It could be weeks or months before Mike Cooper will know if he will be able to sell beer again at Cooper’s Landing, the convenience store he owns on the banks of the Missouri River, south of Columbia. Friday was the final day of Cooper’s hearing before the Administrative Hearing Commission.
A decision will follow a review of the hearing by Commissioner John J. Kopp.
Cooper is appealing a decision to revoke his liquor license because Keith Fuller, state supervisor of the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said Cooper lacked good moral character.
According to the division, having good moral character — which the law does not define, leaving it to Fuller’s discretion — is a requirement for holding a liquor license in Missouri. Until the revocation, Cooper held a liquor license for 17 years.
At Friday’s hearing, Special Agent Bill Alton of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control testified that during February he was asked by his supervisor to go to Cooper’s Landing to meet with Cooper because he wanted to make changes to his current liquor license, which required filling out a new long-form application.
Alton approved the application at his level and passed it on to Fuller’s office. Alton said the supervisor’s office does a criminal history check of the applicant before approving them. During this process it was discovered that Cooper had pled guilty to a 1992 cocaine possession charge.
On the application Cooper filled out there were five questions that asked about criminal history, he answered no to each of the questions.
“Based on the criminal convictions and answers on the submitted application, a letter was sent regarding the application and why it was denied,” Alton testified.
Every liquor license holder must submit a renewal application that asks if anything has changed since the original long-form application was submitted.
Alton testified that changes regarding Cooper’s legal troubles were never indicated until the current renewal application was submitted.
“The way the forms were filled out brought this about,” Alton testified.
Alton was present during a meeting Cooper had with Fuller and Lori Baskins, the division’s deputy supervisor, where Cooper’s previous criminal record was talked about.
“No doubt we felt like he was misleading us,” Alton said of the meeting.
Assistant Attorney General, David Barrett, argued the law requires honest answers in four places, and Cooper gave dishonest ones.
“Every year he ignored the bad things he had done,” Barrett said about the renewal applications Cooper has submitted during the years after his drug possession charge.
“Although Michael Cooper is a good person, he lacks the good moral character,” Barrett said.
On Friday, Cooper’s attorney, Brian Gepford, called his final seven witnesses to the stand to defend Cooper’s character, including Cooper’s brother-in-law, David Dearnley.
Dearnley testified he lived in the apartment above the bait shop at Cooper’s Landing in 1992 when Cooper was arrested for possession of cocaine.
“He recovered and decided he wasn’t going to do it anymore,” Dearnley said. “(Mike) made the decision to change his life and he did it.”
Dearnley said Cooper’s Landing was basically a quiet place that no one but locals knew about, but since Cooper has been working to improve his business it has become more popular.
Dearnley described the transformation he has seen at Cooper’s Landing as “amazing.”
Making his case to the commissioner, Gepford argued that many witnesses agreed Cooper is a vital asset to his community.
“Mistakes can be made and can be made by people of good moral character,” Gepford said.
Alton testified that Cooper has never received any liquor violations and the division has never received any calls to investigate Cooper’s Landing.
“The whole question in the case comes down to is Mr. Cooper a person of good moral character,” Gepford said to start his closing arguments.
Barrett said Cooper’s defense that he didn’t know the law cannot stand because people are responsible for knowing the law.
“Regardless of the ruling of the commissioner, it makes me feel even stronger that I should continue to make Cooper’s Landing better so that everyone feels safer and more secure there,” Cooper said after the hearing.