Metro

Shark Bar and Grille retains operating licenses for now

Mayor Jorge Elorza investigates restaurant’s case, aims to nullify licenses obtained through bribery

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2015

Shark Bar and Grille, a popular restaurant on Thayer Street, allegedly obtained its liquor license by bribing Gordon Fox, former Rhode Island Speaker of the House for the General Assembly.

A Superior Court decision Monday granted Shark Bar and Grille temporary receivership status — putting the establishment in the hands of a designated lawyer — which allows the Thayer Street business to keep its liquor license for now. In a statement after the ruling, Mayor Jorge Elorza declared his intention to “aggressively” pursue the matter until the restaurant’s licenses are void.

Gordon Fox, former Speaker of the House for the General Assembly, accepted a bribe of $52,500 from Shark Bar in exchange for a liquor license in 2008, when he was vice chair of the Providence Board of Licenses.

“We believe that … the licenses were obtained under illicit and likely illegal conditions and therefore are not valid,” said Evan England, Elorza’s press secretary. Elorza maintains that the board should make clear that the licenses were never legally valid, so rather than revoking the licenses, the board should declare them void.

A meeting Monday to discuss the city administration’s petition was cut short when lawyers for the bar’s owners — Raymond Hugh and Bahij Buotros — requested the appointment of a court receiver. Associate Justice Michael Silverstein granted this request, appointing lawyer Stephen Del Sesto as the receiver. By temporarily placing Del Sesto in control of the bar, the Superior Court effectively paused all efforts to pursue the nullification of its permits.

The lawyers representing the bar’s owners both stated that the board has no basis to declare the licenses void. Anthony Traini, Boutros’ lawyer, said the city administration’s approach is “speculative” and argued that because a five-year statute of limitations on bribery expired in 2013, it would not be possible for the board to revoke Shark Bar’s licenses, the Providence Journal reported Monday. Neither owner has faced charges along with Fox, who pled guilty March 3 to federal charges of accepting bribes, wire fraud and filing a false tax return and now faces at least three years in federal prison.

After Fox admitted his guilt, Elorza filed a petition calling on the board to void all of Shark Bar’s licenses. These include the liquor license, a food license, a license to stay open until 2 a.m. on certain days, a holiday sales license and a tobacco sales license, the Providence Journal reported.

Despite the Superior Court’s decision, Elorza is determined that punitive measures must be taken against those involved in the bribery. “Public corruption at any level of government is unacceptable, and I want to send a strong signal that there will be no tolerance for it,” he said in a March 30 press release. “I hope that the Superior Court will grant relief from today’s decision and allow the License Board to decide on the petition to void the Shark Bar’s licenses.”

The city administration intends to ensure that the board takes action, England said. “Right now, as a condition of the receivership status, all actions against the business are stayed. The solicitor’s office will petition the court for relief from the stay so that it can proceed with hearing the petition to void,” he said.

Mili Mitra ’18 said she believes Elorza is justified in pursuing the voiding of all of Shark Bar’s licenses. “I don’t think it’s fair that the bar is keeping its license when it was acquired through bribery,” said Mitra, a Herald opinions columnist. “Frankly, I agree with Mayor Elorza — the license should be made void.”

But Namgyal Gyaltshen ’18 said she fears that letting Shark Bar off the hook might pave the way for more corruption on Thayer Street. “I think Mayor Elorza has a point,” she said. “Ultimately what you want to do here is to discourage other businesses that might try to do the same. If you don’t void Shark Bar’s license, it just sets the precedent for similar cases … in the future.”