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SLA gives new chance to Sweeney bar in town; Mother gets license that her son had lost

The state is giving a West Seneca family with a history of liquor violations another chance to run an Orchard Park restaurant.

After State Liquor Authority officials in Buffalo denied Marie Sweeney a liquor license to reopen the former Mia's restaurant near Orchard Park Country Club under a new name, top Liquor Authority officials in New York City reversed the decision last week. They granted the license to the renamed Casato's restaurant on South Buffalo Street.

Pointing to a history of brutal fights, police calls and underage drinking, Orchard Park officials opposed the license, and an administrative law judge upheld the findings of liquor officials in Buffalo.

But on April 24, State Liquor Authority Chairman Dennis Rosen and Commissioner Jeanique Greene instead ruled in favor of Sweeney, who argued that she could operate the restaurant independent of her son, Michael J. Sweeney, who previously ran the bar when it was the site of more police calls in Orchard Park than any other bar during a two-year period.

"I will approve despite some serious apprehension I have about the forthcoming of the application that was submitted and expertise of the applicant," Rosen said before voting to award the license. "But I do think you've established that funding for the operation is coming exclusively from sources other than Michael Sweeney."

The license was granted on the condition that Michael Sweeney, of Seneca Street, not be allowed on the premises -- save for the rare exception for his duties as a landlord -- and that Marie Sweeney's other son, Chad M. Sweeney of Robin Court, not work at the restaurant.

"If somebody spots him at the bar having a beer or sitting at a table having a sandwich, that is a violation of the license," Rosen warned of Michael Sweeney.

Both Sweeneys were accused of beating a man in the Orchard Park bar's parking lot, and Michael Sweeney was accused of assaulting female employees and allowing 10 instances of underage drinking from 2009 to 2011 that were documented by the Liquor Authority.

Last year, the Liquor Authority ordered a rare emergency suspension of the Mia's Orchard Park location, at 4905 South Buffalo Road, and the now-closed Elma location, at 7200 Seneca St.

Michael Sweeney ran the Orchard Park location, while her other son, Chad, ran the one in Elma.

Local officials worried that Marie Sweeney, in requesting a new liquor license for the Orchard Park location, would be operating the restaurant in name only, and that her son -- and landlord -- Michael would become involved.

"This may lead to an environment that produces problems for patrons, the police, our quality of life and the community at large," Orchard Park Village Mayor John B. Wilson wrote in a letter to the SLA.

SLA officials also were wary that Tina DiRienzo, who was listed as a manager at the new bar, is Michael Sweeney's live-in girlfriend and the mother of his children -- a detail that was not originally disclosed in the application.

But Marie Sweeney, in making her case for the license, said she could operate the new restaurant, called Casato's, independently of her son.

She also said she made visible changes to the bar, including family-friendly selections, higher-class beverages and reduced night hours. The restaurant and bar, which staffers said will be open sometime this week, has been redesigned with a more understated bar and is staffed by new employees and management.

Liquor Authority spokesman William Crowley said the agency is confident that it will be able to enforce the conditions of the license.