Transfer of liquor licenses for Ole Red Barn and Lee's Liquor denied

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Members of the Renewal of Hope Task Force and approximately 80 community members from the Nahat'a Dziil Chapter Jan. 8 traveled on two charter buses to Phoenix to attend an Arizona Liquor License Board hearing regarding Ole Red Barn Liquor and Lee's Liquor, which are located near the border of the Navajo Nation.

At the conclusion of the eight-hour hearing at the Department of Liquor Licenses and Controls Office, board members voted 6-0 to deny the transfer of the two liquor licenses from Gary McDonald, who recently pled guilty to felony drug and contraband charges, to his close friend George Ryan.

During the hearing, the issue of whether Ryan was "reliable, capable, and qualified" to have a liquor license was considered, however it was proven that Ryan did not meet the statutory requirements, did not understand the liquor license renewal application process, had not established business plan for both stores, and had a close-personal relationship with McDonald.

"Navajo Nation has very strong concerns. Ryan has no plans, business plans that will facilitate a comfortable, reliable, and responsible business. He is not protecting the citizenry. He is selling to individuals that are inebriated," said Leonard Gorman, director of Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

For months, Nahat'a Dziil community members have protested against McDonald and the liquor establishments. Many have testified that the Ole Red Barn has been detrimental to the surrounding communities.

Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley (Houck, Klagetoh, Nahat'a Dziil, Tsé Si áni, Wide Ruins), who represents the Nahat'a Dziil community, said he moved into the Sanders area in August 2013 and believes that Ryan has done nothing to improve the operational integrity of Ole Red Barn Liquor.

"ADOT did a lot of work to improve the areas," Curley said, who pointed out that the owner attempted to take credit for the improvements outside of the liquor store's vicinity.

Nahat'a Dziil communitiy members said liquor establishments like Ole Red Barn Liquor, High Country Liquor, and Lee's Liquor have done nothing good for Native Americans.

"I wanted to be a part of the whole thing. The way it turned out was good and the way the board handled it. The way they were asking questions showed Ryan did not know what he was doing. My mom is happy and proud of what happened," said Al Zilth, a community member who traveled with his mother, Rose Zilth, to Phoenix for the hearing.

Zilth shared that his older brother started his drinking habits at Ole Red Barn Liquor store, in which his older brother continues to purchase alcohol to this day.

"Everything will be better, community-wise. These liquor establishments have brought a lot of pain to our community," Zilth said.

Two liquor licenses for McDonald's other establishment, High Country Liquor, are currently suspended and not in operation. The two licenses that were denied transfer to Ryan also rendered Ole Red Barn Liquor and Lee's Liquor inoperable at this time.

A sentencing hearing for McDonald took place Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. at the St. Johns Justice Court. The judge had the authority to revoke McDonald's liquor licenses at the sentencing hearing.

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