Even with his deep arrest record and a felony conviction 11 years ago, Jeffrey J. Basil could work again as a bar manager if he ever makes bail.
In the eyes of the State Liquor Authority, which blocks felons from holding liquor licenses or working as bar managers, Basil remains in good standing.
That would change, of course, if Basil is convicted on the felony assault charge he faces in connection with the brutal attack on a patron inside the Buffalo bar that Basil ran.
William C. Sager Jr., 28, suffered a severe brain injury when pushed down a flight of stairs at Molly’s Pub in University Heights in the early morning of May 11. He remains in a coma 11 days later.
In 2011, a judge granted Basil a legal document that helps felons regain some of the status lost with their conviction. A “certificate of relief from disabilities” allows felons in New York to apply for licenses and pursue jobs that might otherwise be denied them.
In essence, it’s a document given to felons working toward rehabilitation. With the certificate, the State Liquor Authority permits felons to apply for liquor licenses and work as bar managers.
Basil first applied for a certificate of relief from disabilities in August 2007, four years after he was convicted of attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. He was placed on probation for five years for the felony.
Basil applied for the certificate too soon.
The county Probation Department conducted a background check and recommended that Basil be denied, said County Probation Commissioner Brian J. McLaughlin, who was not the commissioner in 2007.
McLaughlin would not reveal the department’s findings, but a review of Basil’s record at the time shows that he had not stayed out of trouble.
Just a year after the felony conviction, Basil in 2004 was charged with aggravated harassment.
That charge was pleaded down to a violation.
Then, in 2006, he was charged with felony driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. With those incidents, Basil’s probation was revoked, and he was ordered in 2006 to spend a year in jail.
It’s no surprise, then, that probation officers in August 2007 recommended that Basil be denied a certificate of relief. State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang, who had received Basil’s request, refused his application soon after.
Basil applied again in November of that year.
And again, the Probation Department recommended against it, McLaughlin said, and again Wolfgang refused to sign the document. Basil by then had filed for bankruptcy, claiming no income and debts of more than $82,000.
In February 2011, Basil tried a third time for a certificate, this time by going directly to Wolfgang, said McLaughlin.
A lawyer for Basil told the judge in a letter that his client needed the document for help in working in the debt-collection business – one of Basil’s interests.
Wolfgang turned to the Probation Department and asked for the presentence investigation report that probation officers compiled on Basil for his 2003 felony.
She also asked for Basil’s arrest record but did not request a new examination of Basil, nor did she ask for the Probation Department’s recommendation on whether to grant his certificate, McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin declined to speculate on whether the Probation Department would have recommended approval or denial of a certificate for Basil had Wolfgang asked the department in 2011.
But it was clear that as far as arrests were concerned, Basil was in a dry spell.
Basil’s record showed no new charges since Wolfgang denied him a certificate roughly four years earlier, in November 2007.
The judge granted him a certificate on May 9, 2011, three days after probation officials sent her the records.
Wolfgang’s confidential law clerk, Daniel J. Weinstein, refused The Buffalo News’ request to talk with the judge about her decision, but he provided some of the correspondence related to Basil.
In October 2013, an entity known as NHJB Inc. had applied to the State Liquor Authority to revive a bar named Molly’s at 3199 Main St.
It had been closed for years after accusations that it sold liquor to underage patrons.
One of the principals of NHJB, Norman J. Habib, holds the establishment’s liquor license.
Habib had told the liquor authority that he would manage Molly’s. There was no mention of Basil at the SLA meeting, according to the authority’s minutes of the session.
Even if Basil’s name had surfaced, he would not have been blocked from managing the bar because he had the certificate of relief and no new felony conviction.
Indeed, in January of this year Habib told the SLA that Basil would take over as manager of Molly’s.
Because Basil had a certificate permission was granted, said William J. Crowley, an SLA spokesman.
If Basil, 35, of Amherst, is ever able to post his $250,000 bail, or some revised amount, he would not be able to work at Molly’s because the Buffalo Police Department closed the bar after the assault on Sager.
But if some other bar would hire Basil, nothing blocks him from taking the job.
Said Crowley: “Licensees can’t knowingly employ felons unless they have a certificate of relief. In this case,” he said of Basil, “he does have one.”