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Bartender told judge cocaine sold at Las Vegas bar for decades

Updated August 26, 2019 - 8:22 pm

For more than two decades, bartenders at the now-shuttered Smuggle Inn sold cocaine to anyone who wanted it, according to a letter one wrote to a Las Vegas judge.

“I was hired at the Smuggle Inn at the age of twenty eight,” bartender Michelle Kirk, now 52, wrote to District Judge David Barker in June. “I didn’t realize when I started working there that it had been a cocaine bar for many years. It was basically the only reason people went there.”

The tavern, located for more than 30 years at 1305 Vegas Valley Drive, shut down in March and no longer has a restaurant or liquor license, Clark County records show.

On Thursday, the Gaming Control Board approved a settlement that required the bar to surrender its restricted gaming license. The deal came after a police drug bust in December resulted in the arrests of Kirk, another bartender and a handful of patrons who had cocaine on them.

Kirk pleaded guilty in January to possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, court records show. At the time of her arrest, officers found more than $2,300 in her purse, as well as more than 58 grams of cocaine and 5 grams of methamphetamine in a bank bag behind the bar.

A judge sentenced her in May to 60 days in jail and five years of probation if she completed a substance abuse evaluation and treatment plan. If she violates her probation, she could face anywhere from 14 to 48 months in prison.

“The first year of my employment, I did not, would not, participate — due to the consequences,” Kirk wrote to the judge on her ninth day of jail, asking him to let her out early. “After struggling to pay my bills for over a year, I succumbed. I only sold while I worked, just as most others that worked there.”

‘Huge bad choice’

On July 9, District Judge Jerry Wiese denied her request, in which Kirk mentioned she had a 13-year-old son who knew nothing of her “supplemental income.”

“I don’t even get in trouble in the detention center,” she wrote, referring to the Clark County Detention Center, where she was jailed. “I am an honest, hard working, fun loving, caring, woman and mother that made a HUGE BAD CHOICE a long time ago.”

Kirk completed her jail sentence this month. Her attorney, Jack Buchanan, said she “looks to move on with her life.”

“She’s a great person who made a mistake and was caught up in a tough situation in her place of employment,” Buchanan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Most patrons in the bar at the time of the bust saw their cases dismissed after they agreed to stay out of trouble or complete drug abstinence support meetings.

One patron, Gerald Rueda, was found with more than 24 grams of cocaine in front of him when cops walked in during the bust, but he told officers that it was not intended for sale. Rueda was sentenced last week to three years’ probation, and Buchanan, also his attorney, chalked it up to “wrong place, wrong time.”

“He was not a principal in this,” Buchanan said.

A criminal case against the second bartender arrested, Alvin St. Clair, is pending. A hearing is slated for Thursday. A warrant also was issued for a third, unnamed bartender, according to the Gaming Control Board.

As of Friday afternoon, the bar’s longtime owner, Richard DiCandilo, was not facing criminal charges.

Dennis Gutwald, who represented DiCandilo before the Gaming Control Board, told commissioners Thursday that his client “gave the keys to the landlord and walked away from the business” several months ago.

DiCandilo also tried to self-surrender his license to the board, Senior Deputy Attorney General John Michela told commissioners Thursday. But the board declined to accept it and instead required the license be tendered through the complaint-and-settlement process so that a public record could be made of the violations.

Though state statutes and regulations allow authorities to discipline licensees through fines, DiCandilo and Smuggle Inn were not fined.

DiCandilo and Gutwald did not respond Friday to requests for comment.

‘That explains a lot’

Kevin Chin, the current landlord of the property where Smuggle Inn sat for more than three decades, told the Review-Journal on Friday that he had no knowledge of the December drug bust, the ensuing criminal charges or the Gaming Control Board settlement.

“Hm, that’s — well — that explains a lot,” said Chin, who lives in San Francisco and has owned the property and surrounding shopping center since 2014.

Metro officers executed the bust on Dec. 26 after undercover detectives on two separate occasions bought cocaine from two different bartenders at Smuggle Inn earlier that month, according to the Gaming Control Board complaint and Kirk’s arrest report.

In March, DiCandilo suddenly notified Chin he was not going to renew his monthly tenancy.

“We actually reached out to him when he told us he was closing the business, and we asked why, and he gave us no explanation,” Chin said. “We were curious, like, why wouldn’t he just sell the business if it’s been successful for so many years?”

When officers in December spoke with DiCandilo about the bust, he told officers that he once had a customer approach him regarding “cocaine on the bar,” but then said the customer left and he never followed up on the comment.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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