INVESTIGATION: Local Shrine chapter accused of breaking the lawWhen you think of Shriners, images of parades and circuses come to mind. And of course there’s the wonderful work for sick kids at the Shrine Hospital. But tonight, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS goes undercover to reveal how one local chapter may have broken the law.
You've probably seen a liquor license hanging on the wall of your local bar. That means the city or county checked it out and approved the sale of alcohol here. In Minnesota you have to have a permanent or temporary license to sell alcohol.
But check out what our undercover camera captured one night last month. We went to the Zuhrah Shrine's annual Potentate Ball. We walked into bar after bar, each representing a different Zuhrah club. We saw bartenders serving up drinks.
"Whattya got?" asked our producer. "How about a martini?" offered the bartender. We also heard customers tell us about the times when they had a little too much fun. One reminisced, “Never should have drove home. Never should have drove home."
Every bar had a different specialty. One sold margaritas. Another sold shots of premium scotch. Our producer paid cash and the prices were clearly posted.
We didn't see any liquor licenses and the City of Bloomington told us they hadn't issued any. So we went to the state director of alcohol enforcement. We tried to ask Frank Ball about what we saw. But the Communications Director interrupted, saying, "We're not talking about specific issues.”
He would only let us ask generic questions. When we asked if an average citizen could go to a local hotel, rent a room and sell alcohol out of it legally, Ball responded, “I don't believe so."
Representative Torrey Westrom heads the committee that writes Minnesota's liquor laws. His response was more definitive. "That is the reason we have temporary licenses."
But Zuhrah did not have a temporary license. "It was never my understanding that was a violation of the law,” said Zuhrah member and attorney Jon Hanson. He says they've been doing it that way for 20 years. "You're indicating that we were selling alcohol to the public. This was within the sleeping rooms and made available to members of Zuhrah,” said Hanson.
But according to state law that wouldn't have made a difference. Plus our producer is not a member. He had no trouble buying drinks there.
And remember that bar selling the scotch? They also offered gelatin shots made with 190 proof Everclear. The bartender told us that meant it was "95 percent alcohol." It’s illegal to sell in Minnesota. "This should not have occurred. And we will take steps to make sure it doesn't occur again,” said Hanson.
"The Shrine has turned into one big party,” said Zuhrah member Jerry Andresen. He says he joined Zuhrah to help the kids at the Shrine Hospital but has become disillusioned by an organization he believes is losing its focus. He believes parties like the one we witnessed could actually put the Shrine Hospital at risk. "Can you imagine someone going out and getting hurt and they sue the Shrine? Do you realize what this would do to our hospitals?"
The City of Bloomington would not talk to us about what we found. In fact, the City Manager bluntly told us we could file a formal police complaint or we could leave. State officials tell us they are looking at our tape.