Mama’s Country Showcase: Request for alcohol license renewal denied

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The Spalding County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to deny the application for renewal of a 2015 alcoholic beverage license submitted by Justin Wynne, the owner of Mama’s Country Showcase located at 2700 North Expressway.
Wynne’s application request included the on-site service of beer, wine and liquor.
During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, Wynne addressed commissioners and stated that while he was aware the recommendation was to deny his request, he hoped they would consider approval.
Once the agenda item was read, Spalding County Manager William Wilson referred commissioners to information they had been provided regarding Wynne’s conviction in Spalding County Superior Court in reference to illegal gambling at Mama’s Country Showcase.
Wilson also referenced an email from Wynne’s attorney, Edward Bullard that was received prior to the meeting.
In that email, Bullard wrote, “I know you have left the office already. I just received a message that the alcohol license for renewal for Mama’s Country Showcase is tonight. I also heard that the county is recommending denial.
That case has been completely resolved. Mr. Justin Wynne entered a plea to a misdemeanor, paid a fine and did a small amount of community service. The plea was to violation of the Georgia Redemption Act. There are no longer any games in the business. This has nothing to do with alcohol at all. When Judge (Mac) Crawford ruled on this he specifically mentioned several times that he did not want for this to have an impact on Mr. Wynne’s ability to operate his business and maintain a business license. Mr. Wynne has already renewed his state license and will have it with him tonight. The way I see it there is no reason for him to be denied based on these circumstances. I hope this helps.”
However, Spalding County Attorney Jim Fortune explained to commissioners that Spalding County ordinance would permit them to deny Wynne’s application based on his misdemeanor conviction.
Fortune cited Section 6-1040 Denial of License, which states in part, “Any person convicted under any federal, state or local law of a misdemeanor, particularly, but not limited to, those involving alcoholic beverages, gambling or tax law violations, if such conviction tends to indicate that the applicant will not maintain the operation for which he is seeking a license hereunder in conformity with federal, state or local laws and regulations, and in the event that the governing authority does not deem such applicant to be a person of good moral character, the granting of such applicant’s license may be denied.”
Fortune told commissioners that Wynne’s probation did not restrict his ability to work in a business that serves alcohol, but that he saw nothing further in the applicant’s court documents that indicated the court had made any further recommendations regarding the alcohol renewal application.
Wynne repeated a statement he had made during citizen comment, saying he was unaware that employees were illegally paying out gambling winnings in cash. However, he conceded that ignorance of the law is no defense for violating it.
He then clarified that he is no longer on probation, and confirmed he was in possession of a state alcohol license.
“I was on probation for a whole day,” Wynne said.
In response to questioning by Commissioner Bart Miller regarding two employees who still face felony charges related to alleged illegal gambling operations, Wynne said he was under the impression the charges against his employees were going to be dropped.
He also reiterated his understanding that his guilty plea would not negatively impact his business.
“The judge told me that pleading out to this charge wouldn’t affect my license at all,” Wynne said. “I had no idea these things carry the weight they did. If they do, they should be banned.”
Despite his previous claims of ignorance of the law, Wynne then admitted knowing it was illegal to pay cash out on winnings.
“They had originally paid out on nights I wasn’t there. Since the Georgia Lottery took them over, I was under the impression – I knew it wasn’t okay to pay out, but I didn’t know it was this big of a deal.”
Capt. Tony Ranieri, of the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division, then responded to some of Wynne’s statements.
“As of 10 o’clock this morning, the cases are still pending. They (the Spalding County District Attorney’s Office) have not dropped their charges and they are not going to drop them,” Ranieri said. “Contrary to what he said, the machines are legal. Paying out cash is illegal.”
Ranieri then countered another of Wynne’s claims, stating, “Wynne was present when his employees were paying out cash.”
Commissioner Gwen Flowers-Taylor then made a motion to deny Wynne’s application, which was seconded by Commissioner Raymond Ray.
Flowers-Taylor then stated, “We were here with Mr. Wynne, I don’t know if it was last year or when, with the Jell-O dancing, and maybe on the first time, you might believe someone was ignorant of the law, but this is your business. I just don’t think you understand the seriousness of allowing this.”
She reminded Wynne of this prior commitment to the Board of Commissioners when he promised nothing would happen again.
“This is your business,” she said. “You’re supposed to make sure the people working for you are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Wynne interjected, requesting approval for “some sort of a probationary period.”
“When I took this place over, it was a ghetto – a shooting, stabbing every night kind of thing. I’ve turned it into something completely different,” he said.
As an example of the good works Mama’s Country Showcase does in the Spalding County community, Wynne cited fund-raising efforts the bar undertook for the family of Griffin Police Department Officer Kevin Jordan, who on May 31 was killed in the line of duty.
“Well, since you brought this up – you brought this up –the person responsible for shooting and killing Officer Jordan had just left your business and was all that intoxicated!” Flowers-Taylor exclaimed.
Wynne responded by alleging the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had absolved Mama’s Country Showcase of having contributed to that incident.
According to Wynne, the GBI investigation concluded that Michael Bowman, the Griffin man facing felony murder in Jordan’s shooting death, was at Mama’s Country Showcase from 9 p.m. May 30 until 4 a.m. May 31, but that he consumed only one beer while at the bar.
Despite Wynne’s claim to that GBI investigative finding, Jordan was shot in the back five times just prior to 2:30 a.m. May 31.
Spalding County officials must now notify Wynne in writing of the application denial, to which he will have 15 days to file an appeal. Once an appeal notification is submitted to county officials, a hearing must be held within 10 days.
The license currently Wynne currently holds will expire at midnight Dec. 31.

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