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Slaying leads liquor authority to launch new Drifters probe

Last year, the State Liquor Authority suspended the liquor license of Drifters sports bar for 20 days and the license holder for the Kenmore bar paid a $10,000 fine.

Now, Drifters faces potential trouble with the SLA again as the result of a weekend homicide inside the establishment at 1141 Military Road.

The slaying early Sunday of Carlos Gibson, 26, has touched off a new investigation into neighborhood and police complaints about Drifters, a spokesman for the Liquor Authority told The Buffalo News on Monday.

Potentially, the investigation could lead to more disciplinary actions against Drifters' liquor license, said Michael R. Smith, an SLA public affairs officer.

"The SLA is looking into this very serious incident that allegedly transpired at the business over the weekend," Smith said. "We'll be looking into this with the [Kenmore] police."

Kenmore police on Monday continued their investigation into the stabbing death of Gibson, but reported no new developments. Law enforcement officials told The News that police hope to question a Buffalo man who they believe was involved in an altercation with Gibson inside the bar.

Gibson, who lived on West Avenue in Buffalo, was stabbed at around 2:50 a.m., and pronounced dead about three hours later in Erie County Medical Center, police said.

According to court records, Gibson was convicted of a felony drug crime in 2009, and law enforcement officials said Kenmore police are looking into the possibility that Sunday's homicide was linked to drugs.

After the slaying, Police Chief Carl J. LaCorte confirmed that -- over the past few years -- Drifters had been the target of numerous neighborhood complaints about loud, rowdy conduct by bar patrons. LaCorte said his officers assisted the Liquor Authority in an investigation that led to a two-week suspension of Drifters' liquor license last year.

Joseph A. Guarino, who operates Drifters and holds its liquor license, declined to comment, except to say he and his staff are cooperating fully with the homicide probe. His lawyer, Daniel J. Dubois, could not be reached to comment.

The liquor license was suspended from Jan. 12, 2010, until Feb. 1, 2010, and Drifters was assessed a civil penalty of $10,000, according to SLA records obtained by The News on Monday.

The disciplinary action was taken last year because of repeated problems at the establishment over a number of years, Smith said.

SLA records show that Drifters had previously been cited for liquor license violations twice in 2006, once in 2007 and once in 2008.

The 2006 violations involved illegal sales of alcohol to minors and consumption of alcohol during prohibited hours, the records show. The 2007 violation involved illegal sales to minors, and the 2008 violation, which was filed after an assault on the premises, was for operating a disorderly premises.

Records also indicate that the authority found that Drifters had been a focal point for police attention from January 2005 until March 2008.

Two neighbors who spoke to a reporter after the stabbing on Sunday said they often see police investigating incidents at the bar, including loud music, parking lot fights, and patrons revving their motorcycle engines at late hours.

"It has gotten gradually worse over the past three or four years," one neighbor complained.

The past violations at Drifters "would be taken into consideration" in the new SLA investigation, Smith said.

LaCorte asked that anyone with information about Gibson's slaying contact his department at 875-1234.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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