A Glendale liquor store owner, cited twice in one year for selling alcohol to minors, has been scheduled to stand trial on a charge that he attempted to bribe a state official to prevent suspension of his liquor license.
But, according to J. Michael Flanagan, the attorney representing Patana Ongpatanavutikun, the district attorney's office "doesn't have much of a case" against his client, who Flanagan contends was duped by an investigator from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Flanagan said he may try to work out a plea bargain with the district attorney's office before the case goes to trial.
Ongpatanavutikun, the 38-year-old owner of M and M Liquor at 1951 W. Glenoaks Blvd., is charged with attempted bribery for allegedly paying the ABC investigator $800 in cash last June. His trial is set for Jan. 24 in Pasadena Superior Court.
Authorities said Ongpatanavutikun offered the bribe to David Robbins, supervising investigator in the ABC Panorama City office, to prevent suspension of Ongpatanavutikun's liquor license after he was cited in May by Glendale police officers. They said he had sold alcohol to a 17-year-old girl. It was the second citation within a year that Ongpatanavutikun had received for allegedly selling alcohol to minors.
Robbins said that Ongpatanavutikun had originally agreed to waive his right to an administrative hearing into the matter. He said Ongpatanavutikun was willing to accept Robbins' recommendation that his liquor license be suspended and his store closed for 30 days.
But Robbins said Ongpatanavutikun changed his mind a few days later and arranged a private meeting with him to discuss canceling the disciplinary action.
Robbins said he met twice with Ongpatanavutikun in the parking lot of a steak house a few blocks from M and M Liquor. At the first meeting on May 31, Ongpatanavutikun offered Robbins $1,000 to dismiss the charge against him and, at the second meeting on June 4, paid him $800 in cash, Robbins said. Both meetings were reportedly monitored by Glendale police officers who had wired the investigator with a hidden microphone.
Police arrested Ongpatanavutikun in the restaurant parking lot, allegedly after the liquor store owner had handed Robbins the bribe. Ongpatanavutikun pleaded not guilty to the bribery charge at his arraignment in Pasadena Superior Court in October.
Flanagan maintains that his client, an immigrant from Thailand who has been in the United States for a little over two years, was acting out of naivete when he offered Robbins the $800 payment. Ongpatanavutikun operates the store with his wife, Fang-Ling Chih, also an immigrant.
"The guy is brand-new here, and he doesn't know what the procedures are that you go through in this country," Flanagan said in an interview. "He hardly speaks any English. He didn't know the significance of what he was doing, what he was saying.
"In the event that we had to go to trial in front of a jury, the jury would find the ABC official every bit as responsible as Mr. Ongpatanavutikun."
Ongpatanavutikun pleaded guilty in Glendale Municipal Court in July, 1983, to a misdemeanor criminal charge of selling alcohol to a minor, and the court levied $240 in fines and penalties and ordered one year's probation. The store owner also was fined $500 by the ABC in a separate administrative action.
He was issued a second citation in May of this year for selling a wine cooler to a teen-age girl. Ongpatanavutikun pleaded guilty in the Glendale court to that charge in September. He was fined $300, plus $170 for violating his probation, which was extended another year.
While court action on the bribery charge is pending, M and M Liquor remains open for business with its liquor license still in force. Robbins said that ABC administrative charges stemming from Ongpatanavutikun's May citation for selling alcohol to a minor and the alleged bribery attempt have been filed with the ABC office in Sacramento. No action has been taken.
If Ongpatanavutikun requests a formal hearing into the charges, Robbins said, he will probably recommend revocation of the store owner's liquor license. Ongpatanavutikun, who declined to discuss the bribery charge against him, has said in the past that both he and his wife have had trouble discerning the age of the young people who come into their store to buy alcohol and have been fooled by false identification cards.
The two also say they have been harassed by youths who were angered by the couple's refusal to sell them alcohol. They said young people have broken a store window, dumped trash in the front and back of the store and thrown eggs, catsup and mustard at the storefront several times.
"If we don't sell them alcohol, they do damage," Ongpatanavutikun once told a reporter. Ongpatanavutikun could face up to four years in state prison if convicted of the bribery charge.