STOCKBRIDGE — The Select Board has slapped a liquor-license suspension of up to 50 days on Michaels Restaurant owner Michael G. Abdalla Jr. in connection with a fatal drunken-driving crash just over one year ago.
During a nearly two-hour public hearing on Wednesday afternoon, the board voted in favor of a three-phase suspension, which allows the restaurant on Elm Street to remain open but prevents it from serving alcohol.
For serving alcohol to a minor — Matthew Moriarty of Great Barrington, 20, who drank at Michaels prior to the April 4, 2015, accident in Great Barrington that left him severely injured, the Selectmen voted 3-0 in favor of a 10-day suspension.
For serving to an intoxicated patron, Kyle Bailey, 22, of Stockbridge, the driver who smashed his SUV into a utility pole about 17 minutes after leaving the restaurant, the vote was 2-1 for an additional 10-day suspension, with Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo opposed. The crash took the life of passenger Garrett J. Norton, 21, of Housatonic.
For misleading and lying to a Great Barrington police officer during the investigation, Abdalla was hit with an additional 30-day suspension by a 3-0 vote, along with a required unannounced, periodic inspection of the surveillance cameras in his establishment by the local police department.
Selectman Stephen Shatz said that Abdalla "made an attempt to destroy surveillance tapes and to impede the police investigation, for which he has pleaded guilty." Board Chairman Charles Gillett agreed that the restaurant owner had tried to "cover up, destroy, change evidence, and that's hugely problematic."
The first 10-day suspension would start no later than this Friday after the board's written decision is served on Abdalla, said Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares. The second 10-day suspension would follow.
However, the third suspension, 30 days, would not take effect for two months if Abdalla's attorney, Jeffrey Scrimo of Lenox, files an appeal with the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Generally, the ABCC acts within a couple of weeks on such appeals, Miyares said. But the filing does not delay the two, 10-day penalties ahead of a hearing, he pointed out.
Scrimo said no decision has been made on whether to appeal, explaining that it would be up to his client. Appeals to the ABCC must be filed within five days.
"I would anticipate that we may file one," Scrimo said after the meeting adjourned.
Without an appeal, the 30-day suspension would begin immediately after the two, 10-day suspensions expire.
Prior to the three penalty votes, the Select Board had approved 3-0 a motion that Michaels Restaurant had sold an alcoholic beverage to a minor, in violation of state law. Gillett said he accepted the report of Great Barrington police officers, based on video, that Moriarty had been served by a bartender.
The Selectmen also approved on a 2-0 vote, with Cardillo abstaining, a motion that Bailey, the driver, had been intoxicated when he was served three beers and one shot while at Michaels.
And they approved by 3-0 a motion that Abdalla misled and lied to a police officer during a criminal investigation of the crash in connection with a video surveillance tape that he had erased. Eventually, the material on the tape was retrieved by a police forensics unit.
"This, I find to be the most troubling of the charges," said Shatz. "Any holder of a public license requires a certain degree of integrity. It is clear that he lied and breached his obligations of honesty."
"It's extremely troubling, because it raises the question of whether Mr. Abdalla's word on any matter can be relied upon," Shatz added.
Earlier, Shatz referred to Scrimo's contention that Abdalla had not technically pleaded guilty to charges of withholding evidence from police during a March 31 hearing at Berkshire Superior Court.
He said Judge John Agostini's use of a "continued without a finding" sentence "does not necessarily mean that a person is not guilty, it's just a way of enabling a person upon good behavior to clear their name and their record at a later time."
Shatz added that "in fact, Mr. Abdalla pleaded guilty in this case." Abdalla was sentenced to two years probation for admitting to withholding evidence from the police.
Bailey is serving four years at the Berkshire House of Correction for vehicle homicide, operating under the influence and related charges. His blood alcohol level test registered 0.17, or more than twice the legal maximum of 0.08.
Shatz said a review of the restaurant's record and history since 1998 finds that the restaurant's "assertions that it has been a careful steward of its obligations as a license holder" have not been credible. He also said there have been numerous notations of prior citations from District Court and state ABCC records.
Abdalla acknowledged he had received warning letters from the town in 2002 and 2005 about serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons. He said he had not been called before the Select Board once in 35 years and argued that he considers his establishment a restaurant, not a bar, "and my sales prove that. We work hard, I'm there seven days a week, 365 days a year."
Abdalla, explaining that "I keep my eye on my place, we try our hardest," said, "We can't control everybody. We can't control the drugs that go around, the drinking out in the parking lot. I think we do a pretty good job here."
He added that his most recent OUI "last drink served" statement from the state ABCC was in 2014, and estimated he had five in the past 10 years. Shatz countered there had been at least 10 over a 10-year period. Abdalla then said he would not dispute the figure.
Speaking on behalf of her husband, Kelly Abdalla, who tends bar at Michaels, said that "this family has been in business in this town since 1959" and has operated Michaels for the past 35 years.
"This is a very hard-working family, we have four children and this is how we live, from our restaurant, this is our bread and butter," Kelly Abdalla said. She apologized to the families affected by the "horrific accident," and maintained that "we are responsible business owners."
"We run an honest, clean business. We do not in any way, shape or form condone over-serving. Our bartenders would get fired if we felt there was an issue with them not being honest," Kelly Abdalla said.
"We took this situation very seriously. This is our livelihood. And interference with our liquor license would mean a lot of our bartenders, four single moms, would be possibly out of work," said Kelly Abdalla.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.