TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

October 14, 2013

Ernie’s Spirits liquor store in Corbin waits for its fate

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer

What could happen to a Corbin liquor store that’s yet to open may not be decided until early next year.

The decision on whether to award Ernie’s Spirits a package alcohol license now is in the hands of Susan Durant, a special hearing officer, and ultimately the board of the state ABC — the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

“At the end of the Sept. 25th hearing, the Hearing Officer gave the parties time to file briefs. The Department (the ABC) was given 15 days to file it’s brief. Ernie’s was given seven days to file a response brief, and the Department was given seven days to file a reply brief. After all briefs are field, the case will be submitted to the Hearing Officer. The Hearing Officer has 60 days following submittal to file a Recommended Order. The (ABC) Board has 90 days following to file its Final Order,” the ABC’s Sam Crain said in an email Monday.

The state ABC Board is made up of Commissioner Frederick Higdon, Distilled Spirits Administrator Tony Dehner, and Malt Beverage Administrator Stephanie Stumbo.

During that hearing, Kevin Durham, the owner of Ernie’s Spirits, was called to the witness stand. He answered questions regarding his package liquor license application in Corbin in 2012, which ultimately led to trouble with state regulators.

In particular, a lease turned in to the ABC as part of Ernie’s Spirits’ retail beer license application in May 2012, and a revised lease on their property at 25 RJV Drive that was turned into the ABC in Sept. 2012, were found to be false and fraudulent by the ABC.

In a Times-Tribune story on April 30, Stumbo said, “The Department learned in a subsequent investigation that Matuse did not exist when the original lease was executed and submitted as part of the application. The original lease thus was false and fraudulent. Further, Matuse did not own the property when the revised lease was submitted on Sept. 25, 2012. Records at the Whitley County Clerk’s Office show that R.J.V. Properties LLC did not sell the property to Matuse until Oct. 4, 2012. Kevin Durham signed the deed as a member of Matuse. Since Kevin Durham is the principal member of Ernie’s Spirits as well, Ernie’s Spirits had actual knowledge that the May 1, 2012 (lease) was false and fraudulent as was the Sept. 25, 2012 revised lease.”

As a result of the lease issue, Ernie’s Spirits was denied a retail package beer license by the state in April of this year.

At one point, Durham told the hearing he just made a mistake.

Former ABC Distilled Spirits Administrator Danny Reed was also a witness at the hearing, held Sept. 25 in Frankfort. Reed was in charge during the time of the Ernie’s Spirits application in 2012.

Previous hearings were held in Frankfort on Aug. 2 and Aug. 7. Crain added no other hearing is scheduled in the case.

On July 1, 2012, Ernie’s Spirits, Tri County Liquor (now Liquor Mart of Corbin) and Liquor King were chosen by the ABC as the winning applicants awarded the three retail package liquor licenses allocated to Corbin. Liquor Mart of Corbin was the first to open on Sept. 28. Liquor King opened with limited hours Oct. 25 and began operating with regular hours on Nov. 1.

The building to house Ernie’s Spirits was completed earlier this spring, but hasn’t opened for business.

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