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Three prominent Boston restaurant companies, accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in illegal kickbacks from a beer distributor, asked for leniency at a state disciplinary hearing Tuesday and questioned the legality of the charges against them.
Attorneys for the Glynn Hospitality Group Inc., the Wilcox Hospitality Group Inc., and an affiliate of the Cronin Group LLC appeared before the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to face charges stemming from the agency’s crackdown on so-called “pay-to-play” in the state’s beer industry.
Investigators say the companies were among five restaurant operators that received about $120,000 from an Everett beer distributor, Craft Brewers Guild, to put the distributor’s beers on tap at their Boston bars and freeze out brews sold by competing distributors. The ABCC said the payments were part of a “pervasive illegal enterprise” aimed at shoring up the distributor’s sales.
The bar owners acknowledged receiving the money from Craft Brewers Guild, but said the payments were offered unprompted by salesmen and managers for the distributor.
Investigators said the Cronin Group’s Rebel Restaurant operation, which owns the Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grill in the Seaport, Atlantic Beer Garden, and others — cashed numerous checks from Craft Brewers Guild in 2013 and 2014. Kiley acknowledged the company received payments totaling $8,420 for purchasing kegs of Wachusett, Cisco, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, and Smuttynose beers from the distributor.
The Glynn Hospitality Group, which owns Clery’s and Dillon’s among other local bars, acknowledged Tuesday taking $39,000 from Craft Brewers Guild from 2013 to 2014. In exchange, investigators said, the company stocked 22 brands offered by Craft Brewers Guild at its restaurants.
Cassis, the Glynn group’s attorney, characterized the arrangement as a simple promotional program that “blew up in the face” of the company.
“When the public reads about this case, they think some horrible, evil thing is going on,” Cassis said at the hearing. “But this is the only industry where this is prohibited. . . . What happened here was simply an effort by someone to market and support beer that was otherwise unknown and would never get to market.”
The ABCC’s commissioners will decide later this year whether the restaurant companies are guilty and mete out any punishment.
Two other large Boston-area restaurant groups accused of taking kickbacks from Craft Brewers Guild, the Lyons Group and the Briar Group, will face ABCC hearings later this year. Investigators are also examining whether other distributors have paid kickbacks to bars and liquor stores.