drug purchases.”There’s a fire going on, you try to put it out,” he said. “But they didn’t put out the fire, they threw gasoline on the fire, and eventually one of my prep cooks got corrupted.”Local police have said they offered Wolf a chance to help “clean up” the Cooper Street drug scene but Wolf rejected that claim.Wolf says the last time he talked with police about drug problems was in 2001, when Chief Joe Cortez ran the department, and that the talks were “very informal” and about Aspen in general, not just his bar.He said he offered to let police install cameras in Cooper Street to monitor activities there but Cortez declined.Instead, he said, local police were interested in mounting an undercover drug operation to catch the dealers. He said they asked for his cooperation.”I said, thanks, but no thanks,” Wolf said. “I didn’t want to do undercover work, because it’s against the city policies of Aspen,” and he was worried about how such an investigation might be conducted.As for the ongoing investigation of Little Annie’s, Peterson said he could not comment and has no idea how long it will continue.Peterson said if Little Annie’s also violated state liquor codes, the department will issue similar notice to the one it sent Cooper Street.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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