Illegal patio and deck stripped from Tapia's bar
Published: October 23, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - While awaiting sentencing for drug trafficking crimes he committed while he was director of enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Roberto Tapia appears to have arranged for the dismantling of parts of a bar he operated illegally in Contant.
Ine's Place, located at 10-7 Contant, was shuttered Monday, and the outdoor patio was removed as well as the deck. Chairs and tables were stacked in a pile next to the small restaurant and bar.
Meanwhile, a number of government agencies have promised to take action to close the bar, with enforcement escalating to the V.I. Justice Department, and any possible repayment of fines, loans and back rent is dependent on V.I. Superior Court proceedings.
However, the status of those government actions remains unclear.
Since at least 2006, the bar has operated in violation of numerous laws and regulations, including failure to pay rent; operating with an expired business license; making unpermitted improvements; and exceeding the allowed property use on the lease, which is restricted to a mobile food van.
Also, Tapia took out a loan in 2006 for $25,000 through the V.I. Economic Development Authority for improvements to the bar and has since become delinquent on repaying that loan.
Tapia was arrested May 17 after Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducting a sting operation caught him leaving the Red Hook ferry terminal with 7.72 kilograms of cocaine stashed in a backpack.
The 34-count indictment against Tapia and six other men - including V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill on St. John - portrays Tapia as a ringleader in a cocaine smuggling organization based on St. Thomas. He pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to one count of racketeering, which includes a number of drug trafficking offenses committed between September 2012 and May 2013.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9.
The status of an eviction complaint supposed to have been filed on behalf of the V.I. Property and Procurement Department by the Attorney General's Office about Ine's Place is unclear.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer told The Daily News earlier this month that the Justice Department had filed an eviction complaint. The action would have been a necessary precursor to filing a demolition permit through the Department of Planning and Natural Resources for the non-mobile bar, according to Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin-Maduro.
However, no such file pertaining to the bar could be found by the Superior Court clerk's office Tuesday.
V.I. Water and Power Authority Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said the power to the establishment had not been cut off, as Tapia had not requested the account be terminated. Because no order to turn off the power to the bar had come from the Justice Department or any other governmental entity, the account is current, Hodge said.
Hodge also said that he is under the impression that Tapia was merely removing all the outdoor structures that would represent a violation of his lease.
Millin-Maduro said Tapia has until the end of the week to remove all items from the property after a notice of forcible entry and detainer was filed in Superior Court. If he complies, the purpose of the complaint by the Justice Department primarily will become to recover the rent he owes the government, Millin-Maduro said.
Millin-Maduro told The Daily News on Tuesday that she is unsure of what the back rent amounts to, but Tapia has not paid rent since July 2, 2013, when the department posted a 30-day notice to quit and for eviction stating that he owed $10,702 plus late fees.
The total has climbed, Millin-Maduro said, but she did not have the figure or the Justice Department's eviction complaint on hand.
Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs Jr. said that the last business license on file was issued to Inaz King and had expired. The department is in the process of setting an administrative hearing date with King to settle a citation for operating a business with an expired license, Biggs said.
Regarding any conflict of interest issues related to Tapia's position with DPNR and his leasing government property, Millin-Maduro said that Tapia initially presented to the Legislature that he was only signing the lease for his mother, Helen Tapia, "because she had a broken arm at the time."
The Senate ratified the Nov. 16, 2005, lease, but it was never amended to list his mother as the signator, she said.
"There is no conflict of interest and all of that was addressed publicly when the lease went through," Millin-Maduro said.
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