A liquor permit sought by St. Elmo-spinoff Harry & Izzy's could be in jeopardy because one of its owners is Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi.
Brizzi has a 10-percent stake in the new restaurant, which is slated to open in April in Circle Centre mall. He is one of five shareholders in the $4 million venture, which is led by St. Elmo owners Stephen and Craig Huse.
State law forbids liquor permits to be issued to law enforcement officers, which the code defines as including prosecuting attorneys.
Dave Heath, chairman of the state's Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, told IBJ that the permit seems inappropriate. "The way the statute reads, it probably couldn't be granted," Heath said. Heath said he plans to meet with Harry & Izzy's attorneys today and then seek an opinion from the attorney general.
A Marion County hearing on the permit application is slated for Monday. A final decision would rest with the state commission.
In an interview about the restaurant with IBJ last week, Brizzi said he doesn't see a conflict. He said he wanted to get back into the restaurant business as a "silent partner" after a decade-long hiatus.
Over the years, Brizzi worked at his mom's Italian restaurant, shuttled fried chicken at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Jug's Catering, and waited tables during law school.
I personally have a great deal of respect for Brizzi, but I just can't figure out how this one got this far along the way before anyone asked the right questions. In the first instance, Brizzi should know better. The inherent conflict in being a prosecutor and holding a liquor license should have been enough, particularly when your business partner is a major contributor to your political campaign. Secondly, his wife is the former deputy commissioner of the ATC. It might have been a good idea to consult with her before making this business decision. And finally, it's the job of the attorneys who prepared the license application to know the law. It takes a pretty tortured interpretation of the statute to conclude the prohibition for law enforcement officers doesn't apply to Brizzi. He is after all one of the most powerful law enforcement officers in the state as the prosecutor for the state's largest county and seat of state government.
Brizzi should immediately divest his interest in Harry & Izzy's and put this matter behind him. The longer it drags on, the more it's going to take a toll on his credibility. Marion County can ill-afford to have a crippled prosecutor at a time when our crime rate is soaring out of control. It doesn't seem he's getting it yet though. The Star's Jon Murray in a late afternoon online update writes:
Brizzi said he was not aware of the restriction when he invested in the restaurant venture and would wait for the legal opinion before deciding whether he needed to back out. He has a 10 percent stake. The major investors are Stephen and Craig Huse, who own St. Elmo and each own a 35 percent share in Harry & Izzy's. Thomas R. Browne and Christopher Clifford each own 10 percent shares.
The restriction makes little sense, Brizzi said. "It's not like I'm opening up a bar in the prosecutor's office," he said, adding that common sense should prevail.
The restriction makes little sense? You've got to be kidding, Carl. This issue is moving fast. As I write, WTHR is now leading off its news cast with this as its top story. Dave Heath tells Jeremy Brilliant the same thing he told the IBJ--the statute is clear--it applies to law enforcement officers and the prosecutor is a law enforcement officer. In a telephone interview, Brizzi compared his investment to that of an investor in a publicly traded corporation because he's a mere passive investor. Nice try, but this isn't a publicly traded corporation. It's a close corporation with only five investors. That's a big difference.
UPDATE: The IBJ is reporting Brizzi is pulling out as a 10% investor in Harry & Izzy's for the time being to avoid holding up the approval of the liquor license. The IBJ reports:
"I'm going to get out of the deal for now so the liquor license is not delayed," he said this afternoon.
He said he doubts the intent of the law is to prevent any law enforcement officer from owning stock in any establishment that sells alcohol, including grocery stores and restaurants. Brizzi said he hopes to get back in the restaurant deal, as a "non-voting minority shareholder."
"No one ever thought this would be an issue," Brizzi said. "The really ridiculous thing about this is if my wife was the person on the license, that wouldn't be a conflict."
The point about his wife has already been raised in the comments here. I'm surprised he didn't think of it. His point about the intent of the law is just flat wrong.