After charges alleging violations of Statesboro’s alcohol ordinance, the owner of Gata’s on Lanier Drive has surrendered his alcohol license to the City of Statesboro and has agreed not to apply for a new one for at least two years.
Farid Gharachorloo, the owner of GATA’as Sports Bar & Grill operating under the name GATAs II, agreed to surrender his alcohol license to the City of Statesboro during an administrative hearing Wednesday night. Appearing before Administrative Judge Tom Peterson, Gharachorloo initially challenged his summons to appear on allegations of operating security without a permit and for allowing persons under the age of 21 inside an over 21 establishment after 9:00 p.m, before ultimately waving a proverbial white flag to both the City of Statesboro and the Georgia Department of Revenue.
Gharachorloo told Judge Peterson that he received a summons dated October 9 on October 19 with a different charge, furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21, detailed in the letter. Gharachorloo said he was later emailed a different letter with the correct explanation, improper security permitting and curfew limits for those under 21, but did not have time to meet with his attorney on the new explanation ahead of the hearing. City Attorney Cain Smith said the letter had been issued with the correct code section for the Statesboro alcohol ordinance but the description of the violation is what was wrong. Smith also stated that the alcohol ordinance only requires summons to include the date, time and location of the hearing, not the details of the allegation.
Ultimately, Judge Peterson agreed with Smith, citing the ordinance, saying Gharachorloo was not given “perfect” notification, but sufficient notification was provided in compliance with the ordinance and the hearing would proceed. When Gharachorloo asked if he would have an opportunity to consult with an attorney, Peterson said that the opportunity was already given by way of the summons.
The hearing was related to an alcohol compliance check from August 21, 2017 in which Statesboro Police Officer Eric Short, the department’s Alcohol Compliance Officer, said he went to GATAs around 9:20 p.m. Upone arrival, Short found crowds of people outside the establishment, many of whom appeared to be under the age of 21. Short also said there were security officials outside the door of GATA’s, sitting at a sign-in table wearing yellow shirts with the word ‘SECURITY’ embroidered on the breast. Short said he is responsible for authorizing security permits in the City of Statesboro and knew that the establishment did not have a permit for the security.
The employees of Georgia Coastal Security Company out of Savannah were there to assist greek life organizations in complaince with rules that require security at events where larger numbers of sororities and fraternities gather. The agencies, however, must be permitted with the City of Statesboro.
Short also said the table outside GATA’s has sign-in sheets for Georgia Southern sorority and fraternity members which include the name of the patron as well as their age. Short said he could see multiple members of the greek groups were under the age of 21 and ultimately, it was determined that of the 139 people signed in, 52 were under 21. Statesboro’s alcohol ordinance requires establishments that operate in this capacity to be 21+ after 9:00 p.m. Additionally, Officer Short provided a photo of a sign on the door of GATA’s that read ‘No one under 21 after 8:00 P.M. No exceptions.’
GATA’s previously cited for alcohol ordinance violations, with one of the more recent actions in December 2016 which led to a 30-day suspension of the alcohol license. While Gharachorloo has paid no fines to the City of Statesboro, he said he has paid upwards of $3,000 to the Georgia Department of Revenue for the violations. Deputy Chief Rob Bryan said that the previous city ordinance did not have a fine structure in place. The 8:00 p.m. cut off is a time GATA’s voluntarily enforced upon itself last year after the incident with furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.
After almost an hour of discussion of the violation and its technicalities, Smith was preparing to show the body cam footage from Officer Short’s compliance check when Gharachorloo requested a recess to speak with city attorney Smith, which was granted by Judge Peterson.
After two minutes, Smith returned to report that Gharachorloo was willing to surrender his state alcohol license to the Department of Revenue immediately, as Agent Andrew Williams was present to represent the agency. Under Georgia law, an establishment must have a license from the Georgia Department of Revenue and the city or county in which it operates, so without a state license, the Statesboro license would be invalid.
Nevertheless, Judge Peterson, not having jurisdiction over the state license, asked Gharachorloo if he would agree to surrender his City of Statesboro alcohol license by Friday, October 27 at 5:00 p.m. with the stipulation that he could not apply for an alcohol license in the City of Statesboro for at least two years. Gharachorloo immediately said “never again.”
“I don’t want to serve these kids anymore,” Gharachorloo said. “The technology these kids have…They have fake driver’s licenses that are passing the scanner we have.” Gharachorloo also said he has not been open since October 18 and has plans to make the establishment a restaurant with a drive-thru.
No additional fines will be owed to the City of Statesboro under the deal to surrender the license as the the surrender was considered ‘a harsh enough punishment,’ according to Judge Peterson.