BY TOM DALTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — A Salem board last night lowered the boom on a downtown restaurant whose owner was arrested last month on a charge of selling drugs inside the establishment.
The Licensing Board revoked the liquor license of Bangkok Paradise, 90 Washington St., three weeks after the owner, Jesus Franco of Salem, was charged with selling more than 300 oxycodone pills to a confidential police informant on two separate occasions this summer.
J.P. Story, the restaurant’s attorney, said he will meet with restaurant representatives to decide whether to appeal the ruling.
The three-member board, which includes two retired police officers, issued two separate decisions on the Aug. 1 and Aug. 7 incidents.
For the first, it suspended Bangkok Paradise’s license for six months. On the second, it revoked it, effective on May 11, which is when the six-month suspension ends.
Although board members didn’t discuss the implications of their ruling, it appears to give Franco six months to sell the all-alcohol license before he loses it and it is returned to the state.
For the time being, the once-popular Thai restaurant will be closed because its food license is part of its liquor license, the city attorney said. To reopen as a restaurant that doesn’t sell alcohol, it will have to request a separate food license from the board.
The Licensing Board acted swiftly following a public hearing that lasted about a half-hour. Lt. Stephen Bona, who was part of a multi-agency drug investigation, was the lone witness. Story, a Salem attorney who represented the restaurant, asked only a few questions.
Franco, 42, of 34 Perkins St., was not present. A restaurant manager and another employee accompanied the attorney but did not speak.
Board Chairman Robert St. Pierre, a retired Salem police chief, made the motions for penalties.
While conceding that Franco is innocent until proven guilty, St. Pierre noted that the board is allowed to act following an arrest and contended that this case is serious enough to merit a swift and stern response. He rejected Story’s plea for a lesser penalty.
“I think the preponderance of evidence indicates drugs were sold that night by the owner ...” St. Pierre said. “This is pretty scary stuff. This is Class A (narcotics).”
“The evidence is overwhelming,” said board member Rick Lee, a retired Peabody police officer. “... In our city, across from City Hall. ... I just can’t buy keeping it open.”
After the hearing, St. Pierre said he felt the license had to be taken away from Franco for such a serious and well-supported allegation.
“You cannot allow this individual to continue to run this bar,” he said outside the meeting room in the City Hall Annex at 120 Washington St. “His name is on this license. We’re just not going to set that precedent.”
Franco was arrested Oct. 19 as part of a drug sting carried out by the Essex County district attorney’s Drug Task Force, Massachusetts State Police, federal agencies and local police.
In all, six individuals were arrested from Lynn, Danvers, Salem and Peabody, and thousands of oxycodone pills were seized along with a gun and more than $50,000 in cash. Oxycodone is a pain medication that is sold illegally on the street and has been linked to rampant drug abuse and deaths.
Police allege that a confidential informant named “Kenny” went to Bangkok Paradise two times in August to buy drugs from Franco. On Aug. 1, the informant purchased 150 oxycodone tablets for $3,150. On Aug. 7, he bought 200 tablets for $4,250, police said.
Franco has pleaded not guilty to all charges. A trial date has not been set.
Police say they provided “Kenny” with money, searched the unnamed informant before and after the drug buys, and provided surveillance of the transactions.
In brief comments, Story noted that police were not inside the establishment and did not witness the alleged transactions.
The drug-trafficking charges are the latest and most serious allegations against Bangkok Paradise, which Franco took over earlier this year.
There have been two incidents of serving a minor, the second of which was heard last night by the board. For that, the restaurant received a three-day suspension, with one day to be served.
Police also have linked the establishment to a number of late-night fights and other incidents outside the restaurant in recent months. In October, the board issued a warning for the first offense of serving a minor and rolled back its entertainment hours from 12:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. for six months. Until recently, the DJ at the Bangkok had been drawing big crowds.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.