HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is now cracking down on bars that have reclassified their liquor license to open as restaurants. Investigators say their goal is not to audit business owners but rather, put an end to the uptick in several crimes tied to these establishments.
Per Governor Abbott’s executive order, individual counties can determine whether bars can reopen. In Harris County, bars are not allowed to reopen.
Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, says prosecutors are cracking down on bars and clubs that blatantly lie on their application to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
"It is a new tool that we have to go after the worst of the worst. These clubs and these bars that are the real crime drivers in our area," Teare said.
Teare said investigators received numerous complaints and noted repeat calls for service from police at two Houston establishments.
"There was no kitchen, there wasn't even a bag of chips. When I go to one of these establishments and I see that they've sworn on a government document that they have food service and they don't, then I'm going to charge them with a third-degree felony," Teare said.
In the last two weeks, the DA’s office has indicted two Houston bar owners: Ronoldy Antonio Pena of Koko Bongo Discotheque in East Houston and Raul Gonzalez Silva of El Principe Azul Nite Club in Southwest Houston.
Both were charged with making a “false statement on an alcohol license” -- a third-degree felony punishable up to 10 years in prison.
Since June 26, TABC says they’ve approved 2,831 of the roughly 3,000 applications from bars across the state, hoping to relicense their business as a restaurant in order to reopen.
To be approved, TABC says a bar does not have to undergo inspection; all they need is the right paperwork and to fork over the $776 application fee.
"In this instance, in the case with the Koko Bongo Club, we had four different shootings in the last calendar year -- inside the club or directly outside. We had three assault calls. We had numerous drug complaints. We had over 50 DWI’s directly tied to leaving that area. And another big issue is that we believe there's a human trafficking component with the owner and the operator of this club. We've got numerous prostitution complaints there. There may be some underage prostitution going on in there and that's a huge red flag for us," Teare said.