State law regarding alcohol sales changed after problems with Ypsilanti Township Dairy Mart
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
During a six-month period between December 2009 and June 2010, undercover Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department sting operations caught employees at a Grove Road Dairy Mart selling to minors three times.
That appeared to be enough for the Township to convince the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to revoke the owner’s liquor license, but there was one problem: The three busts had to occur within a 12-month calendar year, not a consecutive 12-month period.
After lengthy proceedings at the local and state levels, the owner, Saleh Hamati, was allowed to keep his license because of the state law’s wording. He had to pay several minor fines and had his license suspended several times for his offenses.
That led Ypsilanti Township to lobby the state to change the law, and on April 12, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Senate bill 874, which states that stores selling alcohol to minors within any consecutive 12-month period can have their liquor license revoked.
The law is not retroactive so it will not affect Hamati, but Mike Radzik, director of Ypsilanti Township’s office of community standards, said the township is still pleased that the law has been changed.
It brings to a close the latest chapter in what became a frustrating, protracted ordeal for local officials in dealing with the problematic party store and gas station.
Aside from the sale of alcohol to minors, Sheriff’s Department deputies were dispatched to the location 57 times in 2009 and 73 times in 2010. Deputies made arrests for crimes that included robbery, assault, vagrancy, drug possession, loitering, disorderly conduct and more. Two men were shot in the parking lot on Jan. 7, 2011.
The township had also cited Hamati for numerous code violations at his Grove Road and Textile Road Dairy Mart locations.
Because of all the issues, the Township hoped Hamati would have his liquor license revoked by the LCC and recommended the commission do so at a penalty hearing for the sales to minors. Instead, the LCC only suspended Hamati’s license for 60 days.
But, after the penalty hearing, an LCC commissioner told township officials they could independently request the LCC revoke Hamati's license.
That process required the Township Board of Trustees to hold an informal hearing with Hamati and his lawyers. At the July 26, 2011 hearing, Hamati’s lawyers argued that the state statute said a license could only be revoked if there were three violations within an actual calendar year, between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31.
Ypsilanti Township officials had anticipated that argument and contacted the LCC prior to the hearing. LCC officials originally said that the language was intended to mean a sale to a minor in any 12-month period, but a new LCC Board appointed by Snyder reversed that interpretation.
That reversal led to Hamati retaining his license.
On Aug. 2, one day after the LCC informed the township of its change of position, an employee at Hamati's Textile location was accused of selling alcohol to a minor.
In September, the Washtenaw County sheriff's department said it caught an employee at the Grove location selling tobacco to minors during an undercover sting operation, but there have been no further sales of alcohol to minors.
Radzik said Hamati met with township officials in December and expressed his intent to sell the Grove Road business to a responsible owner, though Hamati would continue to own the building. Radzik said there hasn’t yet been a liquor license transfer.
Hamati couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.
The township’s lobbyist, Kurt Profit, took the issue to the Michigan Senate Regulatory Reform Committee, which is where text amendments to regulatory laws start. Sate Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, serves on the committee and was a co-sponsor of the bill, which passed unanimously in the State House and Senate.
“Kurt worked his magic,” Radzik said. “Going forward, the law is as it should have been all along.”