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City Grill cited by state for unlicensed bouncers ; Charges in connection with Aug. 14 shootings

The State Liquor Authority has lodged charges against the owners of City Grill restaurant for using unlicensed bouncers the night of the August shootings that left four people dead.

The owners of the downtown Buffalo bar and restaurant, Scott and Virginia Rossi, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Their lawyer said Thursday his clients can't be held responsible for the licensing status of the security guards because they were directly employed by the promoter of a private party held that evening in City Grill.

Further, attorney Joseph H. Shaw Jr. said the promoter has assured him the three men who worked security that evening are licensed with the state Department of State. "That's what we're being told," Shaw said.

The State Liquor Authority began its investigation following the Aug. 14 massacre that left four people dead and four others wounded. Riccardo M. McCray is charged with murder in the shootings but maintains his innocence.

These are the only charges that have resulted from the authority's investigation, said William Crowley, an authority spokesman, though he did not rule out further charges.

Security guards at bars and restaurants are required to register with the Department of State, and the authority said it could find no record that the three men working security that evening had done so, Crowley said.

The men working security at City Grill that evening came under scrutiny late last August after claims surfaced that one of them was an off-duty Buffalo police officer.

Buffalo police were investigating those claims, and it wasn't immediately known what came out of that probe. Michael J. DeGeorge, a department spokesman, did not return a phone message Thursday.

Shaw said City Grill does not employ its own bouncers and these bouncers were hired by Marlando Brannon, who promoted the private party.

That doesn't matter, Crowley said, because the license holder is responsible for anyone working at the licensed establishment.

The charges were lodged against City Grill on Dec. 2, according to Liquor Authority documents, and the Rossis pleaded not guilty in a Dec. 13 response.

In that letter, Shaw raised the possibility that his clients would negotiate a no-contest plea to resolve the charges.

"I don't see where this is a mortal sin as opposed to a venial sin," he told The Buffalo News.

The matter is in the discovery phase, and if a plea isn't made, a hearing on the charges will be scheduled.

City Grill's owners face the suspension or revocation of their liquor license if the charges are upheld, according to the authority, although it's unlikely the bar would lose its license over the unregistered bouncers.

City Grill's violation-free record would be a factor as the Liquor Authority's board weighs any punishment, Crowley said.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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