Whitesburg KY
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Starlite owner pleads guilty to 9 counts

License to sell drinks reinstated pending action by state agency

permitted to sell alcoholic drinks again after its owner and an employee pleaded guilty to 12 misdemeanor charges of violating the state’s liquor-by-the-drink laws.

Starlite Cafe owner Anthony Cowden, 56, of Whitesburg, pleaded guilty in Letcher District Court last week to six counts of extending credit for the purchase of alcoholic drinks and three counts of operating disorderly premises. Starlite employee Vanessa Creech Cruz, 32, also of Whitesburg, pleaded guilty to two counts of selling alcoholic beverages to a minor and to one count of selling alcoholic beverages to a patron who was already intoxicated.

Cowden and Cruz entered the guilty pleas during a settlement conference on March 7, said Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling, who prosecuted the case. Also taking part in the conference were Whitesburg attorney Daniel Dotson, who represented Cowden and Cruz, and John Adkins, an investigator with the Kentucky Office of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC). Letcher District Judge Jim Wood ordered both defendants to pay a $250 fine for each count to which they pleaded guilty. Wood also handed down 30-day jail sentences for each of the 12 counts, but probated the terms for two years under the condition there be no other vio lations of state liquor laws by Cowden and Cruz.

The two were among several persons either cited or arrested late on the night of February 2 after ABC investigators and state and local police officers entered the restaurant. The visit occurred after the ABC office received numerous complaints about the manner in which the Starlite was doing business under a relatively new Kentucky law that allows voters to approve the alcohol sales in some restaurants.

Cowden was originally charged with nine counts of violating the law that prohibits the extension of credit for the purchase of alcoholic beverages, KRS 244.300, but three of the counts were dismissed last week after he was able to show that three patrons had walked out of the restaurant without paying their bill.

Two of the disorderly premises charges to which Cowden pleaded guilty were related to the selling of alcohol to two patrons who were already intoxicated, and to the presence of another customer who was in possession of a controlled substance (hydrocodone). The third count involved music from a live band playing inside the restaurant being heard outside the limit of 400 feet away from the restaurant.

County Attorney Bolling said complaints about the loud music came from residents living in Caudilltown, a West Whitesburg neighborhood located behind Parkway Plaza shopping center where the Starlite is located.

A fourth count of maintaining disorderly premises was dismissed after authorities determined Cowden had no control over a fight involving two females.

Cowden now faces a hearing before the state ABC Board to determine whether he will be able to keep his license to sell alcohol at the Starlite.

Meanwhile, the City of Whitesburg has lifted its suspension of the Starlite’s alcohol license pending the outcome of the hearing before the ABC Board in Frankfort.

City ABC officials reinstated the license after Cowden agreed to raise his drink prices from 99 cents to a minimum of $2.50, and to serve alcohol only between the hours of noon and midnight.

The agreement also requires Cowden to post an employee at the door to check identifications and to agree not to allow any customer under 21 to be in areas of the restaurant where alcohol is sold. Cowden must also permit city police officers to enter the restaurant every 60 to 90 minutes to check to see if any patrons are intoxicated, and he must agree to pay all taxes due the city and make all of his records available for inspection at any time.

The Starlite was the second of five restaurants to receive a license to sell alcohol after Whitesburg voters overwhelmingly approved restaurant-only alcohol sales last April. Officials say no complaints have been filed against the other four restaurants that sell drinks.

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