In June 2019, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board of the District of Columbia considered a challenge to the renewal of a liquor license for the Trump International Hotel on the grounds that Donald Trump, the owner, “lacked good character.” A group of District residents including judges and members of the clergy asked the board to deny the license because, in their view, Trump “isn’t fit to run a bar,” the Washington Post reported.
“Donald Trump, the true and actual owner of the Trump International Hotel, is not a person of good character,” the residents wrote. They reached that conclusion because of “certain lies he has told, his involvement in relevant fraudulent and other activity demonstrating his lack of integrity, and his refusal to abide by the law or to stop associating with known criminals.”
It turns out licensing boards can and have denied or suspended liquor licenses of restaurants, clubs, and bars because of evidence of the moral unfitness of their owners or managers.
Almost every state requires local officials with responsibility for issuing liquor licenses to examine the character of applicants. The website of the Mass. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) states that managers of businesses seeking liquor licenses “must be approved by both the ABCC and LLA [local licensing authority] with respect to his or her character.”
Donald Trump managed somehow to get his license renewed. And so did Barbara Niggel, the owner of Willy’s World Wellness and Conference Center in Eastham, as we reported last week.
When Niggel’s renewal first came up before the Eastham Select Board, its chair, Jamie Demetri, noted “multiple issues regarding … historic violations of the liquor license.” But board member Art Autorino objected to punishing Niggel for past actions. “She lost quite a lot of business,” he said, because of being shut down by the town for months. Autorino appears to have won that argument.
The Independent has tried to report regularly on Willy’s troubles. Here’s what we know.
Eastham shut Willy’s Gym after Niggel hosted an illegal after-hours party in the building in December 2019, when its automatic sprinkler system was broken. Willy’s had been cited for violating building, health, fire, electrical, and safety codes. That night, exits in the packed room were barricaded by furniture.
Niggel has been sued at least 26 times by her employees and contractors for not paying them. The worst case was her refusal to pay the widow of her employee, Joe Abbott, almost $20,000 she owed him when he died of a heart attack at work. The state ordered her to do it, and she finally did.
Niggel was indicted in 2014 for failure to pay unemployment taxes and had to pay $177,000 in restitution. After that, she was fined another $101,000 by the state for labor law violations.
Finally, she has been credibly accused of identity fraud by one of her tenants, who agreed to drop charges after Niggel signed an agreement to pay her $100,000. After making five $2,000 payments, Niggel never followed through.
Maybe the select board in Eastham believes that Niggel has done more than just rearrange the furniture at Willy’s but has had an actual change of heart. We’ll try to report on how it goes.