BONITA SPRINGS — The letter board propped outside popular eatery Buffalo Chips remained upbeat. “Yes! We are open,” it read.
Inside, anger and a sense of betrayal mounted.
The morning after deputies raided the Bonita Springs restaurant and arrested four employees on allegations they sold drugs inside, owner Al Greenwood and his son, manager Chip Greenwood, defended their ignorance in what had occurred.
“None of us had any idea,” Chip Greenwood said. “It just hurts. It really hurts.”
The restaurant was back open Friday afternoon, despite the suspension of its alcohol license. State agents with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco filed the emergency order on Thursday after determining the restaurant should have been aware of the deals taking place inside.
Management “has fostered, condoned, and/or negligently overlooked trafficking in, sale of, possession of, or use of illegal narcotics,” the order read. It also said that a tipster told Lee County detectives she had warned Chip Greenwood about the sales, but that he did nothing. Greenwood called the account untrue.
“That’s totally incorrect,” he said. “I don’t know where they got it from.”
The Greenwoods refuted other allegations made by the state and Lee County Sheriff’s detectives, and they sought to reassure customers as they prepped for the afternoon lunch crowd.
“We just want to reassure the public this is not a drug-oriented restaurant whatsoever,” Chip Greenwood said.
They put most of the blame on Matt Rutkowski, bartender and employee of 15 years. The Greenwoods considered him family, they said, and customers knew him well.
In the Sheriff’s Office arrest report, Rutkowski, 40, was the point man for 13 undercover drug buys during the past six weeks. He boasted of his supply of “green” and “white,” the report stated, and for each purchase he turned either to a marijuana stash kept in his motorcycle or to the kitchen, where detectives say three other men — two cooks and the kitchen manager — kept him supplied with cocaine.
On Thursday, Rutkowski was arrested on multiple counts of possessing and selling marijuana and cocaine. Two other suspects, Paulo Vasquez, 28, and Angelo Gutierrez, 45, were also arrested in the restaurant. Juan Vasquez, 38, brother of Paulo Vasquez, was arrested after the raid.
The transactions were brazen, according to the report. During a typical buy, an undercover detective sat at the bar, ordered food and drink and then asked Rutkowski for either drug. For marijuana, the bartender stepped outside to his motorcycle. For cocaine, he typically placed the cash inside a Styrofoam cup, set it on the kitchen counter and waited for it to be returned with a baggy of cocaine inside. Sometimes the baggy was placed in a menu. A few times it was placed on the bar, in plain view.
After several successful deals, the undercover deputies began arriving together, as many as four at a time, the report states. On several afternoons, each made a deal. Managers could often be seen standing nearby, detectives noted, and Al Greenwood once stood as close as 10 feet away from a transaction.
“The transactions took place in such an overt manner, that if management or the owner had looked in the direction of the detectives, they would have observed the transactions,” the state order read.
Chip Greenwood called that account untrue, as well. And he said the Styrofoam cups wouldn’t be that noticeable.
“What we see is a Styrofoam cup being handed across the bar,” he said. “Well, there are Styrofoam cups all across the place here.”
The Greenwoods can dispute the allegations in the state emergency order or agree with them and go before a hearing officer. It’s unclear how soon the restaurant could regain its alcohol license, although in a similar case from 2008, Miller’s Ale House in San Carlos Park had its suspension lifted one week after a raid.
Father and son said they felt betrayed by their employees.
“It was just unbelievable with (Rutkowski),” Chip Greenwood said. “He could tell us that he loves our family and then go out and sell weed out of his motorcycle.”
Juan Vasquez had worked as a cook at the restaurant 10 years, and Al Greenwood recalled helping him become naturalized. They employed Paulo as a cook about three years ago.
Juan Vasquez was released Friday after posting $1,500 bond, and Gutierrez was released after a $5,000 bond. Rutkowski remained in jail with a $1,500 bond. Paulo Vasquez is also at the Lee County Jail with a $5,000 bond.