Buffalo Chips Raid
Sights and sounds: Police raids restaurant.
FORT MYERS — Matt Rutkowski had a clean record and a long history at Bonita Springs restaurant Buffalo Chips when he was arrested last year.
Customers knew him, the owners considered him family and loyal snowbirds sought him every year.
Monday, the one blemish on Rutkowski’s record was big enough to cost him his freedom for the near future. A Lee Circuit Judge sentenced the 41-year-old bartender to 20.2 months in state prison, just over a year and a half, on 11 felony drug counts related to a 2010 bust of the eatery.
The prison term was the minimum calculated on Rutkowski’s criminal score sheet, and Judge John W. Dommerich declined a request to go lower. He said the seriousness of the charges, and the repeated drug sales behind them, outweighed Rutkowski’s meager record.
“It was important in my mind that it wasn’t just one sale,” he told the suspect in court. “It was several. In other words, you may have never done anything like this before, but you repeated the activity over and over again until you got caught.”
Rutkowski apologized to the court and blamed financial troubles.
“I am truly sorry and very ashamed for what I have done,” he told Dommerich.
The bartender was one of four men arrested in the March 2010 raid at Buffalo Chips, which saw Lee County deputies and state agents with the division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco swarm the Old 41 Road eatery before news cameras and a host of reporters.
The bust was the culmination of 13 undercover drug buys over a six-week span, detectives said. Arrest reports detailed purchases of cocaine and marijuana through deals so conspicuous they were almost flaunted. Most of the transactions occurred across Rutkowski’s bar, with cocaine coming out of a stash in the kitchen.
State agents stripped the restaurant’s alcohol license, and deputies also arrested kitchen manager Angelo Gutierrez, 46, and cooks Juan Vasquez, 39, and Paulo Vasquez, 29.
Paulo Vasquez’s case closed in May 2010, after he pleaded to a charge of cocaine possession and received a sentence of 60 days in jail, time served. Adjudication was withheld in the case.
Gutierrez went to trial and was acquitted of two of the seven drug counts he faced, a count each of cocaine possession and cocaine distribution. He faces trial for the remaining five counts — three cocaine possession charges and two counts of cocaine distribution — later this month.
Juan Vasquez, meanwhile, faces three counts each of cocaine possession and cocaine distribution.
Detectives portrayed Rutkowski as the ringleader involved in nearly every transaction. Undercover detectives say they placed their orders through Rutkowski, who boasted of having both “green” and “white,” referring to marijuana and cocaine. They say he supplied the marijuana from a stash in his motorcycle, parked just outside the restaurant.
Rutkowski was charged with 27 counts of drug possession and distribution, of which, 24 were felonies
He pleaded to 13 counts last week, the majority of them felonies. Monday, he was adjudicated guilty and required to pay court costs and the cost of prosecution.
Rutkowski was clean-shaven and wore his hair close-cropped, and he appeared neater and meeker than the man pictured in the 2010 mugshot. He wore the green-and-white striped coveralls of an inmate worker, and he was shackled around his waist.
A handful of friends sat in the courtroom for support, and Rutkowski attorney Josh Faett told Dommerich he had letters from 15 friends and supporters of the suspect.
The attorney asked Dommerich to go below the recommended minimum prison term of 20.2 months, arguing that most of the undercover buys were added after state agents told Lee detectives they needed a minimum of 10 before they take action. Lee County deputies conducted three buys before approaching the state; they then conducted another 10, with undercover state agents present.
Dommerich declined a downward departure.
Buffalo Chips has rebounded since the raid and arrests, manager Chip Greenwood said late last year. He estimated the restaurant lost some $50,000 in business and legal fees for regaining its alcohol license.
Reached Monday, Greenwood declined comment.