Crime

In Court for Beta Public-Nuisance Case, Valentes Corleons Now Has January 18 Cabin Hearing, Too

A New Year's party at Cabin ended in tragedy, and the city's set a hearing on its liquor license.
A New Year's party at Cabin ended in tragedy, and the city's set a hearing on its liquor license. Google Maps
After a fatal shooting early on New Year's Day left two dead at Cabin Tap House, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses has set a January 18 hearing to determine whether the nightclub at 1919 Blake Street can again possess an active liquor license.

Hours after the shooting, which took place in the early-morning hours of New Year's Day, the Department of Excise and Licenses temporarily suspended Cabin's liquor license. The club had been opened late last year by Valentes Corleons, whose legal name is Hussam Kayali; Corleons already owned Beta Event Center, next door at 1909 Blake Street.

In the aftermath of the January 1 shooting, Corleons had acted as though he still owned and operated Cabin — but he's now revealed that he sold the venue to Thomas Schaefer at the end of 2021.

"He bought the business and we transferred on November 20," Corleons says, adding that Schaefer is an "amazing guy" and a "pure guy." But while he sold the nightclub business to Schaefer, Corleons insists that he still owns the building itself, which he bought last summer for $2.5 million. Before the building's ownership change, it had been home to Falling Rock Tap House for 24 years; Corleons transformed it into Cabin.

The Department of Excise and Licenses document setting the January 18 liquor license hearing date, known as an Order to Show Cause, provides more insight into what transpired on January 1.

In the complaint section of the document, writes Emily Reisdorph of the Denver City Attorney's Office,  an "investigation disclosed that a fight had broken out inside The Cabin earlier in the night. Security staff broke up the fight and the involved parties were allowed to remain on the premises. After that fight, one witness reported that a male patron bleeding from the head approached them at the bar and stated that he had been 'jumped' by a group of Hispanic guys in the bar. Later in the evening, the same individuals engaged in a second altercation that led to the shooting."

The two people killed in the shooting were 24-year-old Devonte Phillips and 29-year-old Hiyaw "Joya" Tesfa Zewdie-Walker. According to Phillips's sister-in-law, Phillips was the one who had been jumped earlier that night and was bleeding from the head. The Denver Police Department has not yet announced an arrest in relation to the case.
click to enlarge Valentes Corleons has been fighting to keep Beta operational. - EVAN SEMON
Valentes Corleons has been fighting to keep Beta operational.
Evan Semon
The complaint section of the Show Cause Order also includes a section about Schaefer.

"On January 4, 2022, Detective [Paul] Streate spoke to witness Thomas Schaefer who was present at The Cabin during the incident. Schaefer stated he purchased The Cabin from the previous owner/operator Hussam Kayali a few weeks earlier. According to Schaefer, he agreed to allow Kayali’s employees to continue to operate The Cabin while he learned the business," the complaint reads. "The night of the shooting, security at The Cabin was provided by Hightower Security with oversight by Chris Vitale. Vitale is a manager next door at Kayali’s Beta Nightclub, 1909 Blake Street. The night of the shooting, Vitale was involved in operation at both clubs and was back and forth between The Cabin and Beta Nightclub. Schaefer stated weapon screening at The Cabin was at the discretion of the security and he did not believe security screening was 'routine' practice."

In addition to Schaefer and Corleons, the department addressed the show-cause order to Chris and Stephen Black, who'd owned Falling Rock Tap House — but not the building that housed it. Chris Black is wondering why he's been dragged into this at all.

"I'm sitting there like, we've had nothing to do with this thing. We gave up our interest in the license effective on July 1. In 24 years and two weeks of holding a liquor license, we had zero violations and no deaths associated with it," Black says.

He doesn't appreciate the connection to Cabin, even if it's tangential. "It makes me really, really sad that something so horrible is associated with that," he says.

The show-cause hearing will touch on whether Cabin staffers effectively managed the situation during the New Year's celebration — specifically, whether they should have removed patrons who were fighting and then reported the fights to the Denver Police Department. Given the transfer of ownership in the run-up to the New Year's party, the hearing will also focus on whether the venue was properly licensed at the time of the shooting. Schaefer has not responded to a request for comment from Westword.

Before the January 18 hearing, Corleons will have another day in court today, January 13, over Beta, which lost its liquor license on January 5 in the culmination of another show-cause process over code and law violations. This Denver County Court hearing will consider a request from the city that Beta be declared a public nuisance, largely based on evidence from police investigations last summer.

Corleons has said that he will fight both the loss of Beta's liquor license and the public-nuisance case. "We're going to the Supreme Court," he promises.
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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.