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Liquor license violations alleged against Levee Café

Hastings Police and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division are investigating alleged liquor license violations by the Levee Café that occurred between July 2008 and early March.

The Hastings City Council had a hearing scheduled on the issue at its meeting Monday, but postponed it until April 6 because the owner of the Levee Café, Jeff Kasa, said Monday was the first day he'd heard about the hearing.

According to a memo from City Attorney Dan Fluegel to the council, the Levee Café was placed on the Minnesota Department of Revenue's tax delinquent liquor posting, a public list, on July 15, 2008.

Once businesses are posted to the list, state law prohibits wholesalers from selling alcohol to them, and prohibits the business from buying alcohol from other retailers for the purpose of resale. The memo says July 20, 2008, was the last day the Levee Café was allowed to receive alcoholic beverage shipments. After that date, the restaurant was still allowed to sell any alcohol it had on hand, but wasn't allowed to purchase more.

According to Fluegel's memo, the report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division alleges that on Jan. 23, 2009, an investigator from the department visited the Levee Café and found alcoholic beverages with production dates after the July 20 cutoff date, which led him to the conclusion the beverages were obtained illegally by the Levee Café. The investigator seized the evidence.

On March 5, 2009, Hastings police executed a search warrant at the Levee Café and seized more evidence that suggested liquor license violations had occurred.

When businesses are placed on the tax delinquent liquor posting, they are not allowed to buy alcohol from wholesalers or other retailers. Fluegel said there is evidence to support the allegation that the Levee Café purchased alcohol from other retailers while it was on the tax delinquency liquor posting.

Fluegel said the state has imposed a $400 fine on the Levee Café as a result of the alleged violations, and investigators are still looking into the possibility of bringing criminal charges against Kasa.

As of March 16, the Levee Café was no longer listed on the tax delinquency liquor posting. Fluegel said Kasa told him he paid the outstanding taxes to the state around March 5, which would have effectively taken the Levee Café off the posting, but Fluegel said he's been unable to verify exactly what date the restaurant was removed from the posting.

A letter was sent via certified mail to Kasa's home on March 5 notifying him that the Hastings City Council, as the issuer of the Levee Café's liquor license, would be considering imposing a civil penalty on the restaurant at its March 16 meeting. A copy of the same letter was also hand delivered to the Levee Café by a Hastings police officer, Fluegel said. The letter requested that Kasa contact Fluegel by March 11.

Fluegel didn't hear from Kasa until March 16, the day the hearing was scheduled to take place, when Kasa went to Fluegel's office and told him he didn't find out about the hearing until that day and wasn't able to attend it.

At Monday's council meeting, the council decided to continue the hearing to its April 6 meeting, in order to allow Kasa to attend. Council Member Tony Alongi said he'd go along with the continuance of the hearing out of courtesy for Kasa, but warned him to be prepared to have answers for the alleged violations, and that he could be facing a fine or other penalty. Council Member Tony Nelson also emphasized the seriousness of the alleged violations.

Kasa could not be reached for comment Tuesday.