Taking of ABC, beer permits sets off court scramble for nightclub

Friday, April 5, 2013 at 3:18pm

Tennessee state law requires establishments that serve liquor by the drink to display their permit “prominently” in the most “conspicuous” place.

But what happens when a person snatches the permit off the wall and takes off? The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission is considering that question after Murfreesboro Pike nightclub Klub Cirok filed suit against the commission on March 28.

Klub Cirok claims that onetime owner James Ferguson sold his stake in the club back to the company a week before he apparently committed suicide last month. Paul Eichel, a former convict who is currently facing a gun charge, is listed as the president of the nightclub, and Joe Savage is the club owner and director.

A day after James Ferguson’s death, Cindy Ferguson showed up at Klub Cirok and tore several permits off the wall without permission. Cindy Ferguson claimed she was only taking what belonged to her husband, according to a police report.

The lawsuit asserts that Cindy Ferguson was actually James Ferguson’s ex-wife.

Cindy Ferguson eventually returned the permits to the downtown offices of the state ABC and the Metro Beer Board. The club declined to prosecute because they assumed they could simply reapply for the permits. The beer board, recognizing the unusual situation, gave Klub Cirok a temporary permit, Savage told The City Paper.

But things didn’t go smoothly with the ABC.

According to the lawsuit, the ABC refused to return the permit and considered Klub Cirok’s license “temporarily void.” The lawsuit also attached an email from ABC staff attorney Ginna Winfree that was sent to Klub Cirok’s suppliers notifying them of the void permit.

The suit claims that ABC interim director Keith Bell acknowledged acting outside his authority by temporarily voiding the permit. But after hearing an explanation of the mishap at a monthly ABC meeting, the commission decided not to issue a new permit until a change of ownership request was heard on April 26.

“We went before the commission and one of the main guys said ‘Look, I’ve been in this 20 years, and my interpretation of the ABC board is we are business friendly. I don’t consider this action business friendly,’ ” said Savage, a Nashville-based entertainer.

The lawsuit asks for punitive damages and a temporary injunction permitting Klub Cirok to sell alcoholic beverages. The ABC declined a request for comment from The City Paper.

Savage said Klub Cirok has already lost more than $25,000 in business from liquor by the drink sales. An affidavit filed in court claims that Klub Cirok had to lay off 38 employees due to the lack of alcohol sales.

“They said, ‘This is under investigation.’ So in the meantime, you’re going to put us out of business?” Savage said.

Eichel, the club’s current president, has a history of problems with the law. He was proprietor of two previous clubs on Murfreesboro Pike — Yea Baby’s and Silverado’s — which were both declared public nuisances and shut down.

Eichel, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on a narcotics charge in 1976, was in possession of a gun when police came to padlock Yea Baby’s in October 2012. He is currently facing a felon-in-possession charge in federal court. Court filings indicate that he pleaded not guilty to the count.

James Ferguson, who died on March 18, was also a co-owner of Yea Baby’s along with Eichel, his son Joshua Eichel and Robert J. Ray. Joshua Eichel was indicted on federal marijuana trafficking charges last month and is currently detained, according to court records.

Davidson County Chancellor Russell Perkins set a temporary injunction hearing in the Klub Cirok case for April 9.

1 Comment on this post:

By: Rocket99 on 4/8/13 at 8:17

So, if the ex-wife of the guy who killed himself had not ripped the permits off the wall and taken them to the ABC, they'd still be operating while the change of ownership was being processed? If so, the ABC is on very shaky ground and probably should cough up some money.

One rumor I've heard is that Metro is looking for a way to shut that place down.