Montana threatens to pull exclusive club's liquor licenses

FILE - This undated file photo shows the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky, Mont. It may get tougher for Yellowstone Club members like Bill Gates and Justin Timberlake to get a drink the next time they go skiing at the exclusive club for the ultra-rich in Montana. The state Department of Revenue is threatening to revoke four liquor licenses issued for facilities at the Yellowstone Club for allegedly serving drinks in an unlicensed location and hiding the evidence from inspectors. (Erik Petersen/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP, File)

HELENA, Mont. — Members like Bill Gates and Justin Timberlake might find it difficult to get a drink the next time they go skiing at the exclusive Yellowstone Club if state regulators follow through on their threat to pull several liquor licenses from the Montana resort.

State Department of Revenue officials have sent notice that they plan to revoke four licenses issued for facilities on the Yellowstone Club's sprawling mountainside property for allegedly serving drinks in an unlicensed location and hiding the evidence from inspectors.

Officials seized 2,979 bottles of liquor, 3,108 bottles of wine, 2,954 bottles and cans of beer and 31 kegs of beer stashed on the resort's property and in unlicensed warehouses in January and February, according to documents provided by the agency to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The owners of the liquor license have given notice they plan to contest the state agency's notice of revocation and the seizures. They have requested hearings, but a date has not been set, said revenue spokesman Sanjay Talwani.

The owners of the liquor licenses include CrossHarbor Capital Partners founder and Yellowstone Club co-owner Sam Byrne, who lifted the club out of bankruptcy in 2009 and also bought neighboring ski areas next to Big Sky Resort north of Yellowstone National Park.

The resort's private ski hill and golf course have attracted the rich and famous, such as Gates and Timberlake. Along with the sprawling multimillion dollar mansions made of logs and stone are plush accommodations that include lodges, fine restaurants and a couple of new features: the Buffalo Bar and Grill and the Boot Room, billed as a "late-night hangout."

A limited-liability company co-owned by Yellowstone Club vice president and general manager Hans Williamson applied for another liquor license for the Buffalo Bar and the Boot Room in December, according to revenue department documents. Williamson walked a state inspector through the property on Jan. 16 for an inspection that went without a hitch, and the license appeared to be on track for approval, revenue officials said.

But a tipster called in and said the resort had been running a full bar at the location since mid-December, and that Williamson had the liquor spirited out in trucks the day before the inspection, according to the documents.

Two inspectors returned unannounced the following week. "They found the bar area to be stocked with liquor, operational beer taps, bottles of wine and customers consuming alcoholic beverages," the agency's notice to the liquor license owners said.

The investigators found that liquor being purchased through the other licenses at the resort was being stored at an unlicensed warehouse and distributed to locations around the club, revenue officials said.

The agency concluded officials sold and stored alcohol at unlicensed locations and that Byrne and the other liquor license owners failed to maintain an active participation in the operation to ensure proper and lawful conduct.

The agency sent notice of plans to revoke the four licenses, deny the application for the new liquor license and to keep the liquor that was seized.

Williamson and an attorney representing the Yellowstone Club's liquor license holders did not return calls for comment. Williams told revenue officials that Byrne and license co-owner Robert Garrow "were unaware of the operations that triggered the disciplinary investigation," according to the notice.

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