Jignesh "Jiggy" Sheth's plan was to get a liquor license to expand his west side Smoker King shop. On Sept. 17, he went before the Colorado Springs Liquor and Beer Licensing Board to make his case.
According to the minutes from the meeting, the 35-year-old told the board that he wanted to more than double the size of his current store, from which he's sold an assortment of loose tobacco and cigarettes since 2003. He'd already negotiated a lease to rent out an adjacent storefront in the Uintah Street strip mall.
He acknowledged having no experience selling alcohol, but said he'd take appropriate training courses, as required by city law. He provided a survey of the surrounding neighborhood that he had commissioned, which found that 407 people favored a new liquor store while only seven people opposed it.
The board heard his case and voted to deny his application 3-1, with three members of the board absent. Minutes from the meeting point to concerns with Sheth's "finances, moral character and the ability to operate in accordance with the law."
Sheth's attorney, Adam Stapen, argued to the board that his client had in fact included the appropriate documentation to address these issues, and that "there was no testimony contrary to the applicant's relating to moral character ... and finances."
He requested that the board allow Sheth to plead his case again, the board relented, listened, and then voted him down again, 2-2.
Now, Sheth is suing the city. He has refused to speak to the Independent, citing his lawyer's advice, but in his lawsuit insists that none of his opposition presented "valid or legitimate objections." Further, the suit suggests there was another possible motivation for the board to deny his application.
Glenn Schultz was one of eight people who spoke in opposition to Sheth's application. He has owned and operated Queen Liquor — in Uintah Gardens Shopping Center, only a block east of Sheth's shop — for 25 years, along with his wife and daughter.
And that daughter, Kit Abrams, is a member of the liquor board.
The 85-year-old Schultz says he sees no conflict of interest.
"She had no say," he contends. "And I think that she is about as ethical as anyone I have ever known. Now, she happens to be my daughter, I realize. But she has no way of influencing the board members."
Abrams was required to recuse herself from the discussion surrounding Sheth's application, and she indeed left the room for that part of the meeting. Abrams couldn't speak to the Independent herself because city board members cannot talk to the media about pending lawsuits, according to City Clerk Kathryn Young.
"This is a quasi-judicial matter," Young says. "That jeopardizes the person coming before the board, and it jeopardizes the board. And if they spoke to the media, they would not be able to sit."
Young points out, however, that it's not unusual for board members to work in the industry they regulate; in fact, it's actually a requirement on some boards. The city only requires that liquor board members be Colorado Springs residents and aware of applicable laws.
It doesn't strike City Councilor Bernie Herpin as a conflict of interest, either. Abrams, he says, "is just one of a number who sits on that board."
Schultz says his main objection is that the west side already has plenty of liquor outlets, and adds that 20 or so concerned neighbors showed up to oppose the licensing. (According to the minutes, eight spoke before the board.) Their issues ranged from the impact of another high-traffic business on Uintah to doubts about Sheth's ability to operate a liquor store.
"He has to be morally correct in his background," Schultz says. "He has to be educated in the rules and regulations. There are a number of criteria within the liquor law that he has to abide by ... and I think that one of the major reasons that the board rejected his license, was that not all the criteria were met."
However, in his conversation with The Independent, Schultz didn't provide any specific worries relating to Sheth's moral background, and no specific complaints were noted in the minutes from the meeting.
In his complaint, Sheth alleges there was no legitimate reason for denial. His lawyer, Adam Stapen, reiterates: "Jiggy, who is the owner, has a more than sufficient moral character record and reputation to hold a liquor license in the state of Colorado, let alone the city of Colorado Springs."
If the board were concerned with Sheth's ability to operate a liquor store, it would be easy enough to stipulate that license approval be contingent upon receiving proper training.
"If the license is approved by Colorado Springs, it takes a while before the state liquor license is processed," says Stapen. "And it takes a while before an operation like Jiggy's operation can modify the premises. Buy the coolers, do what it needs to do to set it up.
"So it's during that time that the training occurs. And that is a common, standard course of dealing."