Daveco Liquors to give up Thornton liquor store as part of tax dispute

THORNTON, Colo. - The owner of Daveco Liquors will relinquish ownership and operation of the Thornton liquor store as part of a stipulation and agreement with the Department of Revenue, Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement Division, state officials said.

Owner Hani D. Sawaged pleaded guilty last year in a scheme to underpay sales tax to the City of Thornton and the State of Colorado, prosecutors said. It's a scheme the CALL 7 Investigators were first to report on in 2009.

Prosecutors said Sawaged and his brothers logged fictitious merchandise returns and took $5.4 million dollars in cash from Daveco Liquors.  The result of this activity was underreporting and underpaying sales tax to the City of Thornton and to the Colorado Department of Revenue causing losses in excess of $1 million dollars.

Sawaged pleaded guilty last year to violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.  In exchange for his guilty plea to the most serious charge, other counts of theft, computer crime and tax evasion were dismissed, according to the Denver District Attorney's Office.

Under an agreement with the state, Sawaged agreed to turn over ownership and operation of Daveco Liquors to an independent third-party blind trust, which must sell the business within two years.

The state accused Daveco Liquors of allowing Ghassan Sawaged, Bassam Sawaged, and Shafeek Sawaged to exercise the privileges of ownership, although they were not listed as owners. The state alleged that Issam Sawaged loaned money to Daveco, which created a prohibited financial interest because Issam Sawaged is the owner of Davidson Liquors Inc.

The Department reached separate stipulations and agreements with Ghassan Sawaged and Bassam Sawaged. Under those, the brothers will not be allowed to apply for, or create a financial interest in any Colorado liquor license for a period of 24 months following their Aug. 13, 2012 guilty pleas.

In a statement sent to 7NEWS after the investigation became public, Daveco's said the charges were off base.

"These individuals have created two very successful liquor stores who we believe have gained an unfair economic advantage in this marketplace," said State Liquor Enforcement Director Laura Harris in 2009.

"The allegations by the Liquor Division revolve around two areas: cash payments to suppliers and interests in multiple licenses. These charges do not have merit and are plainly off base," the statement said. "With respect to charges involving multiple licenses, the Division is charging these liquor establishments with violating several vague and unclear laws. These laws are so vague that the Division was advised by its own attorney 16 years ago in 1993 that its regulations fall short of clarifying forbidden interests in licenses and that the Division could effectuate its concerns through the state rulemaking process."

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