As he unlocked his Pioneer Square door that morning, Emmatrice noticed Warner and a plainclothes officer get out of a police car and head toward him. "The plainclothes officer said, 'Stop, you're under arrest,'" Emmatrice recalls. "They asked me for my green card." Emmatrice is from Nigeria, but says he's been a naturalized U.S. citizen for over a decade. The cops--the plainclothes officer identified himself as a Homeland Security agent, Emmatrice says--arrested and fingerprinted him, and told him his prints matched those of someone who'd entered the country illegally. They told Emmatrice they'd transport him to the immigration detention center shortly. "After about 45 minutes they… stated they are releasing me because they found out I was a citizen of the U.S." Emmatrice explains.
As far as Emmatrice is concerned, the immigration arrest was just the latest attempt by the SPD to harass him until he gives up his plans to open Les Amies. In March, the SPD's vice unit commander sent a letter to the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) objecting to Emmatrice's request to transfer a liquor license, based on ordinary land-use violations. Meanwhile, internal city e-mails sarcastically refer to Emmatrice as "our friend Terry Emmatrice." And the officer who set up the November 19 immigration sting--an incident that danced dangerously close to Seattle's 2003 law prohibiting city employees, like cops, from trying to determine someone's immigration status--has been making allegations about Emmatrice for awhile. In March, Warner wrote a letter red-flagging Les Amies to other Belltown business owners and neighbors, asking them to report any "night club activity" to him. Finally--and most bizarrely--in November, Warner sent an unsolicited three-page note to Emmatrice's landlord, full of inflammatory allegations, like a claim that Emmatrice is the top liquor law violator in Washington State.
Now Emmatrice has brought attorney David Osgood on board, a well-known local lawyer who gained a reputation for defending clubs (like Oscar's II and Jersey's) against city discrimination during the Sidran era of club harassment. Osgood is helping Emmatrice appeal his liquor license transfer denial. "I'm trying to bat down really rampant irresponsible rumors and innuendo" from the police, Osgood says. "The city has decided to shut us down before we can even open," says Emmatrice, 46, sitting on a barstool in his still-closed club, a red-and-black space with a stage in the back corner, and twin bars flanking the door.
Some of the city's concerns about Emmatrice do seem valid. Les Amies' file at the city's Department of Planning and Development has a few violations related to the building's remodel from a hardware store to a club without the proper permits, a fairly common issue. Emmatrice, city officials point out, was holding private parties back in March, before he'd secured final building permits.
But the city's other objections to Les Amies' liquor license allege criminal activity that's unsubstantiated. Most of the allegations stem from Officer Warner: In Warner's March letter to Les Amies' neighbors, the officer claimed that Emmatrice purchased "large amounts" of beer from the grocery store next door, and resold it to patrons, a liquor law violation. (Emmatrice says he did buy some beer next door, to give to a performing band, not to resell.)
The allegations got more aggressive on November 3, when Warner sent a three-page e-mail to Emmatrice's landlord, Jerry Everard. Warner outlined the city's stock objections to Les Amies--the land-use violations and reselling beer allegations. But the officer went much further, writing that liquor control agents have dubbed Emmatrice the "#1 violator of liquor control laws in Washington State"; that his former Pioneer Square landlord had evicted his business; and that a man Warner met at Les Amies on October 14 claimed to be half owner of the club, but has an unspecified criminal record. "The information I found on [the man]… might be of interest to you," Warner wrote to Everard ominously. "But I will need to check with legal advisors to see what information I can release on Federal crimes." Warner concluded his note with a warning that Everard could be "on the hook for any civil actions" stemming from "anything that may have happened and might happen in the future" at Les Amies. (Warner did not return calls by press time.)
The letter's allegations, Osgood says, are "just bunk." Indeed, Everard didn't oust Les Amies when he received Warner's letter. "I wouldn't do anything based on any sort of rumor," explains Everard, who says he has, however, had issues with Emmatrice getting behind on rent (Emmatrice paid up in early December). As for the most egregious claim, that Emmatrice is the "#1 violator" of liquor laws, "It's not true," says the liquor board's own spokesperson, Sharon Michael. The WSLCB's Seattle-area manager, Bill Schrader, says Emmatrice is "not a major liquor law violator." Emmatrice has two valid liquor licenses--the one he's trying to transfer, from a now-closed Pioneer Square bar, and one at Pioneer Square's Wazobia club--and he's had just one administrative violation, from an incident three years ago when an employee served a minor. Addressing the permit issues, Emmatrice points out that he held temporary permits for events he hosted back in March, and he now has all of his paperwork in order. "We have worked very hard to comply with every request made to us by the city," Emmatrice wrote in a November letter to the liquor board. The day after he found out about Warner's letter to his landlord, Emmatrice called the cop, and they set up the November 19 meeting--the one that resulted in Emmatrice's encounter with Homeland Security (An investigation into "immigration issues" is pending, says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement--part of Homeland Security--spokesperson Mike Milne, but he couldn't confirm or deny that Emmatrice is the inquiry's subject. "He is not at this time facing any criminal charges," Milne says.)
Emmatrice's business attorney, Robert Zoffel, is frustrated that the city hasn't produced concrete objections to Les Amies' liquor license, only "mere allegation." And if the city's going to make allegations against Les Amies, Zoffel says, "I expect them to back it up."