Of 34,478 inspections conducted by Ohio Investigative Unit agents while health orders were in place, only 415 inspections resulted in subpoenas.
AKRON, Ohio – Editor’s Note: The video at the top of this story was originally released in August 2020. The following story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal.
Thursday’s lounge in Akron was fined $ 25,000 in lieu of revoking its liquor license for violating health regulations. Aftermath in Columbus was fined $ 20,000 in lieu of license withdrawal.
The Electric Co. of Mansfield was fined $ 10,000 in lieu of a 21-day liquor license suspension, and Sky Mediterranian in Parma Heights was also fined $ 10,000 in lieu of a license withdrawal. These were the highest individual penalties for Ohio companies for violating pandemic health ordinances.
Mario Nemr, owner of the now closed lounge on Thursday, told Cleveland.com that the COVID-19 pandemic was the “nail in the coffin” for the historic Akron bar.
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Closed Thursday last August, days after being cited twice for violating COVID-19 health ordinances for bars and restaurants; once because of disorderly activity or “creating a condition that poses a risk of disease” and once because of the sale of beer after the last call for alcohol sales introduced by Governor Mike DeWine late last July.
In October 2020, the Ohio Liquor Control Commission, a board of governors that will impose sanctions if the companies are found to be breaking rules, upheld the two allegations against Thursday’s.
The Bar Association received its penalty: loss of liquor license or payment of $ 25,000 to the state, the highest individual fine the commission has imposed on any company for violating the state’s health regulations.
According to the commission on pandemic-related cases, the fine was never paid.
The vast majority of Ohio companies adhered to pandemic health ordinances. Of 34,478 law enforcement inspections conducted with the Ohio Investigative Unit while the health ordinance was in place, only 415 inspections resulted in subpoenas.
The Ohio Capital Journal reviewed more than 300 cases heard by the Ohio Liquor Control Commission regarding violations of the COVID-19 health code. The cases ranged from March 2020 to May 2021. Here’s what we found:
Over the course of the state’s COVID-19 lockdown, OIU agents issued 613 quotes related to pandemic health order regulations to 345 different companies across Ohio.
Companies in Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, and Columbus were responsible for more than a quarter of all health violation reports.
The majority of penalized companies were cited for just one or two pandemic health ordinance violations during a single OIU investigation. More than half of the quotes issued were related to misconduct, which meant the company had created unsafe conditions for customers, including failure to comply with the rules set out in the Dine Safe Ohio Regulation, such as: B. Employees who do not wear face covering or parties of more than 10.
Almost a quarter of the quotes concerned a curfew violation; DeWine issued a final call for the sale of alcoholic beverages at 10 p.m. in July 2020, which remained in effect until February of this year. Several bars have been cited repeatedly for curfew violations, with each subsequent fine being greater than the last.
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In most cases, the Commission offered companies the option of paying a fine instead of temporarily suspending their alcohol license. The total fines imposed during the reporting period totaled $ 371,650. The average fine was $ 1,419.
By early July, companies for violating health authority regulations had paid fines worth $ 251,100 to the state as a fine. The remaining $ 120,550 in fines was served as a punishment.
There is no set schedule for fines, but the most outrageous violations resulted in hefty fines of up to $ 25,000 or, in certain cases, permanent revocation of a company’s liquor license.
37 companies received fines of $ 2,000 or more for violating pandemic health regulations. Four companies received individual fines of $ 10,000 or more: Thursday’s Lounge of $ 25,000; Aftermath at $ 20,000; and Sky Mediterranian and The Electric Co. for $ 10,000 each.
OLCC data lists six cases where the commission revoked a company’s alcohol license for violating pandemic health regulations. Typically, in these cases, the company was cited multiple times for health ordinance violations before its license was revoked.
OIU agents also brought criminal charges against six companies for operating without a liquor license.
Sixteen companies were the target of three or more OIU investigations that resulted in subpoenas, and 24 companies received four or more subpoenas for violating the Pandemic Health Ordinance.
Akron’s Highland Tavern received more citations than any other company during the reporting period, with nine pandemic health ordinance violations and two unrelated violations. The bar has been charged repeatedly with curfew violations and misconduct, and last October became the first company to have its liquor license revoked.
Staff at the bar told OIU agents they would not respect the curfew and during an investigation, agents saw a lack of social distancing, staff without masks, large gatherings and bartenders selling and serving drinks after the curfew, reported News 5 Cleveland.
Sky Mediterranean, Parma Heights, and The Electric Co., Mansfield, were both the subject of five different OIU investigations that resulted in quotes related to pandemic health regulations, the largest number of investigations of any company cited.
Between last October and February, Sky Mediterranean was cited five times for misconduct and four times for violating the curfew. The commission fined the company five different fines totaling $ 31,000, all of which were paid.
Since last September and February, The Electric Co., formerly known as Planet Rock, has also been cited five times for misconduct and once for obstructing an inspection. The commission fined the bar $ 1,400 that was paid and a fine of $ 10,000 that was not paid, according to commission data. The Electric Co. was suspended from June 21 to July 11, according to a press release from the commission for the hearing.
Colton Ulery, co-owner of The Electric Co., said the state’s punishment only tells half the story. In an interview with The Richland Source, Ulery said he felt torn between the responsibility of following the pandemic health orders and being able to pay the bills and had made the active decision to violate the orders, to keep his business afloat.
“When they did ‘No Serving’ after 10 p.m., we followed suit. When he put the curfew … we’re only busy after 10am … either we literally had to close our doors or we just had to risk it and do it. So that’s what we did. If we closed at 10 p.m., we literally make less than $ 100 a day. There’s no way to do that, ”Ulery told The Richland Source.
Read more from the Ohio Capital Journal.