Hicks surfaces in RICO lawsuit

Warren Law Director Gregory V. Hicks has been identified as a potential ”wrongdoer” in a multi-million dollar civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed against downtown Warren businessmen Joseph Sankey Jr., LaShawn Ziegler and Robert Cregar, and several Jane and John Does. The lawsuit was filed by attorney Richard Goodman on behalf of Sunrise Inn restaurant owner Ken Haidaris.

Cregar’s attorney, Martin F. White, asked, among other questions, for the names of others not named in the lawsuit but who are potential wrongdoers. In his response, Goodman mentioned one name – Hicks.

Hicks, though, is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

The way Hicks’ City of Warren Law Department handled efforts to block the renewal of liquor licenses for the now-closed Sunset Lounge on East Market Street and another bar, Gadd’s Olympic Inn on Parkman Road, led Goodman to consider adding Hicks as a wrongdoer, Goodman said.

Hicks said his name appearing on the written response to White’s request is ”ludicrous” and that he’s ”appalled.”

Goodman said an investigation he conducted into the Sunset Lounge and Olympic Inn shows a ”gross disparity” in the city’s handling of the cases and identified Hicks as ”a potential person that may be responsible.”

Goodman said he’s not interested in ”any witch hunt,” but he’s ”following the evidence as the evidence leads us.”

”I cannot say how (Hicks) will fit in or if he will fit in,” Goodman said. ”The question has been asked as to what or who may be involved in the case and we have made that response, and it does include him.”

Goodman said the issue remains open and one he plans to pursue ”vigorously through the discovery process.”

”I don’t know what investigation Mr. Goodman could have possibly done that would lead him to such a conclusion, however, he should understand that I will vigorously defend my good name against any party that wants to allege such a blatant, ridiculous comment,” Hicks said.

”I would be happy if he would disclose to us whatever investigation he may have done,” said Hicks, adding Goodman did not request information from the Law Department.

The cases against the Olympic Inn and Sunset Lounge stack up against each other like this:

Gadd’s Olympic Inn

The city successfully fought an attempt by the owner to renew its liquor permit. The Ohio Department of Liquor Control denied the Olympic Inn’s request based on testimony at a hearing in December, when it was established that police responded to at least 27 calls at the Parkman Road N.W. bar during 2012.

Other testimony came from Terrance Dial and his wife Pamela, who live next door to the bar. Pamela Dial was wounded by a stray bullet fired from the parking lot of the bar after it had closed.

The permit is in safekeeping with the Division of Liquor Control. The Olympic Inn owner filed an appeal.

Sunset Lounge

The city filed to prevent Sankey from renewing the license after police reported more than 20 calls for service at the bar over a span of four months last year. Then a man was shot to death inside the bar on New Year’s Day.

During the permit renewal hearing in February, the city did not present evidence of police calls or the shooting death. The city based its objection on three of five administrative charges filed by the Ohio Department of Public Safety that Sankey already admitted were true.

The state hearing officer determined the evidence was ”insufficient to sustain” the city’s objection. Sankey, who after the murder placed the liquor permit in ”temporary closing authority” for 180 days, has since received a 180-day extension while he attempts to sell the building.

Hicks said the city was shocked over the state’s decision. The city has appealed and plans to offer the police calls and shooting death as evidence at the appeal. A hearing on the appeal has not been scheduled.

Goodman said the city, acting through Hicks, opposed the renewal of the Olympic Inn’s license more strenuously than it did with the Sunset Lounge. When the civil RICO suit was first filed, Haidaris said that the city had failed to protect him from a loss of business that occurred because of violence at the Sunset Lounge, across the street from his Sunrise Inn.

Hicks said, ”I can tell you these liquor hearings are held fairly, equally and with no special treatment … there is absolutely nothing to these allegations. For (Goodman) to make these allegations public, he is opening himself up to litigation.”

The civil RICO lawsuit claims that Cregar, Sankey and Ziegler conspired to ruin the Sunrise Inn. Cregar owns a bail bonding company for which Sankey worked. Cregar also owned the building that housed Ziegler’s company, Dream Team Promotions.

Records indicate that Ziegler’s company opened the Sunset Lounge in Sankey’s building. The ties to Ziegler, a convicted felon, and Cregar led to Sankey losing his security officer jobs in Newton Falls Municipal and Central District courts. He now works security in Niles Municipal Court.

Hicks also rents office space for his private law practice in a North Park Avenue building that Cregar owns. Hicks says his tenant-landlord relationship does not conflict with his law department handling cases involving Cregar’s bail bond clients or other legal matters that have surfaced between the city and Cregar.

Cregar said he has never asked for nor received any favorable treatment from Hicks.

The civil RICO lawsuit claims that money from the Sunset Lounge was directed to Cregar businesses.

The lawsuit asks for as much as $3.7 million in damages and to dissolve businesses owned by Cregar, Dream Team Promotions and Blue Magoo’s Ventures LLC, which is Sankey’s company that holds the liquor permit.

The lawsuit also seeks permanent revocation of Blue Magoo’s liquor license.

Defendants’ attorneys have said the lawsuit is preposterous and they intend to vigorously defend their clients.

A status conference was held July 18. White has asked the court to remove Cregar from the lawsuit. A decision is pending.