BRUSLY — A week after unanimously rejecting beer and liquor permits for Back Brusly Grocery, the Town Council on Monday did a turnaround by approving a new application for the store.
Last week, the council rejected the convenience store’s first request because the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control had also denied the store’s liquor license application, based on the ownership interest of former Police Chief Jamie Whaley, who has a criminal record.
Louisiana law prohibits convicted felons from obtaining liquor licenses. But there’s a provision that the prohibition applies only to owners with more than 5 percent interest.
ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert, reached after Monday’s council meeting, warned that the agency would take a very close look at any new application to the state to make sure no one is trying to hide ownership interest.
The Town Council’s unanimous new decision Monday came the same day the store’s owner filed an appeal asking the 18th Judicial District Court to overturn the ATC’s Oct. 30 denial of its application with the state.
The ATC denied that application because agents suspected Whaley, who resigned from office in April 2014 after he was indicted on charges of malfeasance in office and theft, lied about the ownership stake he shared in the store with his girlfriend, Tricia Michel.
“I want Back Brusly to succeed,” Councilman Donald Neisler said Monday to the moderately packed room of residents at the meeting.
Michel sat in the audience alone. Whaley did not attend.
Monday night’s meeting was also absent of the boisterous support from supporters who flung insults and accusations at town leaders at last week’s meeting when the council denied the first application.
Questions were raised by council members Monday night about how Michel’s appeal to the court would affect the second application filed with the town.
Michel filed the new application with the town after Whaley last week removed his name as both a member and manager of the store on all filings with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
“The appeal has just been filed; the court hasn’t even scheduled it on the docket yet,” Town Attorney Tom Acosta told the council. “The state law, and the town ordinance, says the ATC and the town shall independently conduct its own investigation, and you have 35 days to do that.”
The Advocate rents its Port Allen office space from Acosta.
Mayor Joey Normand, who was accused by the couple’s supporters last week of influencing the ATC’s decision because of a personal vendetta against Whaley, encouraged the council to simply worry about the new application and not the pending appeal.
“I think you should take action on it,” Normand said before Monday night’s vote.
Hebert, the ATC commissioner, said in the telephone interview that a new application would start a separate approval process with the state and would be separate from the appeal process in the 18th JDC.
“I’m not aware we received a new application but when and if we do, we’re certainly going to review it and come up with a decision based on the facts and circumstances,” Hebert said.
He said his office would not be tricked into issuing a liquor license just because someone “may or may not be trying to hide ownership in a business.”
“We take a serious look at the person that’s applying,” he said. “They’re signing a sworn affidavit that would subject them to perjury and criminal charges if they aren’t telling the truth.”
The couple purchased Back Brusly Grocery in the 1200 block of Main Street two months after Whaley pleaded no contest to malfeasance in office.
He was sentenced to 42 months’ probation in a plea deal following his June 2014 arrest for not compensating the town for seven guns he gave to a licensed firearms dealer to sell.
A no-contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea in criminal court but would not be an admission of guilt in civil court.
Whaley already was on supervised probation after pleading guilty to theft and malfeasance in office for using a town-issued credit card for personal use.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.