The battle over Whiteclay beer sales is heating up in the final weeks before a planned showdown in front of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
The state attorney general’s office recently accused Whiteclay’s four beer stores of committing 22 violations of state liquor laws, including selling to bootleggers, keeping inadequate records and selling alcohol after hours.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the beer stores are trying to prevent the liquor commission from potentially denying reissuance of the stores’ licenses.
The activity comes as beer store owners prepare to face off next month with critics who want them shut down. A hearing is scheduled April 6-7 at the Capitol on whether law enforcement in Whiteclay is adequate to let beer sales continue.
The liquor commission scheduled the hearing and ordered the beer stores to reapply for their liquor licenses last year, citing concerns about law enforcement in the unincorporated village in northwest Nebraska.
Whiteclay is home to about a dozen permanent residents and sits just 200 yards from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where alcohol is banned. Yet the four beer stores sell millions of cans of beer and malt liquor each year, much of which is consumed by people on the reservation.
Hobie Rupe, the Liquor Control Commission’s executive director, said an audit of the stores that began in fall 2015 uncovered “significant irregularities” that ultimately resulted in the citations from the attorney general’s office, which were filed Feb. 27.
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“We consider these serious violations and are prepared to provide evidence in support of the allegations,” Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a statement.
Rupe said the liquor commission won’t consider those citations until at least May or June, after it has weighed in on renewal of the liquor licenses.
Wednesday, attorneys for the beer stores asked a judge in Lincoln to block any action by the liquor commission other than to quickly reissue the licenses, arguing renewal is their clients’ constitutionally protected right.
The request was made in a filing in Lancaster County District Court. The beer stores made a similar motion with the liquor commission Tuesday, which Rupe will discuss with the parties involved in a phone conference March 21.
Andrew Snyder of Scottsbluff, an attorney representing the beer stores, did not return a message left at his office late Thursday.
Rupe said he assumed the hearing will still take place as planned next month, but declined to comment further.
Activists who have fought for years to have the stores shut down celebrated the attorney general’s decision to pursue legal action against the stores.
“The other shoe may have finally dropped in Whiteclay,” said John Maisch, a lawyer and former liquor regulator in Oklahoma who produced a documentary film about the impacts of Whiteclay alcohol sales.
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