History of trouble followed bar owner from Nevada to St. Cloud before he was charged with arson

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Long before he was arrested and charged with burning down the historic downtown Press Bar and Parlor in St. Cloud, owner Andy Welsh was at the center of an earlier controversy over how he operated another bar in Elko, Nevada, where city council members say the business had become a "threat to public safety," according to records reviewed by 5 INVESTIGATES.

Just two years into his ownership of the Press Bar, Welsh, 40, had also become the target of lawsuits worth tens of thousands of dollars filed by suppliers and contractors. One of those contractors is currently seeking more than $50,000 from Welsh in civil court.

A divorce court judge ordered Welsh to sell the Press Bar in 2019 and split the proceeds with his ex-wife, but court records reveal the business had not yet been listed for sale when investigators say Welsh burned it down in February.

The Horseshoe Club

Debra Smuda of Clear Lake says she and her late husband, Roger Mensing, bought the Horseshoe Club in Elko in 2008 with the hopes of retiring in that city and relying on the gentlemen’s club for their income.

When Mensing suddenly died in 2010, Smuda says her step-daughter Jessie Welsh and her husband, Andy, offered to help her run the business.

"I trusted them and I said yes," Smuda said.

But under the Welsh’s control, City of Elko records detailed a "high number of fight calls," "stabbings" and allegations that the bar was serving "customers under 21."

By 2015, one city council member called the Horseshoe Club a "threat to public safety."

"It was just crazy," said John Smuda who married Debra in 2016. "The (Welshes) had no right in the world to do what they did."

Smuda says Welsh also defaulted on a contract to buy the Horseshoe Club from her, ultimately lost the bar’s liquor license, and even took her name off of another license that would have allowed her to continue running the business as a gentlemen’s club.

"We put our life savings into that building, and business and Jessie and Andy lost it for me," Smuda said. "The business was probably worth over $1 million, and after that, it’s probably worth $300,000."

Lawyers for both Andy and Jessie Welsh have not commented about their clients’ business with Smuda.

Lawsuits, Divorce

Despite his problems in Nevada in 2015, court records show Welsh entered a contract to buy the Press Bar in St. Cloud just a year later.

Starting in 2018, 5 INVESTIGATES found Welsh became the target of lawsuits from a DJ, suppliers and a concrete contractor who say Welsh still owes more than $50,000 for work on a property in Benton County. On Thursday, the two sides in that case announced a "payment arrangement" that is now pending.

When Andy and Jessie Welsh divorced in 2019, court records show they still owed $550,000 for the Press Bar and a judge ordered them to sell the business and split the proceeds.

The order also required Welsh to list the business for sale by Jan. 20, 2020, but that had not yet happened when the Press Bar burned down in February.

During Welsh’s first court appearance, his attorney denied the arson charge and insisted Welsh had done nothing wrong.

More from KSTP:

ATF: Press Bar fire believed to be intentional; business owner in custody
St. Cloud bar owner charged with intentionally setting fire; bail set

Fire chief: Demolition required to completely extinguish St. Cloud bar fire