Crime

After a Long Day in Court, Beta Hearing Continued to January 21

Beta's owner will be back in court on January 20.
Beta's owner will be back in court on January 20. Evan Semon
After a lengthy hearing in Denver County Court on January 13 that featured dueling arguments from lawyers representing Beta Event Center and the City of Denver, Judge Beth Faragher introduced a new element in the long-running public-nuisance case: the owner of the building that houses Beta.

"That, quite honestly, is a big concern of the court," Faragher said, noting that she doesn't want to burden the building owner, Colman Kahn, with compounding costs associated with the property at 1909 Blake Street.

In mid-September, the Denver City Attorney's Office had filed a public-nuisance complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order to shut down Beta. Faragher had actually granted the city's motion at the end of that month, but lawyers for Beta filed a motion to vacate the temporary restraining order in October. In November, the judge held a hearing to adjudicate the competing claims, but a filing error by attorneys for the City of Denver put a halt to that hearing, which was moved to January 13.

In court for the rescheduled hearing, Kahn shared the history of the now-infamous building. He purchased it in 1989, long before LoDo started booming, because he thought what he was told had been a chicken-processing facility might work as a home for his own venture. "My business was commercial carpet, and I bought the building with the intent to remodel it and move my company there because it had the parking lot," Kahn said. "After I bought the building, I stored samples there for quite a while. It was empty. And then they came out that they were going to build a baseball stadium at 20th and Blake. Then I realized I didn’t need to have my carpet company at 19th and Blake."

Instead, Kahn began leasing the building to a series of entertainment enterprises, offering them relatively low rent as long as they did the work on the building.

First came Dick's Last Resort, then Alice Cooper'stown, then Rise, a Las Vegas-style nightclub. In 2008, the building became the home of Beta, an EDM club that quickly gained international acclaim. A decade later, after the owners of Beta tried to sell the club, they closed it in January 2019. The next year they reopened it after partnering with Valentes Corleons (legal name Hussam Kayali), who had run nightclubs in other parts of LoDo; he took over as full-time owner in March 2020, transforming it into a hip-hop venue.
click to enlarge Beta's last night before closing in January 2019. - AARON THACKERAY
Beta's last night before closing in January 2019.
Aaron Thackeray
"Mr. Kayali has paid everything and has kept the building up to snuff," Kahn said, even noting that Corleons was covering Kahn's attorney's fees for the court proceedings. But Corleons is also hundreds of thousands of dollars behind on rent, since Kahn has deferred rent payment since April 2020. And Kahn stands to lose that money altogether if the city's attempt to have Beta declared a public nuisance is successful. Not only would that essentially freeze any activity at 1909 Blake Street for three years, per the city's filing, but it would make a sale of the building almost impossible during that time.

"The city is just a bully. It really is a bully," said Harvey Steinberg, one of the attorneys representing Corleons. "Not only do they want to put my client out of business, but they want to bankrupt the completely innocent owner for no reason other than that they’re bullies."

The hearing came a week after the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses revoked Beta's liquor license at the conclusion of a second case with the city, a show-cause order filed by Excise and Licenses in August. During two days of hearings in November, the city described a series of law and code violations at the club, including hiring unlicensed security guards and allowing drinking after hours. But for former Denver District Court judge Federico Alvarez, who presided over the administrative hearings and recommended that Beta's license be revoked, the fact that Corleons introduced himself to a cop as a "made man" in the Sicilian Mafia and the allegation that Corleons tried to bribe another cop to make the investigation turn out in his favor were "extraordinarily aggravating" circumstances that weighed in favor of license revocation. Corleons denies the bribe allegation.

The January 13 Denver County Court hearing dealt with some of the same claims, though with less focus on the character of Corleons and more on the underlying charges in the public-nuisance complaint. Many of them stemmed from a Denver Police Department investigation this summer; on two separate occasions in June, undercover female detectives were able to score what they thought was cocaine from male patrons. In one instance, the cocaine was real; in the other, it was fake.

"The total weight of both combined is less than one gram," Steinberg said. "I am prepared to suggest to you that if we sent these two undercover police officers in the same fashion to any bar in LoDo with the same mission, they'd come out mission accomplished."

Unlike Alvarez, who didn't find Beta culpable for the narcotics issues, Faragher found probable cause in relation to the narcotics and imitation-narcotics charges.

But the case isn't over yet. After hours of testimony, Faragher postponed the rest of the hearing until January 21.

"My decision is going to be based upon no liquor license. If things change, we will re-evaluate," Faragher said over the objections of Chris Gaddis, an attorney for the City of Denver, who had been hoping to put witnesses on the stand who could testify to what officers saw at Beta last summer.
click to enlarge Valentes Corleons inside Beta. - EVAN SEMON
Valentes Corleons inside Beta.
Evan Semon
When the judge said that, Gaddis asked for a break to confer with Steinberg and Aaron Acker, another attorney representing Corleons, and expressed concern that their client was posting on social media about his plans to open something at the Beta building in coming days that he was calling La Cosa Nostra Social Club. La Cosa Nostra is a name for the Sicilian Mafia.

"He’s earned his reputation," Gaddis said.

Countered Acker: "He’s playing with you."

Even if the club is not declared a public nuisance, Corleons faces an uphill battle in the fight to reopen Beta: It has already lost its liquor license. Corleons and his lawyers have promised that they will file a lawsuit in Denver District Court to win back that license.

And Corleons faces more legal action. In June, he paid $2.5 million for the building next door to Beta, which had been home to Falling Rock Tap House for 24 years; Corleons transformed it into Cabin Tap House. In the early-morning hours of New Year's Day, a fatal shooting took place inside Cabin, leaving two dead.

Later on January 1, the Department of Excise and Licenses ordered a temporary suspension of Cabin's license; the department has scheduled an administrative hearing for January 18 to determine the fate of Cabin's liquor license. Corleons sold Cabin to Thomas Schaefer in December, but he still owns the building that houses the business.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.