Business

Inside the Battle Between Denver and Beta Nightclub

A photo from our slide show "Deadmau5 at Beta Nightclub."
A photo from our slide show "Deadmau5 at Beta Nightclub." Photo by Chad Fahnestock
On August 30, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses issued a show-cause order to Beta Nightclub, at 1909 Blake Street, a venue located on what has become the most dangerous block in downtown Denver. The order sets an October 18 date for a hearing at which representatives of Beta's owner, Valentes Corleons, can present evidence showing why the club's liquor and cabaret licenses shouldn't be revoked over an array of alleged violations involving drugs, disorder and more.

Excise and Licenses spokesperson Eric Escudero points out that Beta has been through this process before, paying a substantial fine earlier this year for alleged violations in 2020. But attorney Aaron Acker, who represents Corleons, denies any wrongdoing.

"Beta Nightclub has yet to obtain supporting documentation from the city to fully evaluate the allegations and is presently conducting its own investigation," Acker notes. "Notwithstanding, the order to show cause contains numerous inconsistencies and exaggerations, and there are notable factual omissions which serve to falsely paint a picture of Beta as a lawless, Old West saloon and unfairly assign blame for problems that exist beyond its doors."

The Denver Crime Map lists two homicides and 22 aggravated assaults between the 1400 and 2400 blocks of Blake Street from January 1 to August 8. Of those 24 offenses, ten took place on the 1900 block, with four specifically tied to 1909 Blake. And the Blake Street crime wave hasn't ebbed yet. The map shows nineteen offenses on that ten-block stretch of Blake between August 1 and August 29; twelve  happened on the 1900 block of Blake Street, and four are pinpointed to Beta's address.

According to Escudero, the Denver Police Department conducted the investigation of Beta and presented the results to the Denver City Attorney's Office, which "recommended Denver Excise and Licenses issue an administrative show-cause order for the licensee to show cause why they should not have their cabaret/liquor license revoked or suspended."

The show-cause order provides details. The "Factual Background" section begins on May 23, when the DPD responded to a shooting approximately thirty feet from the club's entrance. Officers subsequently discovered that representatives of a private security company called Sir Elite had already left the building and a person inside who'd been working as a guard didn't have the proper license. A pair of undercover operations in June was followed by an inspection that reportedly found more improprieties, and July visits revealed issues related to occupancy limits and more.

In the end, the order claims license violations in categories that include "Orderliness, loitering, serving of intoxicated persons," "Distribution of controlled substances," "Imitation controlled substances," "Unlawful acts," "Tavern license" and "Disorderly behavior."

Escudero stresses, "This is not the first licensing violation for this licensee. ... The licensee was previously show-caused due to failure to comply with the Safer at Home order June 14, 2020 and June 21, 2020. They came to a settlement with Denver [in February] and were issued a $5,000 fine and twenty days closure held in abeyance for one year."

Such actions aren't unusual. According to Escudero, 86 show-cause orders were issued by the department in 2020, and 124 have been delivered thus far in 2021. "Keep in mind, this data is impacted by the pandemic," he explains. "Fewer businesses were operating in 2020 due to public-health order shutdowns for bars and restaurants and less operating short-term rentals. Also, don’t forget Denver does not require all businesses to get a business or individuals to get an occupational license. We only require licensing for many businesses or occupational professions that have health, safety and welfare concerns. Some cities in Colorado require licensing for all businesses."

Between 2020 and today, Denver submitted 155 show-cause orders specifically related to liquor licenses; of that total, 25 were for lack of compliance with a public-health order during the COVID shutdown, while the rest were for what Escudero refers to as "various reasons." By the city's count, he says, "there are 344 active liquor/cabaret licenses and 61 delinquent liquor/cabaret licenses in Denver. All 405 are eligible to operate currently. Delinquent licenses will expire unless they renew."

But the Beta case is bigger than most. On October 18, "an independent Denver hearing officer will hold a public and virtual hearing where the Denver City Attorney’s Office and representatives for the licensee will present evidence and testimony," Escudero says. "The hearing officer will issue a recommended decision to Excise and Licenses executive director Ashley Kilroy. Kilroy will review the recommended decision, evidence and testimony, then issue a final decision."

Acker emphasizes that "Beta dedicates significant resources to employ private security to ensure a safe atmosphere for its patrons and the surrounding neighborhood. The recent termination of the security services contract with the Denver Police Department has created additional challenges in ensuring safety and security in the Club. Beta has contacted the Denver Police Department in an effort to work collaboratively to address their concerns and create solutions, but those invitations have gone unanswered."

He adds: "The order to show cause is the latest effort by the city to close Beta, and it intends to defend the allegations and expose the city's motivations and biases through the administrative hearing process and the courts if necessary."

Click to read the Beta Nightclub order to show cause and the February 2021 settlement agreement.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts