A state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control hearing planned for Wednesday on Suthern Kumfort’s Lounge in Ascension Parish has been continued without date.
The hearing is to be rescheduled pending resolution of separate criminal charges against the club’s claimed owner, Steve Duke, attorneys said.
Louisiana ATC prosecutor Jessica Starns said Duke’s attorney sought the delay on Fifth Amendment grounds against self-incrimination in the criminal case.
On June 8, Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested Duke and Charles Puckett on counts of filing false public records in a scheme to hide the club’s true ownership.
Deputies and parish officials claim Puckett, 61, of Prairieville, who is a convicted sex offender, owns the strip club business.
The continuance, sought by Duke attorney Joe Long in a motion filed July 7, means the prospects of the Airline Highway club’s reopening have become more distant.
In June, a parish hearing officer upheld denial of the parish sexually oriented business license that had been issued to the lounge, finding Puckett was the owner.
The Prairieville club has been closed since May 6, two days after a club patron was beaten to death in the parking lot by a man working for Duke. The slaying is the second at Suthern Kumfort’s since 2008.
ATC has oversight of the bar’s state alcohol license. The office separately brought administrative charges against the club in connection with the May 4 slaying.
The charges lodged against the lounge are failure to have a proper permit, selling or serving alcohol to a person younger than 21 and disturbing the peace/improper conduct, Starns said.
She said that Long’s motion this month argued the criminal charges would negatively affect Duke’s defense in the administrative case. Duke, 56, of Prairieville, would not be able to testify.
The rescheduled hearing had been set for 1 p.m. Wednesday but Starns said the hearing will not be reset “until criminal charges are adjudicated.”
Starns said the club will not operate during that time.
On May 20, ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert agreed to continue a then-planned hearing on the condition that the state alcohol permit be suspended until a hearing is held.
Starns noted the club also does not have a parish alcohol permit and needs one for a state alcohol permit. The parish permit was denied May 5, parish records show.
Duke and Puckett have not been formally charged by criminal prosecutors in Ascension, prosecutors said. Duke is out on bail; Puckett is in jail.
Attorney Long has maintained Duke owns the club business and Puckett owns the club building.
Long said Tuesday that Duke has not decided whether to appeal the parish ruling in June on the sexually oriented business license.
Starns said that in the ATC case, a lot will depend on the criminal case in Ascension. But she said if and when the case goes to a hearing, the office also plans to bring the added charge of interpose operation.
Starns explained that an interpose operation count is one that alleges a club is operating under a false permit in which the person claiming to own the bar is not the owner.