SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A borough councilman says a prior administration, including former Borough Clerk Vincent Buttiglieri, missed an opportunity in 2006 to close down Liquid Assets when they had the chance. According to Councilman Rob Bengivenga, the prior administration dropped the ball when local, county and state officials were investigating the bar and the owners were looking to transfer ownership.
According to public records, Buttiglieri approved the transfer on July 29, 2005. At the time, part-owner John Colisanti wanted to become sole owner, something that required local approval. After Buttiglieri issued the approval, the county prosecutor’s office questioned it and asked him for a written statement explaining why it was allowed. The letter stated that Colisanti was the subject of an ongoing investigation by South Plainfield, the Prosecutor’s Office and the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
In response, Buttiglieri said he didn’t know any reason for the governing body to deny the transfer. He also said he was unaware that South Plainfield was looking to close down the bar, and that as far as he knew, the governing body had not discussed the matter.
Shortly before the approval, ABC notified the clerk’s office that Liquid Assets had pleaded no contest to four liquor-license violations, including three counts of lewd activity with audience participation. About a month after the approval, the bar was charged with seven more violations, including four for lewdness and immoral activity. While the charges were filed after the approval, the incidents took place before.
When asked whether he notified the governing body about the transfer or if the borough was looking to close Liquid Assets, Buttiglieri, who is currently clerk in Township of Ocean and the South Plainfield Democratic chairman, declined to comment, instead indicating that the documents relating to the matter are available from the borough clerk’s office.
Liquid Assets closed on April 30 after a two-year legal battle with the town. Afterward, Colisanti sent a letter to a local newspaper saying he believed he was the victim of “changing political tides.”
After reading those comments, Bengivenga started looking into the bar’s enforcement history. “I was curious what he meant by changing political tides. It seemed like the prosecutor’s office was trying to warn Buttiglieri and he just ignored them.”
The more recent history of Liquid Assets goes back to January 2012 when a near-riot at the bar involved up to 200 people. When police responded, it took about 35 officers from South Plainfield and nearby towns to get things under control. Sgt. Wayne Diana described the scene as a riot, with fights breaking out all over. It was so bad, he testified, that he was afraid for his own safety and that of the other officers.
Colasanti testified that he was present and in charge that night. He had hired an entertainer from Philadelphia who was scheduled to perform at 1:30 a.m. and said he had employed extra security because he anticipated a large crowd. Yet of the six security guards, only one was certified.
After the incident, the mayor and council charged Liquid Assets with several violations and suspended its liquor license for 45 days. According to Mayor Matt Anesh, who was elected in 2010, he and the council had established a zero-tolerance policy, and after issuing the suspension, refused to renew the bar’s liquor license when it came up for renewal in June. Liquid Assets appealed both decisions, as well as the council’s 2013 decision to deny its license renewal.
When asked to comment on what happened back in 2005 and whether he thought the borough should have pushed the issue when his party was in charge, lone Democratic Councilman CJ Diana said he was not on council in 2005 and that he could not comment on how Buttiglieri handled the situation since that was eight years prior to being elected. He indicated, though, that he was a strong advocate for closing the bar once he joined the council in 2013.
Anesh was unconvinced. “It is quite obvious the Democrats dropped the ball on this back when it happened. Maybe if Buttiglieri looked into the situation or the council acted like we did in 2012, Liquid Assets would have been closed much sooner. Instead it took an all- Republican mayor and council push the issue. I can only assume that is what Mr. Colisanti meant when he said ‘changing political tides.’”