The city issued a 200-day suspension to Mo’s Low Cost Liquors, a troubled bar and liquor store on Main Street that has become a crime magnet in the Lackawanna neighborhood, for an assortment of liquor license violations on Wednesday night.
Police cited the business located at 620 Main Street 17 times between May 2017 through May 2018 for drug activity, selling to minors, selling hard liquor after 10 p.m., and other violations.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control board held a hearing to resolve the violations. At Wednesday’s hearing, both the business owner, Diogenesis Moya, and his attorney, Theresa Richardson, did not accept responsibility for the problems the business has created in the neighborhood.
Police officers called to testify described the business as a destabilizing force in the area.
“A lot of individuals in and out, coming out with alcohol,” said police officer Richard McAusland.
Longtime police officer Cesar Heyaime described the location as the only trouble spot in his post.
“There’s a lot of people hanging outside. It’s a drug infested area,” said Heyaime. Even while the hearing was taking place, a dozen people were in front of the business. Some were blocking the entrance to the business while others were on the sidewalk.
On several occasions police recovered drugs from people inside the business.
Police officer Sterluis Diaz described the business as a one-stop shop for alcohol and illegal drugs. As a plainclothes officer, she went inside in Jan. 2018 to purchase a bottle of Remy Martin after 10 p.m., state law prohibits selling hard liquor after 10 p.m., the store sold it to her.
Inside the business she also purchased marijuana.
“Wow,” remarked Frank Soto, prosecutor for the board.
In another occasion, police sent in a 20-year-old officer to buy liquor. The business did not ask for identification and the young officer was able to make a purchase.
Sometimes drug dealers used the store as a refuge from police. For example, police officer Saleh Judeh saw a suspect beckoning people outside the business. When the suspect saw police, he went inside the business and discarded 48 Ecstasy pills, 18 glassines of heroin, 14 bags of marijuana, and cocaine.
Judeh arrested the suspect and seized the drugs. Illegal drugs and alcohol have created a dangerous mix at the intersection. In 2018 so far, there were three non-fatal shootings at the Main-Weiss intersection. Drugs, shootings, and loud music have made living near the business a nightmare, leading residents to complain to elected officials.
Mayor Andre Sayegh and several council members held a press conference earlier in the month to designate the area as a crime hotspot, forcing problem establishments like Moya’s bar to close at midnight. The business curfew designation is pending before the council – a public hearing has been scheduled for next Tuesday.
Councilman Luis Velez, who verbally sparred with Richardson, urged the board to revoke the bar’s license. He told the three-member board that it has to be responsible to the community which has been clamoring for action against the business.
Richardson and Moya downplayed the problems at the hearing.
“Is Moe’s selling drugs?” asked Richardson. Moya wasn’t; however, he has allowed the business to become a “danger to the residents of that area.” She said the business curfew elsewhere has moved bad elements to her client’s location.
“All of us know that’s the reality of Paterson throughout the city,” said Moya through an interpreter. Police have said his business is responsible for creating that reality at the Main-Weiss intersection.
Both also appeared to suggest conditions have improved in the area. Soto asked sergeant Eric Montoya whether the condition has abated in the area.
“No, sir, it did not,” replied Montoya.
Moya claimed he shoos the crowd from the front of his business. “They move and then come back,” he said.
Moya suggested he could not control what takes place outside his business.
“How about the stuff within your control like selling alcohol after 10 p.m.? How about selling alcohol to minors? Those things are within your control, but you are doing nothing about it,” said Soto.
The business has been cited and suspended many times. Every few months it appears before the board to answer violations.
Soto asked if Moya cooperates with police by providing surveillance footage of the troublemakers.
“Always,” replied Moya.
Montoya shook his head in the negative.
Soto asked if police ask his business for footage.
“Nope,” replied Moya.
“You just testified you turn them over all the time,” remarked Soto.
Moya’s inconsistent testimony and his casual attitude at the hearing led Soto to assert he had a “wanton disregard” for state and municipal laws regulating liquor businesses.
The board dismissed a number of the charges and sustained others. The board issued a 200-day suspension that starts on Jul. 30, 2018.
After the hearing, Richardson vowed to appeal the board’s decision with the state. An appeal will mean the business remains open until the state board renders a decision.
“I think almost seven months will teach him a lesson on how to run a business and do the right thing,” said Velez, 5th Ward councilman.
The business is located in the 2nd Ward.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, agreed with Velez.
Both Velez and Cotton attended the hearing.