Crime

City Targeting Sancho's Broken Arrow Over Alleged Coke Dealing by Staff

Sancho's Broken Arrow at 741 East Colfax Avenue.
Sancho's Broken Arrow at 741 East Colfax Avenue. Kyle Harris
Following a Denver Police Department investigation that began in January 2021 and ran into April of this year, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses is seeking the suspension or revocation of the liquor licenses of Sancho's Broken Arrow and So Many Roads Brewery over a number of allegations, including cocaine dealing by a staffer and the sale of alcohol to underage individuals.

On May 23, Excise and Licenses executive director Molly Duplechian issued the orders to show cause for Sancho's Broken Arrow, a Don Quixote-themed venue that's located at 741 East Colfax Avenue, and for So Many Roads Brewery, at 918 West First Avenue.

Both of the music and booze joints were once owned by promoter and Grateful Deadhead Jay Bianchi, who in 2020 transferred his ownership stake so that Tyler Bishop owned two-thirds and Timothy Premus owned one-third of Sancho's; Bishop also took over as sole owner of So Many Roads Brewery. Bianchi said he was retiring as a music promoter in the summer of 2021, when he was dealing with sexual-assault allegations, which he denied, and union complaints over fair payment.

The investigation into Sancho's and So Many Roads began after the DPD received an anonymous tip that employees at Sancho's were selling dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a schedule 1 drug, and cocaine, a schedule II drug.

In February 2021, the Denver Police Department sent two undercover plainclothes vice cops — Officer Sierra Kenoyer and Detective Michael James — into Sancho's Broken Arrow to investigate and potentially conduct an undercover drug purchase. The two officers were unable to buy drugs on the first night they went to Sancho's, but they observed a bartender engage in what appeared to be a "hand-to-hand narcotics transaction" with Bishop, according to the Excise and Licenses show-cause order for Sancho's.

Kenoyer and another colleague, Officer Jessica Delarow, visited Sancho's later that month, when they reportedly chatted with the same bartender about how he makes homemade DMT; Kenoyer returned in early March to try to buy DMT from the bartender, who informed him that he was out.

On September 23, 2021, two Denver vice officers, who are listed only by their last names of Streeter and Esparza in the show-cause order, visited So Many Roads with the intent of buying drugs. While at the venue, the two undercover officers became acquainted with Steve Ackermann, who works at both venues on maintenance, security and stage setup. According to the show-cause order, Ackermann arranged to sell the two officers cocaine later that evening at Sancho's Broken Arrow.

When the two officers showed up at Sancho's, they reportedly followed Ackermann into the men's bathroom, where they observed Ackermann and another staffer ingest cocaine. The cops gave Ackermann $100 in exchange for a bag filled with a white powdery substance, which later tested positive for cocaine, weighing in at 0.843 grams, according to the city.

A week later, the officers returned to Sancho's Broken Arrow to conduct another undercover buy operation. Ackermann told the officers that he had been "unofficially" working for Jay Bianchi since 2011.

"Ackermann stated Jay knows that he sells narcotics at the location and stated that Jay gets high with them all the time. Ackermann stated payment exchange occurs between Ackermann and Jay through a 'hippie tax.' Ackermann described the hippie tax stating that Ackermann brings business to Jay's bar, brings more people in who often purchase drinks, and when Jay catches Ackermann selling narcotics, Ackermann will give Jay whatever money Ackermann made from that sale. Ackermann advised Jay has never said anything or told Ackermann to stop selling in any of the bars Jay owns," the show-cause order reads. The officers reportedly purchased 0.427 grams of cocaine that evening from Ackermann.

On November 6, 2021, Officer Esparza showed up at Sancho's with Officer Brayan Silva. The two then purchased 0.733 grams of cocaine, according to city documents.

On November 17, Officer Streeter entered Sancho's Broken Arrow in plainclothes and proceeded to arrest Ackermann. A search of Excise and Licenses records did not find Ackermann registered as a security guard, nor did Sancho's Broken Arrow appear as "ever having a security guard employer license."

In December 2021, Denver police officers interviewed Ackermann, who denied dealing narcotics. Ackermann did not return a request for comment sent to his personal Facebook account.

"I am not involved," says Bianchi. "My brother died from narcotics, I don't like narcotics, I don't approve or condone the use of it. I vehemently oppose it. Sounds like it is an Ackermann problem trying to find a scapegoat. I visit Sancho's as a customer."
click to enlarge So Many Roads is facing its first licensing complaint. - KYLE HARRIS
So Many Roads is facing its first licensing complaint.
Kyle Harris
In February and March of this year, Denver cops conducted two undercover stings to see if Sancho's would sell alcohol to an underage individual; on both occasions, the underage individual was able to purchase alcohol. DPD officers performed the same operation twice at So Many Roads in March and April. And again in March, Denver police officers conducted another undercover drug operation, reportedly buying 0.941 grams from Ackermann for $100.

While So Many Roads has never gotten into licensing trouble before, Sancho's Broken Arrow has. In 2019, the Department of Excise and Licenses dinged the venue for employing an unlicensed security guard and serving alcohol to a minor. In March 2020, Sancho's Broken Arrow also got nailed by the city for allowing people to drink and smoke pot in the venue, despite strict COVID-19 restrictions at the time that prohibited such gatherings.

In January of this year, Sancho's got hit with a licensing complaint for employing an unlicensed security guard, who was also reportedly in illegal possession of a taser. That same citation took Sancho's to task for not offering sandwiches or snacks during business hours, which is a requirement for a venue with a tavern liquor license.

According to today's show-cause hearings, which will be adjudicated at a single administrative hearing on June 21, Sancho's is facing citations for four counts of cocaine dealing, two counts related to an unlicensed security guard and two counts of allowing underage alcohol consumption, as well as three charges related to the conduct of an establishment, including allowing on-site marijuana consumption. So Many Roads is facing counts for cocaine dealing, sale of alcohol to a minor and allowing unlawful acts to occur on the property.

Bishop and Premus have not responded to messages sent to their personal Facebook accounts, nor to a message left with a Sancho's Broken Arrow staffer.

Updated: This story was updated at 5 p.m. on May 22 to include a comment from Jay Bianchi.
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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.