FALL RIVER – The 100 Cigar Club is promoted as an exclusive club offering gold or silver memberships for $1,000 or $500 to sip expensive booze and smoke cigars on the top floor of the Towne House restaurant and bar complex. It is also a non-profit organization that is exempt from paying property taxes to the city.
The city’s Licensing Board filed a liquor license transfer for the 100 Cigar Club on Wednesday, after raising questions about the company’s nonprofit status.
“My concern is what are the duties and responsibilities of the Licensing Board [are] about it,” Licensing Council Chairman Tim McCoy said.
Paul Filogenio, the new majority owner of Towne House, and Luis Bettencourt, the original principal owner, are requesting the transfer of the liquor license for the Portuguese American Society, the non-profit corporation doing business as 100 clubs. The Towne House website states that the club is named so because it is limited to 100 members.
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According to the Office of the Assessment Commission, a business with association status is not required to pay property taxes, but it may be required to pay personal property taxes.
A check last month showed that the appraiser’s office had no listings in its database for the 100 Cigar Club’s hookah bar and lounge.
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The three-member council voted to table the matter of transferring the cigar bar’s liquor license until next month’s meeting, pending an opinion from the city’s company attorney as to whether s he has the power to determine whether the company operates as a non-profit organization.
However, the board approved a change in leadership and board of directors for RLJ Group LLC, the for-profit company doing business as the Towne House Restaurant.
Until last month, Jenny (Fernandes) Correia, the wife of former mayor Jasiel Correia II, held the title of Warden of Towne House and was listed in the Massachusetts society database as one of directors of the Portuguese American Society. His name has since been removed. Correia’s mother, Maria Correia, had also served as director of the Portuguese American Society; she no longer holds that position either.
According to reports confirmed by Filogenio, Jenny and Jasiel Correia used to work at Towne House, but in early 2022 they parted ways with the business, which is co-owned by Bettencourt, Jenny Correia’s father-in-law, and Rosa. Fernandes, his mother.
Jasiel Correia is currently serving a six-year federal prison sentence for government fraud and corruption.
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Is the cigar bar non-profit?
As McCoy noted at the licensing board meeting, the board granted the American Portuguese Company a liquor license for the cigar bar in 2020.
“It didn’t necessarily operate as a nonprofit,” McCoy said. “I’m a bit skeptical about making the same mistake twice.”
McCoy said that according to the Portuguese American Society’s mission statement, which he accessed online, the nonprofit’s goal was to promote efforts such as providing scholarships, but that until As of April 7, it hadn’t filed an annual report since 2020.
The nonprofit organization’s mission statement, filed in August 2020, states that the objectives of the Luso-American Society are “to encourage and carry out cultural, civic and social activities to preserve and strengthen the traditional Luso-American heritage of its members…”
“We’re working on it,” Bettencourt replied, saying the company made a contribution to the YMCA last year.
Lawyer Arthur Frank, who represents business owners, said he recently updated annual reports.
McCoy said part of his concern was that, with the exception of Jenny Correia, other board members — including Bettencourt and his wife, Rosa Fernandes — had served as directors before. “We have one changing person here, but there were other people who technically [have been] responsible for furthering the nonprofit’s mission,” McCoy said.
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Frank countered that the cigar bar opened amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For a very long time they haven’t even been opened, so it’s very difficult for any group, for-profit or non-profit, to continue their mission if the state is closed,” Frank said.
“It was slow,” Bettencourt said.
McCoy said he wasn’t suggesting anything was ‘slanderous’ with the company’s future, but said he wanted advice from the company’s attorney if the board had the power to object to the transfer.
Frank said the council treated its clients unfairly and that the power of the council was not to “delve into the scope of their mission”.
“If the IRS thinks they’re not following through on their mission, they’ll lose their tax-exempt status,” Frank said.
Jo C. Goode can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today!