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Clarifying Times probe of "questionable dealings" by Adams' pals: State Liquor Authority *did* find Woodland liquor license had been turned over to twins.

The drip-drip of troubling news about Eric Adams continues, notably the New Yorker report about his questionable mentoring of con man and "Bling Bishop" Lamor (aka Lamar) Whitehead. 

While I cited the New Yorker's report on Whitehead's connection to the Barclays Center, I didn't mention the reference to Woodland, where Whitehead and Adams liked to hang out, "the first restaurant run by the Petrosyants brothers [Robert and Zhan, aka Johnny], who now run La Baia," the mayor's current place of choice. 

Eric Lach's article notes that "character testimonies to the judge" sentencing the brothers, who pleaded guilty to federal charges, included a letter from Whitehead about a purported an anti-childhood-obesity program--one that Robert Petrosyants didn't recall.

In a 1/19/23 article, Adams fundraising haul buoyed by swell of real estate cash, Politico noted that the mayor held campaign fundraisers at La Baia:
And Akiva Ofshtein — the brothers’ attorney and the proprietor of a shuttered Brooklyn restaurant once frequented by Adams — gave the maximum donation [$2,100] to the campaign.
But Ofshtein wasn't merely the proprietor; he was, as described below, sanctioned for turning over the liquor license to the twins, who were ineligible because of their criminal records. That deserves more attention, since it's been downplayed and even denied.

The Times looks deeper

Last August, I wrote that a New York Times investigation of Adams and the Petrosyants was too gentle, since it referred to "friends with troubled pasts." After all, it was not just their criminal pasts that were "troubled" but rather their post-criminal pasts.

So, in a valuable front-page update 12/5/22, Times investigators produced Twin Friends of Eric Adams Are Dogged by Allegations and Unpaid Debts, noting that the brothers have helped raise significant money for Adams's campaigns, while being accused of "breaking agreements with investors, landlords and lenders, all while socializing with Mr. Adams and trading on the relationship to attract new opportunities."

Too credulous

Still, it was too credulous for the Times to state, "There is no indication that Mr. Adams has ever done business with the brothers or has any insight into their practices."

Sure, the former might be evaluated; his name doesn't appear in any extant documents. But Adams is no dummy; he should have insight into some of their practices, especially if he's purportedly mentoring them. Moreover, he's a former cop, and police are trained to notice things.

As one Times reader commented:
To assume that Adams had no inkling of his friends' ongoing incessant criminal acts of fraud and theft is to believe in the tooth fairy. If you sleep with crooks for years, you've become one.
Another commented:
Put the following two bits from the article together and they don't really make sense. Or does "mentor" mean he was advising them on baseball card collecting or something else very specifically not like what people think of as a mentoring relationship? 
"Mr. Adams, who was a state senator when he met the twins about a decade ago at a Brooklyn restaurant they ran at the time, has said he became a mentor to them after their convictions." 
"The mayor’s spokesman, Maxwell Young, said that Mr. Adams knew nothing of the twins’ dealings and did not discuss their businesses with them."
About Woodland

The Times got part of the way to the issue: 
They appear to have taken pains to obscure their roles in a string of restaurants and other ventures, identifying themselves as owners to customers and employees and in some documents but not others, including paperwork filed with the New York State Liquor Authority, which bars felons from owning businesses that serve alcohol.
While the article focuses especially on the twins' Forno Rosso and La Baia, it does mention Woodland, the controversial nightspot on Flatbush Avenue near the Barclays Center that eventually lost its liquor license.

The Times summarizes the situation in the caption below:
Akiva Ofshtein, a lawyer who is a friend and business associate of the Petrosyantses, owned the Woodland restaurant but turned over its management to the twins.
In the text, that's amplified, though without specifying Woodland:
In one instance, state officials sought to cancel the liquor license at one of their restaurants after accusing the owner of ceding control of the license to the twins. The administrative charge was ultimately dismissed, but the license was canceled on other grounds.
That's not quite so. There were two proceedings, with many charges, and in one of the proceedings the license was canceled on those grounds.

Looking at the record

As I wrote in January 2020, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) reversed the administrative judge's (ALJ) finding and found that licensee Ofshtein had improperly made the license available (aka "availing") to partners (with a felony record) unauthorized by the SLA, rather than merely hiring them as managers, as the defense claimed.

As one member of the SLA put it, the management agreement entered into the record gave the Petrosyants “control of every aspect of the business.”

See Charge 10, as excerpted below, in the 1/3/20 Cancellation Order, regarding Case 124447, heard by the SLA board on 12/18/19. (Full documents at bottom.)

A second case

I had not covered a second set of charges, in Case 134592. In that case, Charge 1, which covered availing, was indeed dismissed at a hearing 5/27/20, and apparently was what was referenced in the Times.

Here's video of the discussion, in which SLA seems reluctant to agree with the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on that issue, but, because the license had already been canceled, decided not to make an issue of it.

Interestingly enough, the SLA, in an earlier 1/6/20 submission to the ALJ regarding that case, made a pretty strong argument--as shown in the excerpt at right, that the Petrosyants' American Standard Hospitality Group essentially controlled the license and the business.

The SLA noted that Ofshtein ceded "responsibilities for maintaining the liquor license, ordering all the alcohol, and ensuring complicance with the law." (That's from page 4, excerpted above right. Italics in original.)

The bottom line

However, as confirmed by the SLA, the second decision on availing did not affect the first one. So it stands that the grounds for cancellation of the license did--contra the Times's summary--include ceding control of the license to the Petrosyants.

In response to my query, SLA spokesman William Crowley stated:
The decision on Case 124447 came first, during the 12/18/19 Full Board Meeting, in which the Board voted to sustain the availing charge. Subsequently, Case 134592 came to the Full Board on 5/27/20. In that case, the Board dismissed the availing charge. However, the two cases were independent, so the ruling on Case 134592 did not supersede or affect the decisions in Case 124447. Thus, it is fair to say that the overall grounds for cancellation did include availing.
Other evidence

That's not the only evidence.

Also, as reported by me and others, Robert Petrosyants listed himself as the owner of Woodland in an Adams campaign contribution, a page (since deleted) on the brothers' American Standard Hospitality Group described them as owners, and a Yelp screenshot showed Robert describing himself as an owner.