VIDEO: Mercato business owners discuss drugs-in-drinks complaints

Task force meets on drugging complaints

Mike Hoyt on the meeting for Mercato ...

The Mercato

9259 Mercato Way, Naples, FL

— Representatives from the Mercato shopping center’s bars and restaurants remain optimistic that soon they will be able to explain the mystery surrounding the recent reports of patrons being drugged at their establishments, a Mercato official said Monday.

But right now, the business owners and managers remain concerned about the reports, said Mike Hoyt, senior vice president of the Lutgert Companies, which manages the shopping center.

“We think there is an issue that needs to be uncovered all the facts,” Hoyt said. “We’ll get to a point in the future where we’re confident, where there will be some — I don’t know if I can say closure, I’d love it if there was some closure to it — but I think there will be some point in the future where there will be a preponderance of facts that will help bring some level of closure to it.”

Around 9:30 a.m., the business representatives met behind closed doors at McCormick & Schmicks Seafood Restaurant to address about 50 reports filed by Mercato customers who believe they were drugged while dining at the shopping center since August 2009.

Most of the reports were filed by customers of the Blue Martini after the Daily News published a story in early March about allegations that had surfaced at that restaurant. However, two people have also come forward alleging they were drugged while dining at two other Mercato restaurants, Piola and McCormick & Schmicks.

“It does not appear that business has been affected in a negative way,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt was deliberately vague when addressing the media after the meeting. He declined to specify steps the restaurants were taking to investigate the complaints, but said the restaurant representatives were sharing tips on hiring and training employees, preparing and serving food and drinks, and customer service and education.

“There’s no specific conversation on any investigation, because the Collier County sheriff’s department handles all of that, they don’t want to jeopardize any of their investigation,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt brushed off a question about whether the alleged druggings could be retribution from other establishments that lost business to the Mercato.

“I can tell you that is not important to anyone in there,” Hoyt said. “What really is important is the concern of the safety and comfort of their customers.”

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the case, including interviewing employees and sending Blue Martini drinks to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing. There was nothing new for law enforcement to report on Monday, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Michelle Batten said.

Three people who filed reports with the Sheriff’s Office went to the emergency room after leaving Blue Martini. Toxicology tests performed at the hospital were negative and their blood alcohol levels ranged from .16 to .219, more than twice the legal limit of .08 for a driver in Florida.

Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/

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