The six-month saga of a Red Bay convenience store’s efforts to obtain a license to sell alcohol on Sundays took another odd twist late last week when a government employee suddenly appeared at a local lawyer’s office with a $1,000 check.
The money, according to a Sept. 21 email to senior Cayman Islands government officials, appeared to be a “refund” on Peanuts convenience store owner Gary Rutty’s March application for a retail liquor license. The application to sell alcohol on Sundays at the store was rejected, according to the Department of Commerce and Investment employee who arrived at the Ogier firm’s offices, and the government wanted to give Mr. Rutty his money back.
“I refused to accept the refund of the fees as the accompanying letter gave no reason for the purported refusal,” Mr. Rutty’s attorney, Ogier Associate Cline Glidden Jr. said in the Sept. 21 email to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Commerce Minister Joey Hew, DCI Director Ryan Rajkumarsingh and Liquor Licensing Board Chairman Noel Williams.
Mr. Glidden said he received a response to his Sept. 21 email from Mr. Manderson the same day, but he declined to discuss that response with the Cayman Compass. Mr. Manderson said he became aware of the check delivery only after Mr. Glidden’s email, and that he has asked the ministry to look into why the DCI employee was sent to Ogier with the “refund” check.
Mr. Glidden said his firm has repeatedly contacted the Department of Commerce and Investment regarding the status of the Sunday retail license, but still had no explanation why the government-appointed Liquor Licensing Board eventually turned down that application.
The department and the board were apparently in agreement immediately after a March 28 liquor board meeting that Peanuts was granted a Sunday retail license, according to internal documents obtained by the Cayman Compass. However, former liquor board chairman Woody DaCosta said months after the fact that the license was actually denied at an “electronic” meeting sometime in June. No records of that meeting have ever been made public. and Mr. DaCosta has since been removed as the liquor board’s chairman.
Mr. Glidden also said it was common practice at the liquor board to give reasons for the refusal of license applications “except apparently for this application.”
“The only response that we have had from the DCI since the application by Peanuts Ltd. in March … was the response from [former board secretary] Marva Scott notifying us that the retail application was approved,” Mr. Glidden wrote in the Sept. 21 email. Ms. Scott was transferred to another civil service department after Mr. DaCosta blamed her for sending out the liquor board decisions “prematurely.” Government officials later said Ms. Scott’s transfer was not related to the controversy over the Peanuts application.
The Sept. 21 email, which was shared with the assent of Mr. Rutty, also indicated Peanuts representatives received an “unsigned response” on Sept. 1 that attempted to explain the “inordinate amount of mistakes” that occurred with the Peanuts Sunday retail license application, but which still did not give an explanation why the license was supposedly rejected.
The retail license to sell alcohol on Sundays has been listed as a “new” application at the upcoming liquor board meeting agenda for Sept. 29, but Mr. Glidden said his client Mr. Rutty actually applied for a renewal of an existing license.
“This situation has now become untenable,” Mr. Glidden wrote in the Sept. 21 email. “Prior to making a public complaint and taking further steps necessary to protect our client’s rights, I have been instructed to reach out to yourselves in an attempt to provide some resolution to this matter.”
Internal audit report
The controversy and uncertainty over the liquor board’s decision on the Peanuts Sunday retail license application has led to a government-sanctioned review by the Internal Audit Service.
A draft of the report on the liquor board issues was completed and circulated to government staff last week, and Mr. Manderson said it was his aim to release a copy of the report sometime this week, if possible.
Commerce Minister Hew, who had also called for the internal audit, was off island last week. He was expected to review the report on his return Monday.
Government lawyers were also reviewing the final draft of the audit.