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TABC puts kibosh on New Year at Blue Gene's

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera started off the New Year with one less bar open for the business of ringing in 2012. The signs on the front of Blue Gene's Cowboy Sports Bar proclaimed: "Closed for remodeling." While renovations at the watering hole may be in the offing, the closure actually came at the insistence of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).

According to TABC Agent Oliver Johnson, Blue Gene's will remain closed for 26 days, beginning Wednesday, Dec. 21, due to narcotics and paraphernalia that were discovered on the premises last February. "The narcotics were found in a place where we could reasonably say only employees could access," Johnson said in an interview.

A state agency, the TABC oversees all phases of the alcoholic beverage industry in the state. The commission's duties include regulating sales, taxation, importation, manufacturing, transporting and advertising of alcoholic beverages. Additionally, the Alcoholic Beverage Code authorizes the TABC to grant, refuse, suspend or cancel permits and licenses in all phases of the alcoholic beverage industry.

According to Capt. Charlie Hicks of the Bandera County Sheriff's Office, last February, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration executed a probable cause search warrant at the home of Blue Gene's manager Laurie King, 42, where they found evidence of drug use. After the drugs were discovered at King's home, a second search warrant was obtained for the bar at 807 Main Street in Bandera.

Methamphetamine and marijuana, as well as inhalant paraphernalia, were also found at that location, according to a BCSO report.

King was arrested and charged with felony possession of less than a gram of controlled substance - specifically methamphetamine.

BCSO Chief Deputy Richard Smith said DEA agents had contacted him after King's name came up frequently on a federal Pseudoephedrine (PSE) Schedule V Transaction Log or, in law enforcement parlance, a "pseudo log."

This computer database records the names of everyone purchasing products with the ingredients ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed Triple Action, Robitussin D and Nyquil D, among others.

After receiving the information from the feds, BCSO began its own investigation. Local law enforcement officers who participated with DEA agents in the search of King's home in Medina included BCSO Investigators Charlie Hicks, Mike Bolton and Danny Sanchez; Sgt. Gerald "Jerry" Johnson; Sgt. Jose Baretto; Deputy AJ Griffith; and Precinct 3 Constable Don Walters.

According to Smith, evidence did not indicate that King had manufactured methamphetamine either at her residence in Medina or at Blue Gene's. However, he speculated that she might have served as a buyer or runner for meth manufacturers.

"Typically, a runner supplies a cooker with the ephedrine or pseudoephedrine that's critical to the manufacturer of meth," Smith explained. "Then, if the cooker makes a 100 grams of meth, the runner might take 30 grams as their share. In turn, they cut the meth with a number of things, including baby formula and talc. That way the return on their money can be doubled."

At that time, Smith anticipated - correctly, as it turned out - that agents with the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission would launch their own investigation. He added, "They can revoke the license or impose a fine or apply an injunction against the bar."

According to Johnson, who is stationed in Hondo, his colleague TABC Agent Miguel Campos was in charge of the subsequent investigation regarding the drugs found at Blue Gene's.

"We typically wait until the sheriff's office completes its own investigation before beginning one of our own," Johnson explained. "Then we'll pick up the evidence they uncovered as well as a copy of their report." He said TABC takes very seriously the discovery of drugs at a bar that might be linked to employees.

As in the past, Blue Gene's owner Gene Allen Rhodes opted to have his liquor license temporarily suspended rather than pay a substantial fine.

On its website, the TABC website lists a string of violations that have occurred at Blue Gene's since 2003, ranging from possession of an alcoholic beverage unfit for consumption and failure to post a required sign to allowing an intoxicated licensee on the premises and violations of the cash law.

At the time of King's arrest in February, Rhodes indicated he would terminate her employment at the bar.

However, according to Hicks, she was still serving as manager during the bar's latest closure.

"Ms. King has been indicted on a drug charge," Hicks said, adding, "We're still waiting to see if the district attorney intends to bring the case to trial."